The court ruled against government rejection of an application for a print publishing license, required by law before a newspaper can be printed, a lawyer for the applicant said.
The license was sought by Malaysiakini, a popular independent news Web site, The New York Times reported, quoting lawyer Shanmuga Kanesalingam. The court said Malaysia's home minister, who issues the permits, must reconsider Malaysiakini's application, Shanmuga said.
The Times said print media largely are dominated by government-linked publications although Internet usage relatively free of regulation.
"Recognition that the right to publish a newspaper is a fundamental right is very, very significant," Shanmuga was quoted as saying. "It's the first time we've had this said by a judge."
Masjaliza Hamzah with the Center for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur said it was "a very progressive judgment for freedom of expression, for freedom of the press in Malaysia," the Times reported.
Noor Hisham, a federal counsel in the case, said the government has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.
Shanmuga was quoted as saying the court decision would make it more difficult for the government to turn down a printing permit license as officials must show a proposed publication would be a threat to public order or national security, or would be immoral.
Malaysiakini chief executive Premesh Chandran said his website, with sections in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, attracts 400,000 online readers a day. He said a printed newspaper in English would help reach those who still get their news through print.
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