Utusan justified to carry comment by Hasan Ali


(NST) – KUALA LUMPUR: A Malay daily was justified to carry a comment by Datuk Hasan Ali in response to opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s interview with the BBC as the matter touched on public interest.

Lawyer Datuk Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin told the High Court yesterday Utusan Malaysia (UM) and Hasan Ali, the then Selangor PAS Commissioner, must be given the right to freedom of speech.

 “As a newspaper, UM has the duty to publish matters of public interest. What politicians utter is also of public interest,” he said in his submission before judge Datuk V.T. Singham.

Firoz was submitting in a RM50 million defamation suit brought by Anwar against the defendants for publishing an article attributing to Hasan in reaction to his (Anwar) interview with BBC regarding Malaysia’s laws on homosexuals.

Anwar, who had named the publisher Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd and its group editor Abdul Aziz Ishak as defendants, is also seeking aggravated and exemplary damages and other relief deemed fit by the court.

Feroz said a news report had a short life span and could become stale the following day.

 He said newspapers were competing with broadcast and other social media and that was why it was urgent to break a news as soon possible.  

Feroz said Anwar’s statement attracted Hasan to respond in that he was not in agreement with the opposition leader’s stand.

 At this juncture Singham interjected and asked whether Anwar’s statement meant he wanted to legalise homosexuality.

Feroz replied in the affirmative as Anwar had uttered in the BBC intereview that “we should not be seen as punitive”.

Singham said the newspaper should have sought clarification from Anwar as in certain circumstances issues relating to race and religion were sensitive.

Counsel N. Surendran, who is representing Anwar, said the news report attributing to Hasan meant that his client was unfit to be a leader.

He said the media law, including the Defamation Act, only gave protection to responsible journalism.

Surendran said UM’s report implied that Anwar encouraged homosexuality.

He said Anwar’s reference to the word punitive only meant harshness of punishment, not promoting homosexuality.

“The publication in UM is therefore a false statement and the defendants’ have no defence to rely on,” he said, adding that the defendants’ position that news had short life span tantamount to opening the door to publish false news.

“Newspapers must get verification before going to print,” he said.

Singham will deliver his written judgment on Jan 21.