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PM's lawsuit only shows pettiness and insecurity

COMMENT A friend on Twitter reminded me that Najib Abdul Razak’s suing of Malaysiakini has one small thing in common with my arrest many years ago - that it involves reader comments on our website/blog.

I have a lot of warm feelings for Malaysiakini , and tend to take it a little personally when people attack it.

I often refer to Malaysiakini as the Grande Old Dame of Malaysian online publishing - it was there first, when there was basically no one else, and I like to think that flawed though it is, it has retained through the years and decades a high standard of journalistic integrity and faithfulness to its mission.

Others come and go, but I feel that Malaysiakini has remained the most true and consistent to its original vision. It is no small privilege to humbly count myself as one of many contributors.

I am not a close follower of the Yoursay section of Malaysiakini , but there is no doubt that it has for many years been a place like few others for Malaysians to vent and publish views which may otherwise never see publication - especially in any mainstream press.

The Yoursay section is also unique even amongst online publications. To the best of my knowledge, no other news portal affords such prominent coverage to the voice of the people, emphasising that what is worth reading is not only what journalists and editors decide you should read, but what everyday people have to say as well.

Selective persecution

Not long after I was released, we held a small forum to address among other things, the ethics of publication. I remember asking lawyer R Sivarasa what exactly constituted defamation, technically speaking.

I remember his response as being: “If we explained what technically constituted defamation, no one would ever dare publish anything again.”

I’ve learnt a little more about defamation since then, and I do concur that generally speaking, our existing laws make it relatively easy to successfully sue for defamation.

Being objective precludes ignoring the fact that Utusan Malaysi a has been sued successfully quite a few times for defamation by people who harbour very strong anti-Barisan Nasional sentiments. The sword has undoubtedly cut both ways.

All this said, is a culture of suing here and suing there really the direction we want to head to?

If for instance, we were to define defamation as something that could not be proven to be 100 percent true, does that mean that Najib should sue anyone who writes or says “Najib is an idiot”?

(Somewhere in the distance, I see 10,000 soon-to-be-rich lawyers light up and say “Yes!”)

If the answer is no, then we can only conclude that choosing to sue Malaysiakini here and now is selective persecution.

Has the PM no other work?

Let us examine some of the reader comments highlighted by the statement of claim against Malaysiakini :

“He has many skeletons in his closet. Therefore, he has no moral right to right whatever wrong done by his cabinet ministers or others for fear the same would exposed whatever skeletons he has been hiding.”

“Now I wonder how much he will spend to keep Terengganu BN-friendly? And how much more to keep his premiership?”

“This is typical Umno game of ‘How to Become an Millionaire: Dulu, Kini and Selama-lamanya’. It is just a matter of ‘how much?’”

So this is what constitutes an utterly unacceptable attack on the integrity of the prime minister?

The statement of claim also specifies what statements like the above apparently imply, among others: that Najib is incompetent (18a), has no integrity (18b), is racist (18c), is immoral (18d), has no calibre or credibility (18e), cannot be trusted (18g), encourages party hopping (18i), abuses power (18j), and does not care for the people (18l).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t every other article about Najib (especially in Malaysian cyberspace) not only imply all of the above, but very often says so directly? It’s entirely possible I have myself done so at some point or another.

The question I think that needs to be asked is: What’s the big deal?

Even in the case of my arrest, the comment that appeared on my blog mentioned very specific accusations against a specific individual.

In this case, it is not as if Malaysiakini headlined: “Proof discovered that Najib ordered Mongolian’s killing” or any such blatant lie. They merely gave a space for readers to say what hundreds of thousands of Malaysians are probably saying in coffee shops all across the country.

I agree that Najib, like any citizen, is completely within his rights to sue whoever he wants; nevertheless, that the most powerful person in our government would stoop to waste time and energy - both public and private - to pursue such vindictive retribution over such petty, inconsequential name-calling is truly a tremendous let-down and disappointment.

One cannot help but think of the Malay saying/question ‘ tak ada kerja lain ke ?’

Misunderstanding strength

It was a running joke that more Americans got their news from satire show The Daily Show than actual news channels.

The relentless frequency with which anchor Jon Stewart manages to insult, satirise, and make fun of American politicians would probably make the heads of Malaysian leaders spin. Yet, how often do we hear of satirists like Stewart getting sued? This, mind you, in none other than the land of the lawsuit itself.

I think Western politicians have long learned that it is stupid to try and feed the trolls, and that any attempt to do so only earns them more ridicule - ridicule I suspect Najib will come to know even closer first hand in the process of this lawsuit.

The wiser, more mature politicians simply take it in stride and keep smiling. The best ones give as good as they get, all in a healthy spirit of democracy.

The measure of a secure politician is not the viciousness with which he turns on his critics (indeed, that indicates insecurity more than anything), but his ability to answer criticism with coherent, articulate words of his own, and proof of his own position.

It remains to be seen if NATHANIEL TAN’s meagre attempts to suck up to Malaysiakini will result in higher pay per article. He understands that this is less likely should they lose the lawsuit, but continues to love them anyway.

See you in court, Mr Prime Minister

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