National Press Club

National Press Club urges Malaysia to fulfill press freedom promises

May 29, 2012 | By Rachel Oswald | roswald@nationaljournal.com

The National Press Club on Friday urged the Malaysian government to honor its promise to reform the country's oppressive press laws and cease targeting journalists who publish critical stories.

Prime Minister Najib Razak last September announced he would relax harsh security restrictions that curb freedom of expression and assembly rights and scrap the Printing Press and Publications Act, which requires newspapers to apply annually for printing licenses. Since then, some slight modifications have been made to the law, but the government has essentially the same power to arbitrarily deny printing licenses to news organizations whose coverage it dislikes, concludes an analysis by Reporters Without Borders.

"The cosmetic changes made to the Printing Press and Publications Act have effectively changed nothing," National Press Club President Theresa Werner said. "Prime Minister Najib needs to fulfill the promise he made to voters last year and abolish this law, which undermines a free and independent press and is bad for democracy."

Media conditions in Malaysia have not improved since last year, according to press advocacy groups, and have even worsened in some instances such as the physical beatings and harassment experienced by journalists covering a mass election reform demonstration in late-April in Kuala Lumpur. Also particularly troublesome to watchdog organizations is the government's decision to deny a printing license for the news website Malaysiakini, which is a crucial source of independent, accountability-focused journalism.

Werner called on the Malaysian government to reverse its decision and "without delay" issue Malaysiakini a license to begin issuing a print publication.