Can only parts of a statement be defamatory?
DATO SRI MOHAMAD SALLEH ISMAIL & ANOR v. NURUL IZZAH ANWAR & ANOR  4 CLJ 327
- National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (“NFCorp”) was established in 2007 as the main integrator company of the National Feedlot Centre (“NFC”) to fulfill the Government’s policy and objective of increasing the national production of meat by reducing dependency on imported beef.
- The Chairman and Director of NFCorp is Dato Sri Dr Mohammad bin Ismail (“the Chairman”).
- In 2011, the operation and performance of the NFC project were audited by the Auditor General.
- The Auditor General’s report highlighted the failures of the NFC Project and in particular, the weaknesses in the implementation of the said project.
- This disclosure drew the public’s attention to NFCorp whereby concerns were raised as public funds were involved.
- In a press conference concerning the development of KL Eco City, Nurul Izzah binti Anwar (“the Politician”), in her capacity as the Vice President of Pakatan Keadilan Rakyat and a Member of Parliament, made certain statements regarding the same issue based on the exposure of alleged misappropriation of funds.
- Those statements were made based on the exposure of alleged misappropriation of funds of the National Feedlot Centre Project which statements were also made by PKR’s Director of Strategy, Mohd Rafizi Ramli.
- On the same day, Malaysiakini TV published the statements made by the Politician which was viewed by the public at large.
- The statement is reproduced below:-
“Pendedahan terbaru pada hari ini oleh saudara Rafizi Ramli, bahawa dana awam yang disalurkan dalam Projek Fidlot Kebangsaan (National Feedlot Centre) telah digunakan untuk membeli lapan unit hartanah mewah di KL Eco City pada nilaian semasa yang mencecah RM12 juta mengundang pelbagai persoalan baru.
Pertama, tindakan suami dan keluarga seorang menteri kanan yang dahulunya ahli parlimen kawasan terbabit membeli hartanah tersebut menimbulkan pertembungan kepetingan (conflict of interest) di antara tugas sebagai ahli parlimen dan kemahuan keluarga beliau. You would have access to the plans, development plans of a particular area if you’re member of parliament, dan ada kemungkinan, pengetahuan ini digunakan dalam usaha pembelian oleh suami menteri kanan tersebut.”
- The Chairman and NFCorp then filed a suit to claim damages for defamation.
- The High Court dismissed the claim as the learned judge found that an ordinary reasonable reader would not find the impugned statements to be defamatory of the plaintiffs. It is clear from reading the whole statement, that was given by the Politician was primarily addressed at Datuk Seri Shahrizat, the wife of the Chairman.
- The Court of Appeal also affirmed the findings of the High Court.
- The Chairman and NFCorp appealed to the Federal Court.
- They submitted that the courts below failed to consider separately the effect of the impugned statements.
FEDERAL COURT DECISION – APPEAL DISMISSED!
- The Federal Court found that the determination of the natural and ordinary meaning of such a statement must relate to the entire publication, and to the impression created in the mind of the ordinary reasonable man upon reading or viewing the whole statement.
- The Court assessed that such person will not pay any attention to the alleged defamatory manner complained of which was in effect one sentence in a very long press statement and instead be focused only on the major part of the press statement.
- Hence, the major part of the statement has ameliorated the effect of the subject matter of the complaint which was that one sentence in the statement.