KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) publisher Dow Jones & Company has confirmed that it responded last week to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s lawyer’s letter and said it told the prime minister’s legal team that it will continue to stand by the accuracy of its articles on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A spokesman from Dow Jones did not expressly state, however, if the firm plans on invoking for its defence the SPEECH Act, a federal statutory law in the US that may render any judgment in a defamation suit mounted by the prime minister unenforceable there.
“We have sent another letter in response and have confirmed that we will not be waiving any of our defences.
“We continue to stand behind our fair and accurate reporting of this evolving story,” Dow Jones told Malay Mail Online in an email this morning.
Asked if the firm had answered queries from Najib’s legal team on whether it intends to use the SPEECH Act as its shield in the matter, the Dow Jones spokesman said: “Yes the letter from Dow Jones responded to the most recent lawyer letter and as mentioned below, confirmed that we will not be waiving any of our defences.”
The spokesman also confirmed that it had issued its response “early last week”, which appeared to contradict recent media statements made by Najib’s lawyers.
Last Thursday, a day after the deadline given to Dow Jones for its response, one of Najib’s lawyers, Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun, told reporters that the legal team was still waiting for the firm’s reply.
According to the Umno lawyer, the team was unable to advise the prime minister on whether he should proceed with his previous plan to sue WSJ for defamation over recent articles it published on the 1MDB controversy.
The lawyer had earlier confirmed that the letter to Dow Jones was to find out if the US-based publisher would use the SPEECH Act, or the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act, a law that protects Americans from libel action outside the country.
Hafarizam had said his client will not take the futile move of suing WSJ in Malaysia if the publication chooses to invoke the law as the SPEECH Act essentially stipulates that judgments against the publication here that are deemed inconsistent with US free speech laws will render the punishments unenforceable in the US.
He also said the only way his client can circumvent the SPEECH Act — if invoked — is to prove that media freedom and judicial independence in Malaysia are on par with the US.
In an article on July 2, WSJ, citing documents from Malaysian investigators scrutinising 1MDB’s financials, said a money trail showed that almost US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) had been channelled into what appeared to be the prime minister’s accounts.
The report said, however, that the source of the funds was unknown although it noted that it was the first time that Najib had been linked to the probe on the troubled state investor.
Following WSJ’s July 2 report and a subsequent July 6 opinion piece on the same matter, Najib’s lawyers wrote in to the daily’s publisher, Dow Jones, demanding an explanation.
Dow Jones responded within the 14-day deadline given by the prime minister’s lawyers, saying in their reply letter that the request for clarification was unnecessary as the two articles ― the July 2 news report titled “Malaysia leader’s accounts probed” and the opinion piece on July 6 titled “Scandal in Malaysia” — spoke for themselves and were based on available facts.