KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 13 — 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.
The apology, which was read out in court today, will also be reproduced in the English-language newspaper with the heading “NST apologises to Bersih 2.0, Suaram, CIJ and Merdeka Center for groundless allegations”.
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.
In the apology that NST agreed to print within 14 days except Saturday, the paper acknowledged that the accusations in its report last September against Bersih 2.0, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), human rights group Suaram and independent pollster Merdeka Center were “false and without foundation”.
“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 Center,” one of the lawyers for Bersih, Ranjit Singh, said when reading out the agreed apology in court.
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.
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.
In the consent order recorded by High Court judge Lee Heng Cheong, the New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad will pay a total of RM120,000 in costs, with the plaintiffs in the four cases to receive RM30,000 each.
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 the offending front-page report, the New Straits Times said Bersih, Suaram, CIJ, Merdeka Center were purportedly funded by foreign sources in an alleged plot to destabilise the government.
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.
The plaintiffs — Bersih steering committee’s 13 members and its current co-chairs, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan (picture) and Datuk A. Samad Said — had sought damages, leaving the court to decide on the amount to be awarded if they won.
In its lawsuit, Bersih also wanted an injunction to restrain the defendants from publishing the article or defamatory words.