News portal sues over publishing knockback

By Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s leading online news portal Malaysiakini today said it has launched a legal challenge after authorities rejected its application for a permit to publish a newspaper.

The pioneering website has over the past decade become a leading source of information in the Southeast Asian nation, where major newspapers and broadcasters are largely government-linked.

Malaysiakini — which focuses on politics, corruption and social issues including race relations — filed a case in the High Court on Tuesday, challenging the home ministry’s decision to reject its request.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be allowed to publish a newspaper,” its chief executive Premesh Chandran told AFP.

“It’s a constitutional right and Malaysiakini has been around for 10 years, we have a proven track record for being independent, balanced and credible.”

All newspapers in Malaysia need a permit which must be renewed annually. The licensing system allows the government to close media outlets at will and puts publishers under pressure to toe the line.

Malaysiakini and other online media have remained relatively free — despite occasional raids, bans and government criticism — due to a government pledge not to censor the Internet, made in the mid-90s to attract foreign investment.

Chandran said Malaysiakini, which has 1.8 million readers per month, wants to launch a newspaper to reach out to a wider audience. Its online portal’s operation is not affected by the ministry’s decision.

“This is a sign that there is no change (by the government). This is a continuation of policy to have strict control over the print and broadcast media,” he said.

No reasons given

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak took office last year with promises to promote openness and transparency, but has since faced claims that his administration is trying to silence critics.