Newspapers and defamation — The Malaysian Insider
December 27, 2012
DEC 27 — There is defence of fair comment; defence of justification; absolute or qualified privilege.
These are among the defences available to individuals or newspapers fighting off charges of defamation. And occasionally, there is the out-of-this-world defence, or sometimes known as a dud defence.
Datuk Firoz Hussein, Utusan Malaysia’s lawyer, told the court today that it was unrealistic to expect newspapers to verify the truth before publishing a news report.
Really? Does this leniency also extend to lawyers, lawmakers and political leaders? That they can just say what they want or repeat statements without verifying its accuracy?
It is no secret that Utusan Malaysia does not represent the stellar qualities or standards of top class journalism. But even by the standards by which the Umno-owned paper operates, this defence offered by Firoz is shocking because it shows that he and the paper he represents does not understand that seeking and publishing factually accurate information must run through the veins of every journalist.
Newspapers generally delay publishing any report until they have verified information from a couple of sources. Or at least they seek comment from the target of a news report. This is the minimum standard required.
Firoz pulled out this amazing defence during the trial where Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is suing Utusan Malaysia for defamation in relation to an article which accused him of being a proponent of gay rights.
Among other things, the Utusan lawyer said that if newspapers went through the full rigours of checking facts, it would not be able to publish the next day! Amazing.
The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and most newspapers around the world publish after their journalists have verified info. It is the norm, not the exception.
Even with Malaysia’s sycophantic mainstream media, there is some checking involved, unless it involves bashing the Opposition. Then usual standards of journalism are suspended.
The journalistic truth process starts and ends with assembling and verifying the facts. When this minimum standard is not met, journalists and media outfits, including this one, get into a pickle.