PUTRAJAYA: Politicians cannot sue the media for defamation in their capacity as public figures, the Court of Appeal here ruled today.
A three-man bench chaired by Datuk Rohana Yusuf made the decision when allowing Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd’s appeal to strike out a defamation lawsuit brought against it by Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob.
In her brief decision, she said it was the court’s view that the article, in its context and as a whole, had referred Adnan in his capacity as menteri besar and not as an individual private person.
She said Adnan’s defamation suit against the Malay newspaper should be struck out following an English case law principle, Derbyshire County Council vs Times Newspapers Ltd and others which stated that local authorities could not institute libel action.
The panel, which also included Court of Appeal judge Tan Sri Idrus Harun and High Court judge Datuk Mary Lim ordered Adnan to pay RM3,000 legal costs to Utusan Melayu. Adnan sued Utusan Melayu over publication of an article in Mingguan Malaysia under the headline, ‘Hebat Sangatkah Adnan’ on Nov 9, last year.
He was seeking general, aggravated and exemplary damages, an apology and an undertaking not to repeat publication of such defamatory material against him.
Utusan Melayu lost its bid to get the civil suit struck out at the High Court on July 23, last year and it appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal.
In today’s proceedings, Utusan Melayu’s counsel, Datuk M. Reza Hassan submitted the article had criticised Adnan as menteri besar and his administration.
He said the Derbyshire County Council vs Times Newspapers Ltd principle applied in the case and the court should allow Utusan Melayu’s appeal to strike out the lawsuit.
Adnan’s counsel, Americk Sidhu argued that his client was not suing the newspaper in his capacity as public official but his personal capacity.
Reza told reporters the court’s decision could have a landmark implication as it meant public figures could only sue for defamation if the attack was personal in nature.
Americk said he would seek instructions from Adnan on whether to bring the matter up to the Federal Court.
Also representing Utusan Melayu was lawyer Azhar Arman Ali.