Behind the Headlines: Press Freedom in Malaysia

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30 May 2024

4 Min Read

Liew Yen Rou (Student Writer)


Navigate the rugged terrain of press freedom in Malaysia with intrepid journalists who courageously pen transparency and integrity in their reporting!

Press freedom is more than just having a voice in the world — it is a fundamental right for everyone. In a democratic society, press freedom serves as a watchdog to hold those in power accountable. A free press allows alternative opinions to be expressed without fear of being targeted by the public or the authorities. Unfortunately, journalists in Malaysia face censorship and receive numerous threats despite taking on the role of informing the world about the truth, as outlined in the Malaysian Code of Ethics for Journalists.

Historical Origins

Malaysia is no stranger to censorship, as repressive laws that silence the media have existed since British colonial rule. The British colonial government introduced the Sedition Act 1948 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. According to Discursive Approaches to Politics in Malaysia, these laws were enacted to combat Malay nationalism and insurrection led by the Communist Party of Malaya.


The central notion of the Sedition Act 1948 is defined as anything which, 'when applied or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication, or other thing qualifies the act, speech, words, publication, or other thing as having a seditious tendency'. Meanwhile, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 is intended to 'regulate the use of printing presses and the printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing, and distribution of publications and for matters connected therewith'. These laws are still used today to suppress press freedom despite many people criticising them as archaic and calling for their repeal.

Case Studies

Journalists in Malaysia face threats and harassment when they publish reports deemed unfavourable by the government or the public. One notable case occurred when Malaysian authorities investigated British journalist and Sarawak Report founder Clare Rewcastle Brown after she exposed the infamous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal in 2015. She was subsequently issued an arrest warrant for criminal offences under Sections 124B and 124I of the Penal Code, accused of committing acts detrimental to parliamentary democracy and making false statements in printed or online publications. 

Another case involves Malaysiakini, a local independent news website, and its journalists, who have been frequent targets. Former Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan was investigated over comments on the Federal Court's decision that found the news website guilty of contempt and fined it RM500,000. The case was investigated under the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998. In a separate case, journalist Kow Gah Chie from Malaysiakini faced harassment and racist attacks on Facebook following her article about former Minister of Environment and Water, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who defended logging in Kelantan. There are countless other occasions where journalists are under threat and do not receive adequate protection due to their news coverage.


In the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2024 World Press Freedom Index, Malaysia is ranked 107th out of 180 countries, dropping from 73rd last year. Malaysia had been the highest-ranked among ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries the previous year. However, Thailand jumped from 106th to 87th this year, surpassing Malaysia's ranking. Although the current government promised in their manifesto during the 15th General Election to 'review all laws and regulations related to the media', Malaysia still has a long way to go to achieve press freedom.

Want to help achieve the press freedom Malaysia deserves? Equip yourself with the knowledge and skills through our Diploma in Communication. Be the change you want to see!

Liew Yen Rou is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Mass Communication (Honours) at Taylor's University. She is an aspiring journalist who pens her thoughts on current issues to while away the time.

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