Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak explained today that his legal action against news portal Malaysiakini is not part of a media crackdown.
"I want to be very clear: this does not indicate any wider agenda. It is not part of any crackdown; it is not an attempt to silence critical voices," he told attendees at the National Press Club award ceremony in Kuala Lumpur tonight.
Without naming Malaysiakini , Najib ( right ) said he believed the news portal had gone overboard.
"There is a difference between legitimate criticism and defamation.
"It is my legal team's opinion that recent allegations by an online news portal overstepped the line. They have therefore issued a legal notice," he said.
Najib is taking legal action against the Malaysiakini for publishing comments critical of him and Umno by readers on the short-lived Terengganu political crisis.
The prime minister said this was a matter of acting on specific accusations that crossed the line from fair comment into slander.
He said regardless of whether the defamation is primary, where someone makes a direct remark, or secondary, such as remarks that are reproduced, they would be equally dealt with by the law.
'Opposition sues too'
Both the government and opposition have taken legal action against organisations they believe have breached the law, added Najib.
"That is not unusual. In democracies, legal action against alleged defamation in the media is an appropriate recourse.
"It is part of another balancing act - the balance between being open to constructive public criticism while holding public office and the fundamental right to protect your dignity and your good name from being recklessly attacked as a result of political beliefs."
Najib reiterated his commitment to preserve the Internet as a medium for open discussion and also touted his move to abolish the need to renew print licences and subject their revocation to judicial review.
While stating the importance of a vibrant and strong media in a mature democracy, Najib said there was a need for balance between media freedom and responsibility.
He pointed out the closure of a 168-year-old newspaper in the United Kingdom, after it was discovered the daily had bribed police and hacked phones as an example.
Najib said Malaysians often reacted passionately to issues and urged responsible reporting, which he said would act as a "shock absorber".
'Avoid provocative remarks'
Likewise, Najib also advised politicians not to issue inflammatory comments.
"Politicians have a responsibility not to seek cheap headlines with provocative remarks.
"As our democracy grows, we must all work together - citizens, journalists and politicians - to avoid inflammatory statements and to ease tensions when they arise," he said.
Earlier in the speech, Najib weighted into Malaysia's narrow defeat in the Thomas Cup yesterday and mocked the opposition in the process.
"According to someone who did an in-depth analysis, Malaysia garnered 242 points to Japan's 234 points.
"Based on this theory, our side can claim victory but Malaysia will not claim the Thomas Cup because we play by the rules," Najib said.
Pakatan Rakyat has constantly questioned the government's legitimacy after it won almost 52 percent of the popular vote while BN only won slightly more than 47 percent of the popular vote, but captured power.
Malaysia was yesterday defeated 3-2 by Japan after making into the Thomas Cup final for the first time in 12 years.