Editor defends report on sale of Penang state land to private hospital

Jason Loo (left) with well-wishers outside the High Court in George Town, Penang yesterday.

GEORGE TOWN: An editor with a local Chinese daily told a defamation hearing at the High Court here today it published a news report critical of the Penang government’s sale of its land to a private hospital in 2017 out of public interest.

Chung Kum Piew, Guang Ming Daily’s deputy editor-in-chief, said this was especially so when the land was sold by Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI), a state government body.

Chung said the transaction was opaque and was without any disclosure to the public, including the transfer of the land on Peel Avenue to CMI.

He also said no open tender was held for the sale of the land to Island Hospital.

Chung said former chief minister Lim Guan Eng’s claim that he was not the sole person calling the shots in selling the government land to the private hospital did not hold water.

He said this was because under the Chief Minister of Penang (Incorporation) Enactment 2009, which governs CMI, the present-day chief minister alone is the sole decider for all matters.

He said this was exemplified in Section 4 of the enactment, where the chief minister of the day has the power to dispose of any of its properties as he wished.

Lim had previously reiterated that all matters at CMI were done in consensus with the other state executive council members.

Chung was testifying at the defamation hearing brought by Lim against former Penang Gerakan Youth chief Jason Loo.

He said that as a news organisation, they could not ascertain the truth of certain matters raised by several parties at once, in this case, Loo’s claim that Lim had acted alone.

Hence, it relied on Lim’s retort which usually followed at his press conferences at that time.

Chung disagreed with Lim’s lawyer, Mureli Navaratnam, that his newspaper had failed to practise responsible journalism or had written the said article neutrally.

He said media outlets were allowed to publish news stories, even those regarded defamatory, so long as they were written in a neutral manner and the right of reply was given to the other party later on.

Mureli, in his examination-in-chief, had suggested to Chung that newspapers were duty-bound to investigate every claim before it was published.

Chung disagreed, saying the plaintiff (Lim) would usually have a press conference the next day, during which he would rebut allegations.

Justice Rosilah Yop set Aug 14 for both parties in the suit to enter their submissions and Aug 28 to respond to them. She also set Sept 20 to deliver her decision.

Lim has filed separate suits against Loo and local Chinese-language newspapers Kwong Wah Yit Poh, China Press and Guang Ming Ribao. The suit against Kwong Wah Yit Poh was dropped following an open apology to Lim.

Loo and China Press were sued over an article titled “Jason Loo: One man decides, Pakatan Harapan DAP-led state government run by rule of one man”, dated May 29, 2017.

Loo and Guang Ming Ribao were sued over an article titled “Jason Loo urges Lim Guan Eng to explain why Peel Avenue land was sold prior to gazette”, dated May 29, 2017.

Loo was sued over an opinion piece run by Kwong Wah Yit Poh on June 9, 2017.

Lim is seeking damages and an order to prevent Loo or the newspapers from publishing articles related to the matter.