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Monday, November 30, 2020

Federal Court to hear Malaysiakini's appeal in RAGM suit tomorrow


The Federal Court will be conducting Malaysiakini's appeal against a defamation suit by the Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) company tomorrow via online hearing.

This was confirmed through an email from the Chief Registrar's Office issued yesterday.

The appeal would be conducted via online hearing due to the ongoing conditional movement control order (MCO) in force over Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor until Dec 6.

The Federal Court had scheduled tomorrow, Dec 1, for the hearing following its postponement from Oct 8.

The postponement was due to the possibility of a settlement in an appeal by Bahasa Malaysia newspaper Utusan Malaysia in a defamation suit against it by lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon.

Utusan's appeal was initially set to be heard together with Malaysiakini's appeal on Oct 8. However, the Federal Court then postponed the matter to tomorrow when informed about the possibility of a settlement in the Utusan appeal.

According to the email, media coverage of proceedings tomorrow is allowed via video streaming at the Palace of Justice beginning at 8.30am.

A five-person bench chaired by Federal Court judge Vernon Ong Lam Kiat is expected to preside over the proceedings.

Other expected members of the bench are Federal Court judges Abdul Rahman Sebli, Zaleha Yusof, Hasnah Mohammed Hashim and Rhodzariah Bujang.

The apex court tomorrow is slated to hear Malaysiakini's appeal against a Court of Appeal decision in January 2018 which ordered the news portal to pay a sum of RM350,000, comprising RM200,000 in damages and another RM150,000 in legal costs, to RAGM for defamation.

The Court of Appeal verdict overturned an earlier Kuala Lumpur High Court ruling dismissing RAGM's claim.

Malaysiakini is expected to be represented by counsel Cyrus Das among others, while Cecil Abraham would be among the legal team acting for RAGM.

RAGM's lawsuit was filed over a series of Malaysiakini reports on the health concerns of Bukit Koman villagers in Raub, Pahang who had raised the alarm that sodium cyanide, a highly poisonous compound, was being used by the mine to extract gold ore.

The gold mine has since gone into liquidation and is no longer in operation.

One of the key issues the Federal Court will determine in the appeal is on the acceptance of the defence of reportage. While such a defence is allowed by some countries, this is the first time the matter has been brought before Malaysian courts.

Reportage is a defence against defamation lawsuits. It usually involves media organisations which republish, in the public interest and through unbiased reporting, circumstantial accusations about public figures or entities.

Media organisations using this defence argue that they are not implying that circumstantial statements are true but are simply reporting - in a neutral manner - that third parties have made such potentially libellous statements.

On May 23, 2016, Malaysiakini won its case at the High Court which ordered the gold mine to pay RM50,000 in costs. However, on Jan 11, 2018, the Court of Appeal reversed the High Court's decision.

In the wake of the Court of Appeal decision, Malaysiakini managed to raise RM350,000 from its readers and supporters in two weeks to pay for the damages and costs.

After granting leave to Malaysiakini to challenge the appellate court decision in 2018, Federal Court judge Zainun Ali, who led a three-member bench then, said the questions of law posed to the apex court should focus on the defence of reportage and whether damages could go to a company that has gone into insolvency. - Mkini

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