In a landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that politicians cannot sue media for defamation over statements made about them in their capacity as public figures.
Justice Rohana Yusof allowed Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd’s bid to strike out Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob’s defamation suit over an article titled “Hebat Sangatkah Adnan?”.
The unanimous decision agreed with the publisher’s argument of using the Derbyshire principle, that public figures have no legal standing to mount defamation suits.
The principle is based on a British case, Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd (1993) that laid down the principle in common law that a public body is barred from suing a citizen for libel because this would discourage free speech.
Justice Rohana found that the said libellous article, when read as a whole, referred to Adnan by his post as the mentri besar.
“The court is satisfied it is an obvious case for strike out,” she said.
The three-person panel which also included Justices Idrus Harun and Mary Lim ordered Adnan to pay RM3,000 in cost.
Utusan Melayu was represented by lawyer Datuk M. Reza Hassan and Azhar Arman Ali, while counsel Americk Sidhu appeared for Adnan.
M. Reza told reporters that the case could have landmark implications as it meant public figures could only sue for defamation if the attack was personal in nature.
He said: “This carries a significant impact to media, possibly shielding them from defamation in cases where people criticise politicians.”
On July 23 last year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed Utusan Melayu’s bid to strike out the suit, and ordered the publisher to pay Adnan RM3,000 in costs.
Justice Yeoh Wee Siam disagreed with Utusan Melayu’s argument that as an elected representative, the mentri besar has no locus standi to file the suit.
In the suit filed in Dec 2014, Adnan said Utusan Melayu had tarnished his reputation as a national leader and politician through an article in its paper Mingguan Malaysia.
He claimed the article, published on Nov 9 that year, implied he had failed to carry out his duties and overstayed his position as the mentri besar.