Six NGOs have issued a 48-hour ultimatum to New Straits Times for an unreserved apology over its front-page report alleging their involvement in a plot to destabilise the government.

NONEThey say the report on Sept 21 is unfounded and was written in bad faith.

Apart from wanting a retraction of the article, they said the apology should be published in “an equally prominent place”.

“We are taking this very seriously. The matter is in the hands of our lawyers,” Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan told a press conference today.

“So we expect to see a response from New Straits Times within 48 hours (with effect from 11am today), failing which we will take all the necessary steps and all the steps that are open to us under the law.”

The demand was also endorsed by human rights NGO Suaram, media watchdog Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Lawyers for Liberty, Merdeka Centre, and the Southeast Asian Centre for E-Media (Seacem), whose representatives were present today.

All six are among those named in the report as having receiving funds from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which had supposedly, ‘played a significant role in attempting to destabilise legitimate governments and replace them with client proxies’.

The groups slammed the daily for not substantiating the claims, instead basing it on “extracts from secondary references” and unnamed sources.

lebanon forum 050906 chandra muzaffarIn addition, the groups complained that - except for Malaysiakini - none of them or the funders had been contacted for their right to reply to the allegations.

The report had quoted International Movement for a Just World president Chandra Muzaffar (right) as saying that the NED had funded NGOs to incite people to topple their governments in the Middle East.

However, the groups said this alleged link between global funders and Middle East democracy movements was “simplistic and sweeping”.

Debate in the offing?

Ambiga further said that, subject to legal advice, the groups plan to hold a debate with personalities like Chandra on this supposed connection.

s ambiga bersih front“We are not afraid, that’s one thing we want to make very clear. We are ready to be questioned; we are ready for our accounts to be queried, no issue," Ambiga (left) said.

“But we want to debate this connection that they tried to draw, this flawed connection.”

CIJ executive director Masjaliza Hamzah explained that the New Straits Times had been singled out because it had named the six organisations when other publications had not, despite having published similar reports.

She pointed out that, apart from getting the comments of the NGOs named, journalists could also seek the opinion of academics who have studied the issue, and do research on trends in global funding and similar attacks on civil society groups in other countries.

“These are some of the concerns that a journalist can bring into a news article to strengthen claims,” she noted.