January 22, 2012
Don’t Pander to the interests of political parties,High Court Judge tells Utusan Malaysia and the Media
by Zurairi AR(01-21-13)@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com
A High Court judge today outlined the need for independence of the judiciary and a free press that did not pander to the interests of political parties, when he ruled against an UMNO-owned newspaper in a defamation suit brought by the Opposition leader.
When delivering his decision in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s suit against Utusan Malaysia, Justice Datuk VT Singham also called for freedom of the press and professionalism in the media industry.
“A judge deciding a case should do so without any influence … This court must do what is right,” Singham said in his preface to the decision here.“The chair (in which) I am seated is sacred and I will continue to maintain its sacredness.”
The judge highlighted the importance of the public’s confidence in the Judiciary, stating that the courts could not act without it.“Judges are not party to the state’s power struggles, and that they do not fight for their own power but rather to keep democracy intact.“When judges do law, not just the parties, not just the law, but judges themselves stand on trial,” Singham said, quoting from the Harvard Law Review journal.
The judiciary must be completely detached, judicial, impartial and independent in administering the law, according to the judge.
A judge’s decision must also based on facts that emerge during a trial and not speculation and personal sentiments, Singham said.
Singham also called on the press to practise balanced reporting by obtaining the views of both the proponents and opponents of an issue.
He stressed that it was important for journalists, editors and publishers to “take great care” before publishing any stories that might harm the reputation of an individual, and reckless articles with insinuations and claims without verification must be avoided.
According to Singham, the press must continue practising their trade professionally and with responsibility, and not pander to political and commercial interests. “The media must … not be allowed to be used as an instrument to publish lies of misleading articles,” Singham said.
The judge also asked for the media to not infringe or encroach into the judicial domain through a “trial by media”, and suggested an examination of its legal situation amid the increase in legal suits against publications.
To solve the problem of legal suits, he mooted a self-regulatory body that would allow the public to lodge complaints against the press and facilitate conciliation among aggrieved parties.
Anwar’s counsel, N. Surendran, applauded Singham’s statement after the case, describing it as “thorough, searing, and passionate.”“The judge has taken pains in order to look into the responsibilities of journalists … (His statement) will go way beyond the facts of this case itself,” Surendran said.