Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has denied any crackdown on free speech in Malaysia, telling a global gathering of editors that criticisms of the government and its officials is a daily feature in major newspapers.
In his opening address at the Asian Media Awards Gala dinner in Kuala Lumpur, Najib noted there are foreign activists who had raised concerns over "crackdowns" on free speech in Malaysia.
"But look at our press. You will find criticism of the Government, of our ministers, of our officials, in our newspapers every day," said Najib at the annual award ceremony organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, which is now in its 16th year.
"Sometimes it is the opposition criticising ministers. Sometimes it is ministers criticising other ministers.
"Sometimes it is the opposition criticising one minister for not criticising another minister," he said.
Without mentioning any names, Najib further said that such criticisms have also came from former ministers and even a former prime minister.
"My point is that free speech is thriving in Malaysia.
"We are much more open to our citizens exercising their right to voice their opinions – for or against any party – than most other countries in the region...," he said in stressing that the the media as fourth estate is a vital part of the process.
In recognition of the role that newspapers play in a free society, Najib said the government had over the years opened up the space for democratic scrutiny by the fourth estate.
Among others, Najib pointed out that the government had over the years eliminated bans on opposition party newspapers as well as removed the annual renewal requirement for printing licenses from the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act.
"We also opened up the Home Ministry’s authority to block, allow or revoke licences through judicial review," he added.
The award ceremony saw Harian Metro, the New Straits Times and The Star's R.AGE team being among the list of Malaysian publications honored in various categories of editorial excellence in the region.
A total of 75 news organisations from 19 countries competed for top honours at the ceremony which was also held in conjunction with Publish Asia 2017. -Mkini