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Nordic countries in top 10 in 2017 Press Freedom Index

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But there is little for us to celebrate this Press Freedom Day: Malaysia’s ranking (144) was disappointingly low, perhaps due to our restrictive laws, writes Benedict Lopez.

Like in most other international rankings, Nordic countries once gain featured prominently in the 2017 Press Freedom Index, compiled by the Paris-based non-governmental organisation, Reporters Without Borders, widely regarded as an international press watchdog.

“Press freedom… is on the retreat in all five continents,” the group stated, declaring that its indicators were “incontestable”.

This year’s survey analysed the freedom of the press in 180 countries all over the world.

On top of the list was Norway, followed by Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Iceland was in tenth position. Other countries that made it to the top 10 in the league were Netherlands (5), Costa Rica (6), Switzerland (7), Jamaica (8) and Belgium (9).

After six years at the top, Finland fell to third place as a result of political pressure on the press from the government. Sweden, in contrast, rose six places as a result of proactive measures taken by authorities which worked with media outlets and the journalists’ union to forestall threats made on journalists discharging their duties.

To my surprise, even in a free and open society like Sweden, journalists continue to face intimidation. As a result of the close collaboration by all concerned parties, the culprits were brought to book.

Cost Rica and Jamaica were the flag bearers for developing countries when they were placed in the top ten. If both these countries can attain such respectable positions, I don’t see why other developing countries cannot follow suit

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But the supposed beacons of democracy like the United Kingdom (40) and the United States (43) did not fare well in the rankings. The world’s largest democracy, India (136), also fared badly.

The bottom five in the list were occupied by China (176), Syria (177), Turkmenistan (178), Eritrea (179) and North Korea (180).

Malaysia’s ranking (144) was also disappointingly low, perhaps due to our restrictive laws, which impede upon freedom of the press. We should explore ways to further improve our rankings. Malaysia can however take consolation that our ranking was above that of our neighbours, Singapore (151) and Brunei (156).

Freedom of the press is an important ingredient for any functioning and vibrant democracy as it is a vital check on the government, public institutions and private sector. The press is morally obliged to highlight political, social and economic concerns that affect society.

Eternal vigilance is the price of we have to pay for our liberty and our democratic values. Without fear, a free press continually draws attention to a variety of important national issues such as the ruthlessness of dictatorships, corruption, cronyism, nepotism, malpractices, transgressions of the law and environmental concerns.

Respectable publications and media organisations work relentlessly to deliver news with speed and precision, and it is through this mechanism that people in many countries are kept informed of what is happening at home and the rest of the world. 

As a result of scandalous exposés, presidents, prime ministers, ministers and public sector officials have been forced to resign or face the music. Billions in taxpayers’ money has been saved all over the world due to the such media revelations, as corrective action is then taken to rectify weaknesses in the system.

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Freedom of the press is therefore a mandatory pre-requisite to achieve real democracy. Thomas Jefferson once remarked that US liberty is to be governed by the freedom of the press. It was for this reason that it was incorporated in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, a part of the country’s constitution which distinctly stipulates that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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