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Simplified: The 'Malaysiakini' decisions in the Federal Court
Simplified: The 'Malaysiakini' decisions in the Federal Court — what the judges decided and why it matters

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — News outlet Malaysiakini on Friday found itself held liable and fined RM500,000 by the Federal Court for the contemptuous comments of five readers that were hosted on its website in June 2020.

With a seven-member panel at the Federal Court examining the case, there was a split decision as six judges found Malaysiakini guilty of contempt of court for facilitating the five subscribers’ comments, while one judge disagreed that the 21-year-old news site should be held guilty.

Here’s a brief chronology of events that led to the Federal Court rulings on Friday according to news reports and court documents, and a quick look at how and why the judges arrived at the decisions.

1. The facts
On the morning of June 9, 2020, the prosecution informed the High Court that it was withdrawing all 46 corruption and money-laundering charges against former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, which then resulted in the High Court acquitting the politician.

Later, on the same day past noon, news portal Malaysiakini published a news report titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”, which was regarding a press release by the chief justice of Malaysia on the operation of courts in line with the recovery movement control order (RMCO).

Subscribers of Malaysiakini then posted comments under this news report in the comments section on its website, including the five comments which, among others, contained criticisms against the judiciary and the chief justice over Musa’s acquittal. This was despite the acquittal being due to the prosecution’s decision to drop the charges (which was explained later in the day by the attorney general as due to the unavailability of certain documentary evidence and witnesses).

According to Malaysiakini, comments can only be made by active paying subscribers, with such comments posted automatically on its website without any prior manual moderating, and with only a filter software to disallow comments from being uploaded if foul words from a list by Malaysiakini’s editors are detected.

After they are published, the system will detect any comments with “suspected words” and flag the comment to the moderator for review, while a peer-review process allows other readers to flag or report offending comments seen on the website which will then result in an editor reviewing and deciding whether to remove the comment.

Malaysiakini said no readers had reported these comments and the comments did not carry any of the “suspected words” that Malaysiakini’s filter software could detect.

Malaysiakini had said it was not aware of the five comments until June 12 at 12.45pm when it was alerted by the police as to investigations into the comments, with Malaysiakini’s editorial team then immediately reviewing the comments and removing these and other comments at 12.57pm on the same day.

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