KUALA LUMPUR: While criticisms of the government are permissible in Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim admitted that there are boundaries to media freedom, particularly concerning sensitive topics of race, religion and royalty (3R).

In fact, in an interview with Al Jazeera presenter Sami Zeidan on ‘Talk To Al Jazeera’ on Sunday, Anwar said while advocating for media freedom, he certainly does not condone actions that may incite riots or endanger public safety.

“It doesn’t matter whether we are being downgraded, but what is important is that criticisms are allowed...the issue is when you touch 3R issues, condemning race, condemning religions, inviting and inciting riots. We cannot afford to have that in our country.”

Anwar said this when asked to comment on Malaysia’s position in the World Press Freedom Index, noting a significant drop of 34 places from 73 to 107 within a year.

Nevertheless, he said under his administration, the government had not arrested any journalist or banned any newspapers in the country for their criticisms of the government.

On an allegation suggesting the Malaysian King’s involvement in the proposed establishment of a casino in Johor for example, Anwar said his government will not compromise with parties that touch on the institution of the Malay rulers as it could significantly impact public sentiment, potentially creating an unhealthy situation.

“Firstly, because it’s defamatory and secondly, you touch on the (Federal) Constitution...It is factually wrong...there wasn’t any proposal to set up a new casino,” he added.

Prior to this, Anwar had also denied reports that the government was mulling a casino license to revive Forest City in Johor.

When asked about the criticism suggesting a slowdown in his government’s economic and democratic reform efforts, alongside investigations into high-profile corruption cases since taking office, Anwar said that trying to rectify decades of excesses within just one and a half years of taking office was deemed unacceptable.

“We have seen similar attempts in the past, even in Eastern European experience, where countries you know, being gung ho about quick reforms being disastrous to the economy and the political setup. In our case, contrary to these assertions or aspersions by the opposition, what is most important is governance.

“What have we been successful in is to check the abuse (of power) by leaders, the Cabinet members from squandering wealth through direct negotiations, through mass billions of dollars of tender. We have stopped that,” he said.