Malaysia's Oldest Newspaper Is Sorry For Baseless Article On Destabilising The Govt

NST learnt a lesson in verifying facts and getting proof in their news reports today after a free but not so fair article that attacked Bersih 2.0, Suaram, Centre for Investigative Journalism and Merdeka Centre in September 2012.

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New Straits Times (NST) Has Issued A Full Apology To Bersih, Suaram, CIJ and Merdeka Center For A Defamatory Article

New Straits Times Has Offered A Full Apology To Bersih, Suaram, CIJ and Merdeka Center For Its Baseless Article

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Today The New Straits Times has apologised in Open Court for their false and baseless article published on 21 September 2012 in their daily newspaper and online newsportal thus bringing to an end the defamation suits brought against them by BERSIH 2.0, SUARAM, the Centre for Independent Journalism and the Merdeka Center (the Plaintiffs)."

The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP) and its reporter Farrah Naz Karim apologised Wednesday in a High Court here to Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and 14 Bersih 2.0 steering committee members over a defamatory article published last year.

NST Was Accepting Fault For A 21 September 2012 Article Stating That These NGOs Were Plotting To Overthrow The Ruling Government

NST Was Accepting Fault For A 21 September 2012 Article Stating That These NGOs Were Plotting To Overthrow The Ruling Government

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The NST article, published on its front page on Sept 21 last year, accused Bersih and the other NGOs of plotting a conspiracy to destabilise the BN government.

The article alleged that The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (known as Bersih 2.0), Suaram, CIJ and Merdeka Centre had received vast sums of money from foreign elements, and their purpose, among others, was to destabilise or overthrow through illegal means the Government and to cause political unrest in the country experienced in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and/or Syria.

Following The Article, Bersih Filed A Lawsuit Against NST In February 2013 Citing Defamation

Following The Article, Bersih Filed A Lawsuit Against NST In February 2013 Citing Defamation

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But on the same day, activists denied the allegation in the NST report’s headline, saying that they were being targeted in a campaign aimed at smearing their reputation, following the publication of similar stories about the purported plot in other newspapers.

On February 7 this year, Bersih filed the lawsuit against New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad and Farrah Naz Karim, the author of a September 21, 2012 article titled “Plot to destabilise government”. In its lawsuit, Bersih also wanted an injunction to restrain the defendants from publishing the article or defamatory words.

In February this year, after Bersih's plea for the retraction of the article was not entertained, the electoral reform group filed the defamation suit for an unspecified sum, naming the article author Farrah Naz Karim and New Straits Times Press Bhd as respondents.

14 Nov 2013, NSTP Acknowledged That The Accusations In The Published Report Were "False And Without Foundation"

In the apology that must occupy the top-half of NST’s third page when printed, it also acknowledged that the article titled “Plot to destabilise government” should not have been published and further apologised to the four for the “distress and embarrassment” suffered.

“We also acknowledge that we had no proof whatsoever to substantiate any of the said allegations and that we did not verify the information relied on with Bersih 2.0, CIJ, Suaram and Merdeka Centre,” said Counsel Ranjit Singh.

He also said there was insufficient verification to the information used to support the allegations and accordingly the defendants acknowledged that the article ought not to have been published.

The Apology Will Be Published On The Third Page Of The Paper And Its Online Portal Within The Next 2 Weeks

NST reporter Farrah Naz Karim who was responsible for the article

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NST agreed to publish an apology, in bold, on Page 3 of its issue within the next 14 days, except on a Saturday. It would retract the article, and state that "the article ought not to have been published".

According to the terms of the settlement read out by Ranjit, the apology must also be carried in the online portal of NST. The terms sighted by the media also said that the online apology must occupy the portal’s front-page for one day before being shifted to the archives, and the original article must be removed within the next three days.

As Part Of The Agreement, The NGOs Will Now Withdraw Their Defamation Suit Against NST

Bersih will discontinue its defamation suit against the publisher of the New Straits Times after it agreed to apologise for allegedly linking the polls watchdog and three others to a purported plot to destabilise the government.

Following NST’s agreement to publish the apology, three companies representing three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) — Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, CIJ Communications Services Sdn Bhd, Merdeka Strategic Development Centre Sdn Bhd — also agreed to settle their individual defamation suits against the paper’s publisher.

However, NST Must Also Foot The Bill For The NGOs Legal Costs

The plaintiffs had sought general damages, exemplary damages and aggravated damages for libel; costs; interest on the said sum of damages from the date of judgement until the date of full and final settlement and other relief as the court deemed proper and just.

Justice Lee Heng Cheong ordered NSTP and Farrah Naz, the first and second defendants respectively, to pay RM30,000 costs each to the four plaintiffs.

Bersih Chairperson Ambiga Says They Want To See Responsible Journalism

"The damage was done at that time... I certainly hope this doesn't become a habit for the NST to write a fabricated story and then apologise for it later," Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan (left) told reporters outside the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

"The apology is not the end of the matter. What we want to see is responsible journalism."

Bersih Chairperson Ambiga Says They Want To See Responsible Journalism

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The 4 NGOs Say The Fight For Truth Has Prevailed Today, But It Has Not Ended

"It's not about the money... I just want to emphasise here that what we are interested in is a suitable apology," said lawyer Razlan Hadri Zulkifli, who appeared for Suaram.

In the wake of the settlement, the four NGOs said a "vibrant and free press that reports with integrity is key to achieving our goals for a strong democracy". "Anything less must be condemned to the fullest extent as a betrayal of a sacred duty to the rakyat to report fairly and objectively.

"Today, truth has prevailed over lies. It always will, ultimately. However, the fight for the truth has not ended and will not end until the changes that we are struggling for are implemented in a full and proper manner.

"All of us throughout Malaysia must continue to work to achieve these aims."

Razlan Hadri Zulkifli who appeared for Suaram

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NST Prides Itself As Malaysia's Oldest Newspaper Still In Print

The oldest newspaper in Malaysia traces its roots back to a weekly journal printed in 1845. Then the Straits Times, it has gone through several transformations most significantly, the name change to New Straits Times and downsize from a broadsheet to a compact version.

Its strong conviction for a stable, progressive nation-building brings to its audience a rich editorial content that has garnered huge following of movers and shakers, and key decision makers, paving the way to a united and progressive Malaysia.