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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Malaysia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Malaysia, February 1998, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the early stages of Asia's economic crisis in the fall, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad grabbed headlines by blaming the distress on currency speculators and foreign enemies. Mahathir frequently accused international financier and free press advocate George Soros of fueling the crisis for his personal gain, at one point likening Soros to a drug dealer out to "destroy nations." Many observers believed Mahathir's antics were designed to play to Malaysian media, where self-censorship is routine. Malaysia's Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPA) and Internal Security Act (ISA) encourage a quiescent press through tough licensing requirements and summary detention of suspected violators, respectively.

Mahathir frequently bullies and threatens the media. In April he accused both the foreign and local press of distorting facts and sensationalizing news in order to boost sales and damage Malaysia's credibility. "It is not only the reporters, the sub-editors are also putting the headings (sic) to make it attractive," he told a gathering of journalists. He went on to remind the reporters that they would be subject to penalties if they overstepped the bounds.

Even Mahathir's friends get the message. Wealthy Malaysian tycoon T. Ananda Krishnan drastically reduced locally generated news programming on his recently formed Astro satellite television network, which has aspirations to broadcast regionally. Dozens of journalists he recruited from Australia and New Zealand went home after Krishnan reportedly became concerned that his imported talent was too aggressive in covering the regional economic crisis and Mahathir's war of words with George Soros.

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