The Court of Appeal in Putrajaya today ordered the New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Bhd (NSTP) and its former journalist to pay Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy damages of RM200,000 each for defamation.
A three-person bench chaired by Justice Lim Yee Lan unanimously allowed the appeal brought by Guan Eng and Ramasamy to set aside a High Court decision.
They were appealing against the George Town High Court's decision in November last year which dismissed the defamation suit they filed against the English daily and Predeep Nambiar over an article titled 'Indian-interest group claims thugs interrupted meeting' published on its website on Dec 4, 2013.
Justice Lim said judgment had been entered against NSTP and Predeep as the words used in the article had exposed Guan Eng and Ramasamy to ridicule, hatred or contempt.
She said the article would have been read by many and therefore element of publication of the article has been proven.
She said considering the facts and circumstances of the case, there was no urgency to publish the article and that it was a necessity for the newspaper to get a response and verification from Guan Eng and Ramasamy over the allegations against them before the article was published.
Justice Lim said the court found that the article was not a piece of responsible journalism for the respondents to be entitled to defence of qualified privilege.
She said the High Court decision cannot be sustained which required the appellate court's intervention.
The panel, which also included Justices Badariah Sahamid and Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal, awarded RM50,000 in legal costs to Guan Eng and Ramasamy.
The court also directed that the RM100,000 legal costs paid by Guan Eng and Ramasamy for the court proceedings at the High Court, to be refunded to them within 14 days from today.
In their statement of claim, Guan Eng and Ramasamy alleged that NSTP and Predeep had intentionally, incorrectly and maliciously caused the article to be written, printed and published on the daily’s website.
Both NSTP and Predeep had denied defaming Guan Eng and Ramasamy, stating that they were merely reporting what was said in a press conference held by Hindraf national adviser N Ganesan.
Both respondents claimed that Guan Eng did not respond when Predeep tried contacting him on Dec 4, 2013 for comments by phone calls and SMS.
NSTP and Predeep were represented by lawyer Leong Wai Hong, while counsel N Mureli acted for Lim and Ramasamy.