PUTRAJAYA: Two Umno-linked media groups and three others today won their appeals against Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who had sued them for labelling him a “Singapore spy”.
A three-man Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Rohana Yusuf, said the court was bound by an earlier ruling that a public official could not sue anyone, including the media, for defamation.
In March, the Court of Appeal led by the same panel struck out Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob’s suit against Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad as he had filed the case in his official capacity.
The court had accepted that the legal principle established in the Derbyshire County vs Times Newspapers Ltd case also applied here.
In that case, decided in 1993, the court had ruled that local authorities could not institute legal action based on criticism.
Last month, the appellants, during the appeal hearing, raised a preliminary objection that Adnan’s case applied to Lim.
“Having considered that case, we allow the appeal,” said Rohana, who sat with judges Idrus Harun and Mary Lim.
She said if not for Adnan’s case, the court would have dismissed the appeal, but would have given Lim a reduced compensation of RM150,000.
“The damages of RM550,000 was too high because the High Court had incorporated a sum for aggravated damages which was not pleaded by Lim,” she said.
In March last year, High Court judge Nor Bee Ariffin found publishers New Straits Times Press (NSTP), Utusan Melayu, Perkasa, its president Ibrahim Ali and Negeri Sembilan branch chief Ruslan Kassim liable for defamation.
She ordered Perkasa to pay RM150,000 while NSTP and Utusan were to pay RM200,000 each in damages.
The judge said the quantum was for both aggravated and exemplary damages for publishing a comment piece by the Perkasa leader, which accused Lim of being a spy for Singapore.
The three were also ordered to pay costs of RM20,000 each.
Ruslan had claimed Lim had leaked Malaysia’s secrets during his trip to Singapore with InvestPenang in 2011.
In May 2012, Lim filed the defamatory suit against Ruslan, Ibrahim, Perkasa, NSTP, its then group editor Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, Utusan and Utusan group editor Abdul Aziz Ishak.
In his statement of claim, Lim said Ruslan had published a statement on Perkasa’s website on October 1, 2011 asking businessman Mohamad Azman Yahya to explain his meeting with another corporate leader, Kalimullah Hassan, and a PAP senior leader in Singapore on Aug 12, 2011.
Lim, who is DAP secretary-general, said the statement implied that he was endangering national security by exposing the country’s secrets to Singapore.
The New Straits Times and Berita Harian, under the NSTP’s stable, and Utusan Malaysia (under Utusan Melayu) had published Roslan’s comment.
Lawyer Americk Sidhu appeared for Lim, Rueben Mathiavaranam for the publishers, P G Cyril and Fahmi Abdullah for Roslan while Adnan Seman represented Ibrahim and Perkasa. -FMT