KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s highest court on Friday ordered news portal Malaysiakini to pay 550,000 ringgit ($132,179.76) in damages for in a defamation case filed by a now-defunct Australian mining firm.
The ruling comes amid concern among activists about freedom of expression in Malaysia and is the latest against Malaysiakini, an independent publication that has often attracted scrutiny from authorities.
Malaysiakini was sued in 2012 for publishing several articles and videos about residents’ concerns over pollution allegedly linked to Raub Australian Gold Mine Sdn Bhd’s gold mining operations in Malaysia. The company had said the articles were defamatory and malicious.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court in 2016 ruled in favour of Malaysiakini on the grounds of responsible journalism and reportage, but the decision was later overturned on appeal.
On Friday, the Federal Court upheld the appellate court’s decision in a 3-2 majority ruling, saying Malaysiakini had not been “fair, disinterested or adopted a neutral approach” in reporting the residents’ campaign against the mining activities.
The court found Malaysiakini had failed to take steps to verify assertions made in the articles.
“This is irresponsible rather than responsible journalism,” the court said in a copy of its judgment seen by Reuters.
Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan expressed disappointment with the outcome and said the news portal had merely been carrying out its duties as journalists in reporting the residents’ health concerns.
Raub Australian Gold Mine could not be contacted for comment. Lawyers for the company did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
In February, Malaysiakini was fined 500,000 ringgit after the Federal Court found it in contempt over publishing readers’ comments about the judiciary, a ruling condemned by rights groups as a blow to press freedoms.
($1 = 4.1610 ringgit)
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty)