KUALA LUMPUR: The Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) has voiced alarm over the Federal Court’s decision citing Malaysiakini for contempt for comments made by its readers.
The CIJ said the decision could further jeopardise press freedom in the country.
Its executive director, Wathshlah G. Naidu, in a statement, said the decision has multiple implications on the media, specifically online portals and the extent of their liabilities.
“Portals such as Malaysiakini will be held liable for third-party comments. It is thus required to ensure adequate safeguards are in place prior to publishing to ensure they are not held liable.
“Not only will this be resource-intensive to moderate the sheer volume of comments, but it will also be a form of censorship and curtailment of the readers’ freedom of expression,” she said.
Malaysiakini was today fined RM500,000 after the Federal Court found it guilty of contempt of court over readers’ comments “scandalising” the judiciary.
However, the top court found that its editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, was not guilty of contempt.
The court, in a 6-1 majority decision, held that the news portal had failed to cast reasonable doubt on the allegation against it for publishing the comments.
Wathshlah said the decision against Malaysiakini also raises the possibilities that online news portals may remove their respective comments sections to reduce liability against third-party comments.
“This would mean that readers lose the opportunity to critique, form their own opinions and make dissenting or alternative positions, specifically on issues of public interest.
“This challenges our constitutionally-protected freedoms of expression and speech, which underpins and facilitates public participation and healthy democracy,” she said, adding that the CIJ had raised concern regarding the matter especially when Section 114A of the Evidence Act was first mooted.
The law, among others, makes individuals and those who administer, operate or provide space for online community forums, blogging and hosting services, liable for content published through its services.
“The apex court’s decision today goes to reinforce the concerns we had previously raised on this section, which further threatens freedom of expression online and presumes guilt rather than innocence of those publishing content online.
“The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) decision to prosecute Malaysiakini and the court’s decision today sets precedents of further burdens to be placed on online media, spelling doom for media,” she said.