Decision against portal a dire one for media freedom, says CIJ
February 19, 2021
PETALING JAYA: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is warning that the Federal Court’s decision to fine Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, the company which runs Malaysiakini, for contempt of court would place further burden on press freedom in Malaysia.
Its executive director, Wathshlah G Naidu, said media operations in the country were more controlled and restricted now more than ever since the change of government last year.
“Already, we are seeing journalists and news portals being investigated by the police and charged in court over their reporting,” she said in a statement.
She added that the media watchdog predicted a more authoritarian country if the government continued to penalise and intimidate the media.
Wathshlah once again called for a review of “repressive laws that impact media freedom and freedom of expression”, which in this case was Section 114A of the Evidence Act.
“Use of this section further threatens freedom of expression online and presumes guilt rather than innocence of those publishing content online.
“This presumption of guilt goes against a fundamental principle of justice – innocent until proven guilty – and disproportionately burdens the average person or entity who will have to defend themselves in court.”
Mkini Dotcom was fined RM500,000 after it was found guilty of scandalising the judiciary in publishing readers’ comments last year. Its editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, however, was found not guilty of contempt.
The company has been given three days from Monday to settle the penalty and is now seeking funds from readers and supporters to pay the fine.
Many have since taken to social media to criticise the sentence, questioning its implications on media portals’ liability to third-party content, as well as its threats to freedom of expression.