THE Malaysiakini news portal has been fined RM500,000 for contempt of court over the portal’s readers’ comments.
The Federal Court handed down the sentence although the Attorney-General’s Chambers had only sought a RM200,000 fine for the contempt charge.
In a 6-1 majority decision, the court found Malaysiakini liable for contempt of court over its readers’ comments.
However, the news portal’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan was found not guilty of the same charge.
The seven-person bench chaired by Court of Appeal president Rohana Yusuf delivered the 6-1 majority decision with the dissenting judgment by Federal Court judge P. Nallini.
This is the first time Malaysiakini was cited for contempt of court in its 21-year history.
The court said it took into account that the company‘s management had extended an unconditional apology and cooperated with police but that it was the duty of the court to consider the seriousness of the offence under the Malaysian justice system.
“The comments had attracted local and global attention and allegations of corruption in the judiciary which were false,” she said, adding that the fine of RM500,000 was appropriate.
The company has been given three days from Monday to settle the penalty.
Attorney-General Idrus Harun began contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and Gan, in June last year, saying they had facilitated the publication of comments by readers which undermined the country’s judiciary.
The comments appeared in an article dated June 9, 2020 titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.
In responding to the decision, Gan said Malaysiakini was very disappointed with the decision.
“The decision flies in the face of the fast-changing new media landscape in this country.
“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,” he said.
Gan added that in an environment where everyone has a megaphone through a vibrant social media, it was important for the media to explain, educate and illuminate.
“I am terribly disappointed. What crime has Malaysiakini committed that we are forced to pay RM500,000 when there are individuals charged with abuse of power for millions and billions who are walking free?” he said.
Malaysiakini is now hoping for public help to raise the RM500,000.
“We were not punished for our journalism. We were punished for comments posted by our readers,” said Gan.
“We hope that Malaysians will contribute to our fund. Openness to critical views is a sign of a strong and healthy institution.”