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Op-Ed: Freedom of Press in Malaysia: When Governments Crack Down on Speech

A piece written to raise awareness of the lack of press freedom in Asia, especially Malaysia that juxtaposes American ideals of freedom of speech. This piece describes the prosecution of Clare Rewcastle Brown–a notable journalist credited with exposing the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia– in order to argue against the prosecution of journalists. 


May 4, 2024

By: Janice Chong- New York

For years, journalism has been an esteemed backbone of society, promoting the publication of truth and raising awareness for socio-political issues. However, due to scrutiny from organizations that uphold a stringent agenda, journalists must increasingly put their livelihoods at risk to spread news. One such news reporter, Clare Rewcastle Brown, is currently facing legal action over her coverage of the controversial 1MDB scandal in Malaysia. The deeply rooted issue of censorship in Southeast Asia has shown its colors in recent times, as many journalists face persecution from the government due to their involvement  in reporting controversial news. 

The 1MDB scandal, also known as the 1Malaysia Berhad scandal, is a highly publicized money laundering scheme in Malaysia. According to a document leaked by journalists in The Edge, the Sarawak Report, and The Wall Street Journal, almost 3-4 billion USD has been meticulously embezzled from 1MDB, a Malaysian development company, by the government. Rewcastle Brown, born in the  former British colony of Sarawak, Malaysia, wrote a scathing book about the scandal and exposed many powerful Malaysian officials for their involvement. However, the government has raised a suit against her for criminal defamation. This is not uncommon within the journalist community, as many writers, reporters, and other correspondents  frequently face legal action against their publications. 

In the United States, many of us are quick to say “freedom of speech!”, but to what extent is that freedom of speech allowed globally? In my constitutional law class, we studied the First Amendment; learning about free speech clause issues has opened my eyes to the privilege of not being censored. In a dissenting opinion for Abrams V. United States, a supreme court case where the defendants were arrested under the Sedition Act of 1918 for handing out anti-war pamphlets, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes makes an assertion about the free marketplace of ideas. He says that “ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas,” meaning that society should uphold a belief that every idea has a right to exist. Journalistic censorship by the government, like what Rewcastle Brown is facing right now, is pushing a dangerous narrative that some ideas do not deserve to be heard, especially ones that bring underlying socio-political issues to light. It is important, amidst a ubiquity of  perfectly pruned news anchors, to remember that journalism is often strenuous work, even more evidently in places where freedom of speech is not so widely available. 

Fabiha Khanam, the director of the Media Relations Team at TPF, argues that “Freedom of speech is a right that should be fundamentally given to everyone. Even in  the U.S., when it is believed to be a constitutional right, there are crimes, laws, and acts that prevent it. Freedom of speech is necessary globally to ensure the protection of truth”.  


Explainer: Malaysia’s Ex-PM Najib and the Multi-Billion Dollar 1MDB Scandal | Reuters, . 

Chi-Santorelli, Leisha. “Clare Rewcastle Brown: UK Journalist Says Malaysia Sentence Is ‘Political Revenge.’” BBC News, BBC, 11 Feb. 2024,  


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