Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Utusan, former EIC, ordered to pay RM120,000 for defaming Mahfuz

by S. Tamarai Chelvi

KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 23, 2008) : The High Court here ruled today taht the content of an article on Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar published in Mingguan Melayu was libellous and granted him RM120,000 in general damages.

Judicial Commissioner Mohd Yazid Mustafa said "the words, by way of innuendo, portray the plaintiff as a person inter alia with a political agenda of forcefully removing the present government, who advocates violence and force, who disbelieves in the democratic process to create change in the ruling government and who intends to cause chaos and instability to the country's harmony".

The article titled "Demonstrasi -- Mahfuz isytihar bersama Keadilan" (Demonstration -- Mahfuz declares with Keadilan) was published on March 4, 2001.

Mahfuz had filed a defamation suit on Dec 10, 2001 and named Utusan's former group editor in-chief Datuk Khalid Mohd and Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Berhad as the defendants.

"The fact that the plaintiff is a volatile and vocal political figure is not relevant because the issue for the determination is whether the impugned were uttered by the plaintiff," Mohd Yazid said.

"This is necessary because the plaintiff has denied making such statements.The defendant, I find, has not only failed to establish justification for the words but failed to show that the words were even said by the plaintiff."

Mohd Yazid said the contention that the defendant's journalist is an experienced and responsible professional in political news coverage is irrelevant, based on this reason.

He said the impugned words do not fulfill the elements of fair comment.

"The words that were published are not facts but although it could be construed as comment, the said words are not fair comment because there is no truthful basis to it. The said words also do not serve any public interest as contended by the defendants," said Mohd Yazid.

"The defendants have failed to establish how the public interest or which aspects of the public's interest is affected or could be affected by the said words. Lastly, I find that the words were published with the intention to lower the plaintiff's reputation in the estimation of a reasonable reader of the second defendant's newspaper," said Mohd Yazid.

"I also find that the defence of justification cannot stand because the words were not proven to have been uttered by the plaintiff. The said words have no truth to it," said Mohd Yazid.

Mohd Yazid said, in determining the quantum of damages, the court took into consideration several facts.

"Firstly, the plaintiff's standing in his society as a political figure, a MP and a public figure. The plaintiff is also a well known figure amongst his peers and commands the respect of the latter," said Mohd Yazid.

"Secondly, the second defendant has a newspaper circulation of 200,000 papers per day, including 800,000 visitors and 7.8 million page viewers per month for its online publication.

"Therefore, the impugned words affecting the political and social standing and the reputation of the plaintiff were widely published."

He said the defendants have not tendered any apology to "mitigate the harm to the plaintiff's reputation".

Mahfuz, who was approached by reporters, said he thanked God for the ruling.

Utusan, former EIC, ordered to pay RM120,000 for defaming Mahfuz
The Sun Daily, Malaysia

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