There is no crackdown on free speech in Malaysia and the country is "much more open" to its citizens exercising their right to voice their opinions than in most other countries in the region, Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
Speaking at the 16th Asia Media Awards organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers on Wednesday (19 April) in Kuala Lumpur, the premier took the opportunity to slam certain media organisations for publishing 'fake news'.
He said Malaysia has not been spared from becoming the target of unscrupulous parties who spread fake news with uncorroborated evidence.
"We are far from immune to this problem here in Malaysia. We have had former leaders talking about Malaysia going bankrupt.
"We have had people talking about Malaysia being in danger of becoming a failed state." However, he said that other countries recognised and had confidence in Malaysia's capability as can be seen by "huge investments" made by China, Saudi Arabia and India recently.
"I ask you, does that sound like a failed state to you?," he asked.
He lamented that fake news was entering mainstream media and that lies masquerading as facts are "cancerous" to journalism. "This tide of fake and false news threatens to turn the truth into a purely subjective matter, with little relation to the actual facts."
"The government of Malaysia will be on your side. All we ask in return is the opportunity to remind you to rely in your reporting and sourcing, in whichever country that may be, [and] not on rumours, not on unsourced anonymous quotes, and not on invented propaganda, no matter how persuasively it may be presented - but on verified facts," Najib added, the New Straits Times reported.
He said: "We have no fear of the facts: for they are undisputed. For the future of newspapers, both in print and online, to be healthy as we all want and need it to be, I am sure."
Najib also slammed a foreign news organisation in his speech, "A well-known foreign newspaper has taken to printing complete lies about the government," he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald identified the newspaper as the Wall Street Journal, which had reported on Malaysia's sovereign fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad and the alleged misappropriation and diversion of funds to various countries outside Malaysia.
Investigations are currently being carried out in several countries on money laundering, bribery and fraud over funds allegedly transferred out of 1MDB, a fund set up by Najib in 2009.
Najib, who has denied any wrongdoing has been cleared by Malaysia's attorney-general.
Free speech thriving in Malaysia
Najib also dismissed foreign talk about 'crackdowns' on free speech in Malaysia, telling attendees at the event to look at the Malaysian press which carries "criticism of the government, of our ministers, of our officials" every day.
"But what I can tell you, is that there is more than enough criticism to go round. And if you look online and on social media ... well, it's like the Wild West out there!" the prime minister said, Channel News Asia reported.
He said Malaysia is "much more open to [its] citizens exercising their right to voice their opinions - for or against any party - than most other country in the region".