June 22, 2023
GEORGETOWN – The High Court here has ruled that a comment by MCA vice-president Tan Teik Cheng published in The Star Online was not defamatory against former finance minister Lim Guan Eng.
Justice Quay Chew Soon said this in his dismissal of Lim’s defamation lawsuit against Tan and the English daily here on Wednesday (June 21).
Lim had filed a defamation suit against the two defendants over Tan’s comment on a RM4mil allocation for a Chinese vernacular school during the Johor state election last year.
The comment was published in The Star’s Letters to the Editor column.
In his decision, Justice Quay said he found the impugned statement not defamatory for several reasons, among which is that the statement when read as a whole was merely “a call for the plaintiff (Lim) to explain the allegations which had arisen in the course of the Johor state elections” and this was not denied by Lim.
“In any event, the final sentence in the article takes away any sting in the impugned statement. A person who is making an unequivocal allegation would not ask for an explanation.
“A reasonable man reading the final sentence of the impugned statement would accept that an explanation might be forthcoming from the plaintiff on the issue,” the judge said.
Meanwhile, on the part of The Star as the second defendant, the court found that the news portal and daily was entitled to rely on the defence of reportage.
“I am satisfied that the defendant has published the impugned statement in a fair, disinterested and neutral manner,” he said.
Justice Quay also said that it would be “impossible” for any news organisation to run the “Letter to the Editor” section if they were expected to verify the truth of all material received that they intend to publish in that section.
He also found that there was no malice by The Star in publishing Tan’s opinion, even if it may not agree with the view stated therein.
“For the reasons above, I find that the plaintiff has not succeeded in proving his case against the defendants on a balance of probabilities. I therefore dismiss the plaintiff’s claim,” Justice Quay said.
The court also ordered Lim to pay RM20,000 to Tan and RM30,000 to The Star in costs.