Saturday 13 October 2012

Penan rape: Former Star journalist furious with 'deal'

A former journalist with The Star who wrote about incidents of rape of Penan girls and women in Sarawak has expressed disgust with the English daily for apologising to logging giant Samling over the issue without consulting her.

Hilary Chiew, the author of the report ‘Against their will' which was published on Oct 6, 2008, described the out-of-court settlement between The Star and Samling as disconcerting to the profession of journalism.

"Notwithstanding the fact that I had left The Star in early 2010, it is regrettable that The Star did not see it fit to keep me informed of its decision.

"I have never, at any point in time, been informed nor consulted about the negotiations for the out-of-court settlement," Chiew said.

NONEThe Star on Oct 2 published an apology for the report. It is learned that Samling had on Monday officially withdrew its defamation case against the newspaper before Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Lau Bee Lan.

The suit was originally to go for trial on Thursday this week.

Samling Global Ltd, its subsidiary Samling Malaysia Inc, Syarikat Samling Timber Sdn Bhd and Lingui Developments Bhd, had named the newspaper's group chief editor Wong Chun Wai, Chiew and Star Publications (M) Bhd as defendants in the defamation suit filed through legal firm Kadir, Andri & Partners.

In addition to ‘Against their will', the Sarawak logging giant also claimed that there were four other articles on the same issue published by The Star on the same day.

According to Samling, Chiew reported that a driver from the company had been reckless and negligent in endangering the safety of schoolchildren and was responsible and accountable for the rape of a 16-year-old victim identified as Cynthia.

The plaintiffs claimed that this meant the company was irresponsible in looking after and controlling its workers, adding that Samling group had no timber operations in the alleged vicinity and that Samling was in no way involved in sexual abuse.

ulu baram samling sarawak blockade 190608 02Samling sought general and aggravated damages for libel, interests and other orders deemed fit by the court.

The Star, in its amended statement of defence, denied that its report was false or that it had bad intention in writing the article.

The newspaper claimed qualified privilege as it had no ill-intention in reporting on the issue as it concerned society and was of public interest. Furthermore, it also involved criminal offences against the natives who were said to have no channel to file a complaint, The Star argued.

Hence, the daily said, such incidents should be published as they truly happened and that the author had investigated the matter thoroughly and extensively. The author had also contacted Samling to get its views prior to the publication.

Deal struck in August

Chiew said she only came to know that an out-of-court settlement was being considered on July 16, during a periodic check with The Star's lawyer.

She claimed the lawyer had advised the newspaper to keep her informed. Nevertheless, Chiew said she discovered that the settlement was a done deal in August.

"Hence, it did not come as a complete surprise to me that The Star finally published the apology on Oct 2.

"But what is noteworthy about the out-of-court settlement is the additional condition demanded by Samling, which I presume has been agreed to by the paper," revealed Chiew.

In addition to the apology, Samling has demanded The Star to publish a full-page feature highlighting its corporate social responsibility efforts.

NONE"Such a condition, if executed, highlights the hypocrisy of The Star, which has milked every drop of goodwill from the original article to make itself out to be the media champion of the Penan's cause.

"On July 18, 2010, The Star published a feature, ‘Plight of the Penans', that inferred the positive impacts that the original article had brought to the Penans," Chiew added.

Such a deal, she added, would set an unhealthy trend that would further undermine the freedom of the media to report without fear or favour as well as responsibly, fairly and accurately.

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