Apex court defers ruling in Malaysiakini contempt case

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has reserved judgment on a contempt charge against news portal Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan for allegedly scandalising the judiciary in publishing readers’ comments.

Judge Rohana Yusof, who chaired a seven-member bench, said a ruling would be made on a date to be fixed, with parties to be informed after hearing submissions.

Lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, representing the news portal and Gan, had said there was no intentional publication on the part of Malaysiakini.

“This was not proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt as contempt is a quasi criminal matter,” he said.

He added that the news portal was not made aware of the content in question until 12.45pm on June 12.

He said the comments were removed 12 minutes later.

Adding that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) requires content providers to remove offensive articles or comments within two working days, he said the portal had also complied with the content code registered with MCMC under which it was not required to practise censorship.

“The code also does not require the news portal to monitor content by third parties,” he added.

But senior federal counsel S Narkunavathy said under Section 114A of the Evidence Act, Malaysiakini had facilitated the publication of the comments.

“Once there is a presumption, the burden to rebut the publication shifts to the news portal,” she said.

Narkunavathy also said Malaysiakini should have installed a software system to prevent the publication of offensive comments.

“They are liable for failing to do so,” she added.

Attorney-General Idrus Harun began contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and Gan on June 16. He said they had facilitated the publication of comments by readers which undermined the country’s judiciary.

The comments in question appeared in an article dated June 9, 2020 titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.

Idrus said the comments “clearly meant that the judiciary committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice and compromised its integrity”.

“These comments threaten public confidence in the judiciary and are clearly aimed at tarnishing the administration of justice,” he added.

Lawyer A Surenthra Ananth, who appeared with Malik, said the apex court ruling was significant as it would also impact bloggers, Google and Facebook account holders who carried remarks by third parties.

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