PUTRAJAYA,Feb 19: Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, the company which runs Malaysiakini, has been fined RM500,000 by the Federal Court after it was found guilty of scandalising the judiciary in publishing readers’ comments last year.
The fine was more than the RM200,000 proposed by senior federal counsel Suzana Atan.
Court of Appeal president Rohana Yusof, who led a majority of six judges in finding the news portal guilty, said they took into account that the company‘s management had extended an unconditional apology and cooperated with police.
However, she said, it was the duty of the court to consider the seriousness of the offence under the Malaysian justice system.
“The comments had attracted local and global attention and allegations of corruption in the judiciary which were false,” she said, adding that the fine of RM500,000 is appropriate.
The company has been given three days from Monday to settle the penalty.
Attorney-General Idrus Harun began contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and its editor-in chief, Steven Gan, on June 16. He said they had facilitated the publication of comments by readers which undermined the country’s judiciary.
The comments appeared in an article dated June 9, 2020 titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.
Rohana, who delivered the majority judgment, said Malaysiakini could not claim that its filter system failed to remove offensive comments when, in fact, it deliberately chose to only filter foul language, “though we remained perplexed how these comments even passed its filter looking at the language of the impugned comments”.
She said the three safeguards adopted by Malaysiakini proved to have failed and did not efficiently control or prevent offensive comments from being published.
“The surrounding circumstances of the present case strongly suggest that the impugned comments were published without reservation and were only taken down upon being made aware of by police,” she said.
She said the majority could not accept such failed measures as a complete defence, and Malaysiakini could not unjustifiably and irresponsibly shift the entire blame on its third party online subscribers, while exonerating itself of all liabilities.
“In short, as stated in the application of the AG, Malaysiakini facilitates the publication of the contemptuous comments by the third party subscribers,” she said.
Rohana said none of Malaysiakini’s 10 editors came forward to deny knowledge and explainhow these abusive comments escaped their attention.
Rohana said Malaysiakini must at least ensure that the Malaysian public be exposed to balance discussions on the issues of public concern and not participate in demeaning and ridiculing the judiciary to undermine public confidence.
She said the portal’s defence that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia (MCM) content code shielded it from liability arose from wrong interpretation of the code.
The majority said they acquitted Gan of any contempt as no fact or evidence adduced had attributed him to facilitating the publication of the comments.
Nallini, the dissenting judge, said Malaysiakini and Gan were unaware of the existence and content of the code until they were brought to their attention on June 12.
She said Malaysiakini was a “publisher” only if it did have knowledge of the existence and content of the comments posted by third parties. “which was not the case here”.
Nallini also said the objectionable content was taken down within 12 minutes of Malaysiakini being advised. “That is an immediate response, demonstrating their intent not to allow such contemptuous material on their portal.”.
Gan told the media he was shocked by the amount of the fine when the attorney-general’s representative only suggested RM200,000.
“It is a major blow to us. However, like in the past, hopefully our supporters will come and help us,” he said.