Journalists not required to reveal sources in defamation cases, according to landmark High Court ruling

KUALA LUMPUR: Reporters are not required to reveal sources in a defamation case, the High Court held in a landmark ruling.

High Court judge Justice Lau Bee Lan dismissed an application by Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing over the issue of whether a journalist had to reveal his sources in a defamation case.

Justice Lau ordered Tiong to pay RM15,000 in costs to reporter Joseph Sipalan and RM5,000 to former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat.

The judge made the decision in chambers after hearing further clarification by the parties.

Speaking to reporters later, Tiong’s counsel Prem Ramachandran said they would appeal against the ruling, which is the first of its kind in a defamation suit.

The details on the grounds would be observed after it was provided to them, he added.

Joseph's lawyer Bhag Singh confirmed the ruling.

Prem had argued that disclosure of sources by a reporter is relevant in a defamation case.

Prem had submitted that the reporter had been given protection under Section 132 of the Evidence Act to reveal their source.

He contended that there was no breach of confidentiality if the reporter disclosed his sources when ordered by the court.

Tiong had filed an application to compel former New Straits Times reporter Joseph Sipalan to disclose his sources for the article, which is the subject matter in the defamation suit filed by Tiong against Ong.

The article, written by Sipalan with the heading 'Chua and Tiong in cahoots?' was published in the New Sunday Times on Sept 6, 2009.

Joseph, 31, had testified that he was the writer of the article, and had seven to eight people as his sources.

However, Joseph refused to reveal their identities, which led Prem to warn him that he could be cited for contempt of court and filed the application to reveal his sources.

In his sworn evidence on Jan 30, Tiong testified that in the article, Ong had accused him of conspiring with MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek to bring him down.

Tiong had originally filed a suit on Oct 12, 2009, against The New Straits Times Press Bhd, its group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, its then reporter Joseph Sipalan and Ong.

He later withdrew his claim against NSTP and the two other parties.
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