KUALA LUMPUR, July 2 — The Federal Court's decision to hear contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini over its readers’ comments is yet another challenge for the already-struggling media industry here, Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) said today.

In a statement this afternoon, the press group said media outlets are already coping with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the evolving demands of digital publishing, and have to now face restrictions on media freedom.

“We view that this action will impact freedom of expression online and freedom of the press in Malaysia,” the group said.

Geramm reminded that the media's primary role and duty are to its audience.

“The free media has an important role as a check and balance agent to the government and those in power.

“Any claims or charges laid against the media under the current political scenario will undoubtedly lead to an increasingly negative perception of the judiciary and government,” the group said, adding that any action taken against Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan will set a bad precedent to the media in this country as well.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) which held a watching brief to monitor the ongoing contempt of court proceedings said it stands in solidarity with Malaysiakini and condemned efforts by the State to intimidate and threaten media freedom and independence in the country. 

“Attempting to punish a news portal over comments left by their readers — comments which were removed when requested by the police a few days later, according to Malaysiakini — is grossly disproportionate to any legitimate aim of protecting public order.

“Freedom of expression and speech underpins the fundamental right to seek and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions, specifically on issues of public interests.

“Limits and restrictions on these freedoms must be clear and narrowly defined, and serve a well-defined public interest function.

“We call on the government to end and refrain from the continued use of intimidating measures to threaten and punish the media and silence opinions,” CIJ executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said in a statement.

Earlier today, the Federal Court’s seven-man panel chaired by Court of Appeal president Datuk Rohana Yusuf said there was prima facie evidence to proceed.

Among other things, Rohana said the judges found that the facts showed that Malaysiakini had facilitated the publication of the comments, and was presumed in law to have published the comments.

“Based on these reasons, the application is hereby unanimously dismissed,” Rohana said, referring to Malaysiakini’s application to set aside the Federal Court’s previous decision to grant leave for the case to go on.

The Federal Court said it would hear the actual contempt of court proceedings against the news portal on July 13.