Media organisations: We got your back, Malaysiakini!

MEDIA organisations are rallying behind Malaysiakini after the Federal Court convicted the news organisation today of contempt of court, stressing that it is a testament of the country’s stance of media freedom.

“This is a sad day for Malaysia’s press freedom, not only will the decision have a tremendous impact on discussions of issues of public interest but it will also delivery a blow to the new media landscape, journalists and media owners,” lamented the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM).

While NUJM acknowledges the seriousness of such an offence, the union believes that openness to critical views is a sign of a strong and healthy institution.

“(This issue) will have a major impact on discussions of issues of public interest, bringing about more venues for media censorship and delivers a distasteful impact on the media’s continual campaign to fight corruption,” NUJM pointed out in a statement.

Similarly, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) opined that such rulings would threaten the freedom of expression online and presume guilt rather than innocence to the body publishing the content online.

CIJ contended that the presumption of guilt goes against the fundamental principle of justice of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and disproportionately burdens the average person or entity who will have to defend themselves in court.

Wathshlah G Naidu

“The decision today has multiple implications on our media, specifically online portals and the extent of their liabilities. Portals such as Malaysiakini will be held liable for third-party comments and 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,” argued CIJ executive director Wathshlah G Naidu.

It was also pointed out that the decision against Malaysiakini would suggest that online news portals should remove their comments section to reduce liability, thus barring readers an opportunity to voice out their opinions on a specific matter.

“This challenges our constitutionally-protected freedoms of expression and speech which underpins and facilitates public participation and healthy democracy,” she said.

If the situation was to continue and spread to other media news portals, Wathshlah foresees Malaysia becoming more authoritarian’ by virtue of putting media operations under a tighter leash than it already is in since the change of government last year.

“As a media watchdog, we stand in solidarity with Malaysiakini and strongly condemn efforts by the State to intimidate and threaten media freedom and independence.” – Feb 19, 2021

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