MalaysiaKini Contempt of Court – Dangerous Precedent for Content Moderation

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is concerned by the developments and finding of the Federal Court in the contempt proceeding against MalaysiaKini.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to the functioning of any democracy, and any restriction should only be applied to protect the safety or rights of others, and not to protect the perceived affront to the dignity of any person or institution. In this case, it is of paramount importance to ensure freedom of expression takes the fore as it involves a media organization and the alleged contemptuous content were comments by third parties with no affiliation with MalaysiaKini.

The implication of the finding of the Federal Court thus far would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on free speech as a media organization may be liable for commentaries by its readers. The finding would penalize any service or platform provider that have screening or moderating mechanism as they may be liable as publishers for the purpose of contempt whereas those without would be protected from liability.

With this finding, it would encourage service and platform providers to ignore all responsibility in moderating or regulating content as that would put them at unnecessary legal risk. Furthermore, the finding of the court suggests that individuals are can conduct organized posting of contemptuous material on any moderated media website or social media comment sections to incriminate the said platform.

The issue of content moderation and intermediary liability for social media and the broader Internet requires extensive discussion by subject matter experts. The Attorney General decision to pursue the matter with such an angle and the subsequent decision by the court has placed Malaysia on a worrying trajectory with regards to these issues.

On this note, SUARAM call on the Attorney General to withdraw the contempt proceeding against MalaysiaKini and urge the Federal Court to exercise caution as any shortcoming in judgment for this case would have far-reaching implication and challenge for the development of content moderation and intermediary liability policy in Malaysia.

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