Najib insults the dead with empty boast of Malaysian press freedom

• Prime Minister peddles fiction to foreign correspondents
• Facts of RSF press index twisted for empty rhetoric

In a tasteless display of self-aggrandisement, the prime minister took personal credit last night for Malaysia’s ranking in a press freedom index, and in doing so showed a callous insensitivity to the deaths and violence suffered by journalists in Asia that was the real reason for Malaysia’s better showing.

Malaysia ranked 122nd in the 2011-12 Reporters Sans Frontieres press freedom index, compared to 141st the year before — a higher ranking because other Asian countries fell and not because of better conditions for press freedom in Malaysia.

Yet, when speaking in Kuala Lumpur last night at the inauguration of the foreign correspondents’ club, Najib Tun Razak proudly boasted: “Since I became Prime Minister, Malaysia has moved up nine places in the press freedom index [of Reporters Sans Frontieres], even as the likes of the United States and Great Britain have slid down.”

Najib’s sickening boast twists the facts — already an insult to journalists — to make a meaningless comparison to the US and Britain, and compounds the insult by ignoring the violence against Asian journalists that had caused a drop in the rankings of those countries, and thus a better showing for Malaysia where conditions have hardly improved.

After the insults comes a bald lie

Piling on the insults, Najib also invented a claim that “we are now officially one of South-East Asia’s most media-friendly nations, ranked well ahead of Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.”

That’s pure fiction, if not an outright lie, by making it appear to have come from the RSF report — while ignoring what the report actually said: that press freedom in Malaysia is in a “difficult situtation”. There is nothing in the RSF report about Malaysia being media-friendly.

In fact other RSF reports for 2011 and 2012 are scathing about Malaysia’s disregard for journalists, press freedom and the citizen’s right to free expression. The RSF 2011 report on Enemies of the Internet talks of political controls on media » New media, new political scene, of » Bloggers and netizens under pressure especially because of libel suits, some brought by the information minister, and questions Najib’s promises of reforms » Real legislative reform or empty promises?

Six-month-old promise not fulfilled

Those promises of reforms were also part of Najib’s speech last night, with another grand boast of his commitment to press freedom and “also why I have relaxed decades-old media licensing requirements”. That is another empty boast, based on a promise made six months ago and still unfulfilled.

He said last night that “it is impossible to deny that change, real change, is happening in Malaysia” but the reality, the facts, are that the Malaysian press remain in fetters, that nothing has happened in the six months since his grudging concession (or even in the three years since he took office).

His home minister and his information minister have yet to show similar commitment to press reforms, but instead have been all too eager to try to appoint themselves press overlords, and in the case of the information minister, also resorting to writs of libel to gag inconvenient and insignificant bloggers.

Najib and his government have a long way to go before journalists will be convinced that press reform is on the cards. All the bluster and rhetoric has revealed only that the government and the prime minister have little regard for journalists or their lives, or for the central tenet of their calling: that facts are sacred.