Suhakam: Laws should keep up with times, facilitate public discourse

THE nation’s laws must be adjusted to keep up with times, where the digital age has opened up multiple avenues for the public to express their views.

“The freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 10 (1) of the Federal Constitution is not absolute and may be restricted by law in the interest of preserving national security, public order or morality and international relations.

“But we would like to point out that in today’s digital age where open discussion and comments are made public, portal owners should not be held liable for comments made by the masses on their portal.

“In this regard, the country’s legal framework should keep pace with the evolving character of digital media, which increasingly serves as a platform for discourse and expression on issues of public interest,” said Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), in a statement.

On Friday, the Federal Court slapped online news portal, Malaysiakini with a fine of RM500,000 for contempt of court, in relation to five comments posted by its readers.

In a six-to-one majority decision, led by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, they ruled that the online news portal was liable over comments posted by its readers.

The decision sent shockwaves across the globe, with many alleging that it was an attempt to clampdown on media freedom.

It is to note that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) only sought for a RM200,000 fine. It’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan was found not guilty of the same charge.

Media, a powerful check and balance instrument

While it respects the Federal Court’s decision, Suhakam also expressed concerns that the decision could set a precedent which may have significant implications on the people’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of information in the country.

It added that the media is an essential instrument that contributes towards greater awareness and protection of human rights, through its reporting on issues happening in the country.

“In this regard, there should be an enabling environment for the media to work effectively to serve public interest.

“Any measures taken to remove digital content should be based on validly enacted law, independent oversight and through necessary and proportionate means to achieve the legitimate aims mentioned above.

“Equal access to information, assurances on press freedom and responsible journalism will demonstrate Malaysia’s commitment to promote and protect the people’s right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“And that includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” it remarked. – Feb 21, 2021.

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