In Malaysia, Court Backs Right to Print a Newspaper

(The New York Times) – KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Obtaining permission to publish a newspaper in Malaysia, where the print media are dominated by government-linked publications, is likely to become easier after a court ruled that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to publish and is a fundamental liberty, a lawyer said on Tuesday.

A Malaysian court ruled on Monday that the government should not have rejected an application for a print publishing license by Malaysiakini, a popular independent news Web site, said Shanmuga Kanesalingam, a lawyer who represented Malaysiakini. Under Malaysian law, a newspaper must obtain a permit from the government before it can publish.

Free-speech advocates hailed the decision as a victory.

“Recognition that the right to publish a newspaper is a fundamental right is very, very significant,” Mr. Shanmuga said. “It’s the first time we’ve had this said by a judge.”

Masjaliza Hamzah, executive officer of the Center for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur, described the decision as “a very progressive judgment for freedom of expression, for freedom of the press in Malaysia.”

“It’s very significant,” she said, because few new permits for print newspapers have been granted in recent years.

“The permits that have been given out are mostly for small-scale publications, but not for the kind of publication that could garner a national audience, which Malaysiakini could,” Ms. Masjaliza said.

The government has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision, said Noor Hisham bin Ismail, a senior federal counsel involved in the case. It has a month to file.

Although the Internet has remained relatively free in Malaysia, most large newspapers are either owned by the government or linked to it.

Mr. Shanmuga said the court had ruled that the home minister, who grants publishing permits, must reconsider Malaysiakini’s application in accordance with the law.

He said the ruling would make it more difficult for the government to refuse an application for a printing license, because it requires officials to show that the proposed publication would be a threat to public order or to national security, or would be immoral.

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