Datuk Firoz: Utusan did not have the “Luxury of Time” to verify story

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Utusan Malaysia’s defence lawyer, Datuk Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin, has said that the paper he represents was justified in carrying comments by Datuk Hasan Ali in the coverage responding to the interview about gay rights with Anwar Ibrahim on the BBC.

As the matter touched on public interest, Hasan Ali, then the Selangor PAS Commissioner, had a right to be given freedom of speech, it was argued.

“As a newspaper, UM has the duty to publish matters of public interest. What politicians utter is also of public interest,” he said in his submission before Judge Datuk V.T. Singham.

Firoz was submitting in a RM50 million defamation suit brought by Anwar against the defendants for publishing an article attributing to Hasan in reaction to his (Anwar) interview with BBC regarding Malaysia’s laws on homosexuals.

Certain Opposition friendly news portals have already criticised the stance taken by Firoz.

He told the High Court this week that due to the urgency of breaking news, sometimes newspapers did not have the “luxury of time” to confirm the veracity of stories before they begin to be reported – only clarifying things as more facts come in.

Since newspapers were now competing with broadcast formats and social media, it had become imperative to their survival that news was broken as soon as possible.

Yet their criticism seems misplaced and even hypocritical. Take for example the generous time allowance they themselves had when reporting on the needlessly controversial case of Lynas, and its rare earths plant in Kuantan.

Sites like Free Malaysia Today and Malaysia Chronicle were given countless chances to retract or at least back up their unjustified claims against the LAMP site before Nick Curtis’ company finally gave way and began its law suit for defamation.

When FMT and the Chronicle realised that Lynas was not playing the Malaysian version of the lawsuit game, they swiftly and unequivocally apologised for publishing the relevant articles.

Anwar, it seems, is playing the more recognisable (at least to the Opposition) version of the game, suing anything that moves for absurd sums in damages.

The High Court has set January 27 to decide on the case once and for all.