Bangkok Desk, Feb 19 (efe-epa).- A Malaysian news portal was ordered to pay more than $123,000 after being found guilty of contempt of court Friday, in a case widely believed to be a barometer for the country’s media freedom.
Malaysiakini was ordered to pay 500,000 ringgit ($123,685) after a panel of judges in the Federal Court ruled six-to-one that it was guilty of the charge over five comments readers posted on its website that criticized the justice system. The decision cannot be appealed.
“The decision flies in the face of the fast-changing new media landscape in this country,” said the outlet’s Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan, who was cleared of wrongdoing. “It will have a tremendous chilling impact on discussions of issues of public interest and it delivers a body blow to our continual campaign to fight corruption, among others.”
Though prosecutors had asked for a 200,000-ringgit fine, they had also called for the editor to be charged. Gan added that the outlet was not punished for its journalism but for the comments its readers posted.
The editor had said Malaysiakiki could not be held accountable for readers’ comments, adding that the portal removed them when notified by authorities. However, the case was considered valid and admitted to court.
“The impugned statements had gone far and wide … the content was spurious and reprehensible in nature and the content involved allegations of corruption which were unproven and untrue,” said Rohana Yusuf, the judge panel’s chair.
The portal is considered an outlet for opposition voices in a country where media is often regulated or controlled by state-affiliated companies and organizations.
Malaysiakini had launched a call for help Friday to raise the sum for the fine, which it said must be paid by Wednesday.
Malaysia ranked 101st in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 Press Freedom Index, a 22-place improvement from 2019 following the repeal of a repressive anti-fake news law that curtailed media freedom. EFE-EPA