KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – A leading Malaysian news site was ordered on Friday (July 2) to pay RM550,000 (S$178,000) after losing a defamation case against a mining company, adding to concerns about worsening freedom of expression.

Malaysiakini was sued by Raub Australian Gold Mining, which claimed articles and videos published in 2012 about pollution allegedly linked to the firm’s operations were defamatory.

The now-defunct company’s suit was initially dismissed in 2016, but an appeal court found in favour of the firm two years later.

On Friday, the country’s top court upheld the appeal court’s ruling, and ordered the popular independent portal to pay RM550,000 in damages and costs.

In a 3-2 majority ruling, the court said Malaysiakini had failed to report the story “in a fair, disinterested and neutral way”.

The site had failed to take steps to verify the content of the articles, the court said, adding: “This is irresponsible rather than responsible journalism.”

But Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan criticised the ruling as a blow for public interest journalism, and said the site’s journalists had been carrying out their duties by reporting residents’ concerns.

The decision came after Malaysiakini, which has made a name for itself reporting on the misdeeds of the ruling elite, was fined in February after being convicted of contempt of court.

That case related to readers’ comments posted under an article on the site critical of the judiciary, and sparked alarm about worsening press freedoms.

Malaysiakini has faced continual attacks since its founding in 1999, from police raids to criminal prosecutions, but remains hugely popular in a country where much of the traditional media is government-linked.

Independent media, opposition politicians and activists have come under increasing pressure since the Perikatan Nasional coalition took power last year following the collapse of reformist administration Pakatan Harapan.

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