The government has yet again rejected the application of Malaysiakini for a publication permit for a daily newspaper, despite the courts twice ruling that the independent news portal has the right to publish.
In a letter received by Malaysiakini chief executive officer Premesh Chandran last week, the Home Ministry said the rejection was because the news portal “often causes controversy” by publishing news that could “distress” the people.
Home Ministry’s Publications Control and Al-Quran Text Division head Hashimah Nik Jaafar also stressed that the reports “could cause hatred towards national leaders”.
“The ministry has decided not to approve the application for a publication permit on the basis that the news published by the Malaysiakini online portal often causes controversy and is not neutral...
“Such news, if published in the print format, will cause shock and distress among the people. Sensitive issues are also published in the form of news, commentary, opinions and readers’ comments which could cause hatred towards national leaders,” Hashimah said.
She also pointed out that the application states that the editor for the print version will be the same person as the online version, indicating that the type of news “will definitely” be the same.
Five 'contentious' articles
According to the Home Ministry, among the contentious reports published by Malaysiakini are compilations of readers’ comments on the Terengganu menteri besar crisis five months ago.
The item, ‘How much will Najib spend to keep Terengganu?’ published on May 14, 2014, has also prompted Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in an unprecedented action, to sue the portal for defamation.
The Home Ministry also found issue with a commentary by think-tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU) that condemned Najib’s lawsuit against Malaysiakini .
Another “controversial” report cited by the ministry is an article on the government’s private jet, in which Najib and his wife were believed to be on board, being spotted in various European cities in August this year.
The ministry also frowned on an article quoting the Malaysian Indian Progressives Association (Mipas) slamming police chief Khalid Abu Bakar for saying he was taking the “middle path” in an inter-religious custody battle.
The final article cited is on the arrest of Penang executive councillor Phee Boon Poh over the Penang Voluntary Patrol Squad (PPS) issue. Journalist Susan Loone was arrested for sedition over the article.
All the five articles cited, other than the Yoursay item, were published in the website’s Bahasa Malaysia section.
Back to square one
On Oct 1, 2012, the High Court quashed the Home Ministry’s decision not to award Malaysiakini publisher Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd a publication permit for a daily newspaper.
Judge Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim ruled that the ministry’s decision was “irrational and improper” and breached the constitutional right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to a publishing permit.
He ordered Malaysiakini to make a fresh application to the Home Ministry. Following the decision, the ministry filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal.
On Oct 30, 2013, a three-member Court of Appeal panel unanimously rejected the government’s appeal and upheld the High Court’s decision.
When the government did not appeal to the Federal Court - the country’s highest court - Malaysiakini submitted a new application to the Home Ministry early this year.
Editor-in-chief Steven Gan, who is not surprised by the latest setback, said Malaysiakini will take the matter back to court.
“We are back to square one. Malaysiakini will again be challenging this asinine decision by the home minister, and we hope that this time the courts will order the government to issue us a publication permit.”