Asia - Pacific
Index 2024
107/ 180
Score : 52.07
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Index 2023
73/ 180
Score : 62.83
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Malaysia is a culturally diverse parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Although the federal government has a draconian legislative arsenal to restrict press freedom, these restrictions are resisted by a vibrant civil society.

Media landscape

On the surface, Malaysia seems to have a rich media landscape but the state media – the news agency Bernama and the broadcaster Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) – exert a great deal of influence. Many mainstream media outlets are openly partisan, including Suara Keadilan, a newspaper that supports the centrist Keadilan Rakyat party, and Harakah, a daily financed by the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). The media sector is more dynamic online, driven by sites that cherish their editorial autonomy, such as Malaysiakini, Sinar Harian and The Fourth. While most media players are concentrated around the federal capital of Kuala Lumpur, there are some vibrant local media outlets, especially in East Malaysia.

Political context

The government exerts a great deal of political pressure to deter the media from tackling sensitive subjects or from criticising politicians and government officials. The authorities are after investigative reporters, and the monarchy is an extremely sensitive subject, as are discussions on race and religion. Any form of commentary or reporting deemed critical of the monarchy can result in prosecution, leading to widespread self-censorship on the matter.

Legal framework

The constitution guarantees press freedom, but draconian legislation allows the authorities to restrict this freedom by sending journalists to prison: up to 20 years for those accused of violating the 1948 Sedition Act and 14 years for the 1972 Official Secrets Act. The Printing Presses and Publication Act gives the government strict control over the licensing of print media outlets, while the Communications and Multimedia Act is often used to curb what the authorities consider as "fake news". Judicial reforms, namely the adoption of a Freedom of Information Act and the creation of a media council, are nonetheless under way. 

Economic context

Creating a media outlet is risky business in Malaysia, particularly due to the government’s control of licences, a system it uses to impose its editorial line. Media ownership is highly concentrated, with several media moguls threatening the independence and pluralism of the entire sector. Creating an online media outlet is much easier as long as it does not cross the implicit red lines dictated by the government.

Sociocultural context

Malay-language media, which are consumed by a majority of the population, are subject to more censorship than their counterparts in English, Chinese, Tamil or other Malaysian languages. Certain issues related to Islam, which until recently were still taboo, are starting to emerge, such as conversion, child marriages and apostasy.


Malaysian journalists are rarely the target of physical attacks, but some are subjected to judicial harassment or smear campaigns. Recent threats to journalism have included prosecutions involving huge expenses, police searches of media outlet headquarters, disregard for the confidentiality of sources, and expulsions of foreign reporters or whistleblowers.

Abuses in real time in Malaysia

Killed since 1st January 2024
0 journalists
0 media workers
Detained as of today
0 journalists
0 media workers