Malaysia is widely regarded as a semi-democracy, with some of her harshest critics calling the Mahathir administration an authoritarian regime (see e.g. Case, 1992; Crouch, 1996; Alatas, 1997). The ruling coalition directly and indirectly controls all the mainstream media outlets in Malaysia, and media reporting cannot be described as fair or impartial. Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob best summed up this policy by publicly declaring that:
The Government pays for RTM's (Radio Television Malaysia) employees and the equipment used. So whoever is in the Government get to use RTM as their mouthpiece to air their manifesto and promises during a general election … RTM is not interested in inviting any opposition party for interviews over its channels. This has been our practice.
(The Star, July 3, 1999)
As a result of this policy, the mainstream media in Malaysia often will not cover articles critical of the government, the business interests of the political elite, and related stories of high-level nepotism, corruption, and cronyism. The most sensitive stories are those related to Mahathir and the royals. A prime example of this is the annual "10 Worst Enemies of the Press" list issued by the international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org). Mahathir is a regular fixture on the list but his name has never been printed when the list is published by the Malaysian mainstream press. In 2000, Nanyang Siang Pau, a leading Chinese daily, replaced Mahathir's name with the euphemism "a leader of Malaysia" when it published the list on one of the inside pages. Not surprisingly, none of the other English or Bahasa dailies in Malaysia carried the CPJ list or the report (Nanyang Siang Pau, May 3, 2000).
Besides outright censorship, this political climate has led also to self-censorship on the part of Malaysian journalists. Generally speaking, these