Kuala Lumpur, Jan 21 – The Kuala Lumpur High Court today found Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd and its chief editor Abdul Aziz Ishak liable for defamation against Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Judge VT Singham in his ruling said the Page 1 and Page 10 articles published by Utusan Malaysia on Jan 17, last year, were damaging to Anwar’s reputation and exposed the politician to ridicule and scorn.
The court fixed legal costs at RM45,000, while the amount of damages will be assessed on Feb 15. Anwar is seeking RM50 million from Utusan in the libel claim.
Justice Singham also took the Umno-owned daily to task for failing to practise responsible journalism.
“Anwar’s statement has been taken out of context by the daily, as in the BBC interview with the plaintiff it was crystal clear that he was not supportive that homosexual, lesbian and transgender activities should be legalised.”
“The (Utusan) article published is incorrect, distorted and taken out of context, and it cannot be reconciled.
“The purpose the article was published was to say Anwar is condoning it. The defendants have not acted professionally in publishing a correction when a legal letter was sent a week after the publication by Anwar’s lawyers, and have ignored altogether to publish an apology,” said the judge.
Justice Singham said Utusan should have replied to the legal notice by coming with a proposal for Anwar to clarify the statements published in the articles, but instead the paper permitted the article to remain permanently.
“In conclusion, the court finds both articles defamatory. No publication should be used for political purpose to defame someone. It is an attack on the moral character of the plaintiff.”
Need for verification
Justice Singham said Abdul Aziz could have checked the veracity of facts with Anwar on what was said during the latter’s BBCinterview.
“It is not the job of the public or the reader to investigate. If they (Utusan) want to check, they can download the interview from the BBC website to check the veracity of the claim.”
In the articles in question, Utusan had also published comments by former Selangor PAS commissioner Hasan Ali (above) on Anwar’s interview with BBC, to which Justice Singham said, “Hasan’s press conference was regarding his sacking as PAS Selangor commissioner. He was then an aggrieved person in PAS, which is part of Pakatan Rakyat”.
He said the daily should not have published the articles and that the plaintiff had proven that the publication was with malice.
Reading out his two-hour long judgment, the judge also stressed that journalists and editors should be careful with what they write so as not to include comment, which may impugn somebody.
“The press should have no greater power in impressing or misleading the minds of the people when compared to the reputation of an individual.
“It is essential that journalists, editors and publishers should take great care before any article which tends to harm the reputation of an individual is published. Reckless articles that contain insinuation or imputation without verification are to be avoided.”
Justice Singham also touched on the expectation by the public, which wants to see an independent judiciary in making decisions, and he pledged to uphold this constitutional right in view of democracy practised in Malaysia.
‘I will consult my lawyers on Hasan’- Anwar
Anwar, on commenting today’s decision, said he is thankful that the judgement fell in his favour, and that this proved the malicious falsehood continuously done by Utusan.
“I win in this case, and the quantum of the damages will be decided later. What I like is that the judge started off with defending the independence of the judiciary with which I fully support.”
“In the context of our country, the decision today is important, as this involves Umno and this involves the Umno president’s representative who sits in the directorship of Utusan, which in my experience when I was in Umno, will give directives.
“The judge also commented on the freedom of the press, but this does not mean the right to slander or defame someone’s irresponsibility,” he said.
The Permatang Pauh MP said Utusan had picked on Hasan’s views to complete its mission of slandering him.
“When we put that there is no basis for them to make the allegation, and we also showed the evidence, Utusan could not defend,” he said, adding that Utusan never referred to the BBCinterview which he gave previously.
“I will consult with my lawyers on what sort of action is to be taken against Hasan. I think the Umno-owned media along with Utusan could possibly escalate their attacks as the election looms.”
The opposition leader said that the Utusan case is quite similar to the consent judgement recorded last week with Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar (KJ), where the transcript of his speech given to us shows that he made such references.
“In Khairy’s speech, he did claim that I was a puppet of the Jews and the Americans, but when faced before the judge, he claimed that he did not say that. However, if the slander continues by KJ, I will refer to the case whether to take further action on this,” he said.