Upon viewing a report, Mr. A (a politician) had made a statement about Mr. C that he had used the public funds for a national cattle farming project to purchase three units of houses. Mr. C sued Mr. A on the basis that the defamatory statement made had tarnished his reputation and character. Can Mr. C sue Mr. A on the grounds of defamation?

Q: What is defamation?

A: Defamation is a statement made by a person that tarnishes a person’s reputation. It can be made in writing (considered “libel”) or orally (considered “slander”).

Q: Must Mr. C incur financial losses before he can sue Mr. A?

A: No, he can sue for damages as long as his reputation is tarnished.

Q: Is there any defence to an action for defamation?

A: If Mr. A has genuinely given a view on a fact proven to be true, he can then raise the defence to his statement made, that is, he has only made a “fair comment” rather than a defamatory statement.

Q: What is a “fair comment”?

A: A “fair comment” is a comment given based on proven fact.

Three elements of a “fair comment”:

  • The comment was on a matter of public interest;
  • The comment was based on facts; and
  • The comment was one which a normal person would have honestly made on the facts proved.

Q: Is there a cap to compensation on defamation?

A: There is no known cap. The court will look at the facts and the following factors to decide how much the compensation would be:

  • The seriousness of the content of the statement;
  • Mode of publication;
  • Nature of the statement;
  • The plaintiff’s current standing;
  • Whether the defendant has received any benefit from making such statements;
  • Whether the defendant has refused to apologise; and
  • What has the defendant done for the period of time between the time he made the defamatory statement and the court finally decides the case.

Q: How long is the limitation period to file a claim for defamation?

A: For West Malaysia, the limitation period is 6 years from the date the defendant published the defamatory statement.

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