Whether an article containing allegations of corrupt practices and giving of bribes was defamatory to the owner of an education institution?
EAGLE ONE INVESTMENT LTD & ORS V. ASIA PACIFIC HIGHER LEARNING SDN BHD  2 MLRA 659
- Asia Pacific Higher Learning Sdn Bhd (“APHL”) is a private limited company incorporated under the Companies Act 1965 and is the registered owner and licence holder of Lincoln University College (“LUC”).
- Eagle One Investment Ltd is the owner of an online news portal antdaily.com established by Focus Malaysia Sdn Bhd (“News Portal”).
- A writer of the News Portal wrote an article entitled, “Paid Holiday Part of MMC Evaluation Visit” which was published in antdaily website on 29 August 2013 (“Said Article”).
- The Said Article suggested that LUC had financed the official trip by the Malaysian Medical Council (“MMC”) to three Ukrainian Universities in 2011 to approve offshore medical programs for LUC (“Official Trip”) with stopovers in Austria and Dublin, prior to the Official Trip.
- The article suggested, that the whole trip was financed by LUC. The Said Article also contained allegations of wrongdoings.
- APHL sued the News Portal for defamation for giving rise to the impression that it was involved in corrupt practices and giving bribes in the form of sponsoring paid holidays to get recognition for LUC’s medical program from MMC.
- As a result of the Said Article, APHL claimed it suffered a loss of reputation resulting in loss of potential students and lowering of LUC students’ moral and staff.
- The High Court judge found that the Said Article was in fact defamatory to the image of LUC which had resulted in a serious loss to LUC.
- The News Portal appealed to the Court of Appeal.
COURT OF APPEAL DECISION – APPEAL DISMISSED!
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the following basis:
- Having considered the circumstances and context in which the article was used and published, there was no doubt that the Said Article was defamatory in nature or otherwise had carried a defamatory imputation against APHL.
- Viewed objectively, it was most likely that a reasonable man would understand the article in a defamatory way. As pointed out by the High Court judge, the Said Article was riddled with unverified facts, falsity, inaccuracies, false statements and so forth, designed to draw an unfavourable impression of APHL and lower APHL in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally.
- As APHL was the registered owner and licence holder of LUC as required under the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996, any monetary damage suffered by LUC due to the injury to its trade reputation was wholly suffered by APHL.
- Having regard to the peculiar relationship between LUC vis-à-vis APHL, the Said Article would reasonably lead those acquainted with APHL to invariably conclude that the said article indeed referred to APHL.