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76 opposition reps decry 'unreasonable, unfair' contempt verdict, want govt action
Published:  Feb 20, 2021 6:42 AM
Updated: 1:13 PM

Seventy-six opposition MPs, state assemblypersons and senators have jointly called for an immediate consultation to discuss media guidelines that will be fair and built on a rights-based approach.

This following the Federal Court verdict against Malaysiakini yesterday.

They also expressed their grave concern over the conviction meted out against the news portal.

"The verdict sends a chilling message to Malaysians as it indicates the further narrowing of media space on freedom of expression, a right that is guaranteed under the Malaysian constitution.

"Media is the fourth estate in a democratic country. Media freedom is one of the bulwarks of a free democracy," read the statement.

The political representatives were from PKR, DAP, Amanah and Warisan, and also included former ministers Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Maszlee Malik.

Former education minister Maslee Malik

They reminded the government that fearless and independent media ensure transparency and impartial public discourse.

"To that end, it is fundamental that freedom of expression of journalists and media practitioners are given due protection by the law and the courts.

"Critical views and public debates on a plethora of issues, save for those proscribed by law, should not be met with retribution," they added.

Malaysiakini was fined RM500,000 for contempt of court by the Federal Court in relation to the news portal's readers' comments.

Contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan were initiated by Attorney-General Idrus Harun over comments left by readers on the news website.

Idrus argued that the two respondents had scandalised the court by facilitating five readers' comments on an article dated June 9 titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.

The 6-1 majority decision cannot be appealed. The Federal Court did not convict Gan.

Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran (left) and editor-in-chief Steven Gan

The opposition representatives also questioned why the portal was held responsible given its rapid removal of the offending remarks.

"In our view, it is unreasonable and unfair to hold the portal responsible for the opinions of its readers.

"It is not disputed that the portal removed the offending comments about 12 minutes after the presence of the comments was drawn to their attention. There was no refusal to remove the comments," they said.

They called for immediate consultation between media practitioners, civil society, government agencies, MPs, the Attorney-General's Chambers and the judiciary to discuss media guidelines that are fair and built on a rights-based approach.

"In this light, we fully support the Bar Council’s call for a specific legislation to cogently define contempt which can then serve as a useful guide to uphold freedom of expression and media freedom," they said.

It should be noted that the proposed draft bill on the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council, which, among others, aims to uphold and promote media freedom and a legislative and regulatory environment conducive for that purpose, was submitted to the Communications and Multimedia Ministry on Aug 3, 2020.

Council pro-tem committee chairperson Premesh Chandran said last September that the draft bill, along with a report that sets out the establishment of the council via a parliamentary act, had been submitted and that the committee would meet with Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on the matter.

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