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NST to apologise for 'plot to destablise gov't' report
It was a victory for responsible journalism in Malaysia today when mainstream daily New Straits Times (NST) had to bend to demands from four NGOs to apologise for publishing a fabricated story.
The apology was part of the conditions set by polls reform movement Bersih 2.0, human rights group Suaram, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and pollster Merdeka Centre, for dropping their defamation suit against the "oldest English newspaper in the country".
NST's website claims that it has been publishing since 1845.
NST also agreed to pay RM120,000 to the four parties, for reporting more than a year ago that the NGOs were plotting to overthrow the BN government.
"The damage was done at that time... I certainly hope this doesn't become a habit for theNST 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."
NST agreed to publish an apology, in bold, on Page 3 of its issue within the next 14 days, except on a Saturday. It will also have to retract its online article and publish the same apology.
Lawyers for the plaintiff read out the full apology they are demanding before the judge. In it, NST is to admit that it made "groundless allegations" that were "false and without foundation".
NST would acknowledge that "we had no proof whatsoever to substantiate any of the said allegations and that we did not verify the information and facts relied on with Bersih 2.0, CIJ, Suaram and Merdeka Center".
It would retract the article, and state that "the article ought not to have been published".
High Court judge Lee Heng Cheong agreed to let the suit be withdrawn after meeting the lawyers for both parties.
"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 (left), who appeared for Suaram.
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.
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.
The struggle continues
According to the NST report, Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) had allegedly channelled almost RM20 million to a number of NGOs as well as Malaysiakini over a period of seven years since 2005.
The report accuses Bersih, along with several other groups such asMalaysiakini, Suaram, CIJ, Merdeka Centre and Lawyers for Liberty, of receiving foreign funding meant to “destabilise the government”.
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."
NSTP Bhd is part of the Media Prima Group which also publishes other national newspapers such as Berita Harian and Harian Metroand also owns several radio and TV stations in the country.
Media Prima is a listed company and one of its major shareholders is the Employees Provident Fund.