6 MLJ 532
Ummi Hafilda bte Ali & Anor v Karangkraf Sdn Bhd & Ors (No 2)
HIGH COURT (
KAMALANATHAN RATNAM J
31 MAY 2000
Tort — Defamation — Libel — Allegation of wedding reception of single woman and involvement in defaming Deputy Prime Minister — Attempt to stir hatred against plaintiffs — Deprivation of opportunity to court someone of the opposite sex — Re-publication of internet webpage, whether amounted to publication of defamatory statement — Test applied — Compensatory damages awarded — Whether exemplary damages ought to be awarded
The plaintiffs sued the defendants for publishing an article about them in Bacaria. Both plaintiffs played a key role as witnesses in the corruption trial against the former Deputy Prime Minister of
(1) Whilst the words per se ‘she is married’ are not defamatory but when they are directed towards a single woman who upon the admitted knowledge of the defendants had her face on the front page of major newspapers and whose character and personality had been exposed in the newspapers as a star witness in the Anwar Ibrahim corruption trial, under such circumstances the innuendoes and inferences that an ordinary man in the street would draw from the headline and the subsequent passages would convey the meaning attributed to the words by the plaintiffs (see pp 539I–540A).
(2) The allegation that the plaintiffs had conspired to defame Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was a serious allegation and an attempt to stir the hatred of the villagers against the plaintiffs. If left uncorrected, this article would tend to cause a rift between the plaintiffs, their parents and the villagers. The allegation was an attempt to label the plaintiffs as liars and/or perjurers. It cast serious aspersions upon the conduct and character of both the plaintiffs (see p 541G–H).
(3) The passages in the article suggested that both the plaintiffs were married. This is an unfair statement to make, knowing full well that they were indeed not married. Such a statement had clearly deprived the chance of each of them being free to meet someone or to court someone of the opposite sex (see p 542F–G).
(4) The court accepted the plaintiffs’ submission that the impugned publications had injured their reputation and credibility. The publication when read by a fair minded and ordinary member of the public would hold the plaintiffs in odium and contempt (see p 542G–H).
(5) The defendants’ failure to produce the printed Internet webpage must be held against them. Alternatively their failure to produce the writer’s or journalist’s notes as the source of the articles must also be held against them. The journalist did not make any effort to ascertain the truth or otherwise from the plaintiffs themselves. In any case, even if there was a re-publication of the Internet webpage, this in itself is publication of the defamatory statement (see p 543A–C).
(6) Whilst the headline stated in black bold print ‘Ummi Hafilda NIKAH’, the defendants had juxtapositioned the words ‘Azwan Ali jelas status adik’ in white print embedded in a splash of black with ray-like edges to highlight what Azwan Ali had said. Had that juxtapositioned statement not been positioned as it had been, the court might have been persuaded to reject the first passage as having any defamatory connotation applying the bane and the balm principle. However, far from soothing the wound, the defendants had indeed exacerbated the hurt (see p 544B–C).
(7) The court was satisfied that this was a case where compensatory damages ought to be awarded against each of the defendants. Taking into consideration the fleeting appearance of both the plaintiffs in the limelight of publicity generated solely due to the Anwar Ibrahim corruption trial, the court awarded each of the plaintiffs a sum of RM25,000 against each of the defendants (see p 544D–E).
(8) The defendants were out to sensationalize the so-called marriage of the plaintiffs to sell their Bacaria. They must therefore pay. Therefore the court awarded each of the plaintiffs a further sum of RM25,000 against each of the defendants. However, the court found that this was not a case for exemplary damages. Whilst there was the element of gain in the form of profits by the sale of Bacaria, the plaintiffs had failed to show that there was such extensive profit as to warrant an award under this head (see p 544H–I).