Saturday, August 24

Peel Avenue Land: Sept 20 for decision on Guan Eng’s defamation suit

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GEORGE TOWN: The High Court yesterday fixed Sept 20 to decide on a suit filed by former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng against  Gerakan acting Youth Chief Jason Loo Jieh Sheng over an article on the sale of Peel Avenue land to Island Hospital.

In delivering the order, Judge Datuk Rosilah Yop also fixed August 14 for the two parties (plaintiff and defendant) to submit their written submissions and August 28 to submit the reply.

Earlier yesterday, the second witness for the defendant, Guang Ming Daily, deputy editor-in-chief Chung Kum Piew told the court that the matter was of public interest and the first defendant’s statements were his opinion based on the main facts that are not in dispute.

“The fact that the Peel Avenue land was transferred to the Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI) without any disclosure to the public is a fact. That there was no open tender was a fact despite the pledge by the Pakatan Harapan to govern Penang using the Competency, Accountability and Transparency principle. That the land was sold without the terms being disclosed to the public was a fact,” he said in his testimony here today.

In his witness statement, Chung also said the plaintiff’s (Lim) complaint on the allegation that the decision to sell the land was his alone was untrue because the Chief Minister Incorporated Enactment required the approval of the state Exco, was not supported by facts.

“There was no information available publicly prior to this issue being raised as to how the CMI is run or how it operates. Even the Chief Minister of Penang (Incorporation) Enactment 2009 did not specify clearly how the decision making process of the CMI is to be made.

“Section 4 of the Enactment actually stated that the CMI has the power to inter alia dispose of any property vested in the CMI as it seems fit, which supports the comments made by the first defendant (Loo) that the sale was a one man decision,” he said.

Chung explained that as a newspaper publisher, they cannot determine the truth of several matters which had arisen although they were matters of public interest and concern.

“My understanding of the law is that newspapers are entitled to the defence of reportage even if they report a statement that is defamatory, as long as it is a neutral report without any embellishment, it is a matter of public interest and we have published the response or reply to these allegations also neutrally and without embellishment,” he added.

In February last year, Lim, who is now the Finance Minister, filed three defamation suits against Loo over his statements at a media conference held on May 29, 2017, on the sale of the affected land. — Bernama