By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 — Malay daily Utusan Malaysia’s editor-in-chief agreed in court today that the newspaper did not give balanced coverage to reports between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Datuk Abdul Aziz Ishak was testifying today in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s defamation suit against the newspaper that had in January accused him of being a gay rights proponent, alleging he had admitted as much in a TV interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) early this year.
Aziz also told the High Court here that he considered Utusan a newspaper aimed at carrying “the aspirations of the (Umno) party.”
Earlier on, he disagreed with Anwar’s lawyer, N. Surendran, that Umno is the main owner of Utusan Malaysia and the company Utusan Melayu.
Surendran asked if Aziz agreed that the “representative of Umno’s president has a place in the board of directors (of Utusan)”.
“Generally, I agree but I don’t see him as the prime minister’s representative,” replied Aziz.
Aziz did not identify the representative.
Aziz also said that “in the daily operation (of Utusan), there’s no question of interference by external parties”.
Anwar had this morning said Utusan’s board of directors was “clear proof that Umno controls (the company) fully”, earlier on claiming that the board members are “all from Umno”.
He was also asked how he had obtained knowledge that Tengku Datuk Sharifuddin Tengku Ahmad, who is on the board of directors, is a representative of the prime minister.
Anwar said Tengku Sharifuddin is the prime minister’s media officer who was “entrusted with important matters”, saying that he had signed as a witness to the APCO Worldwide agreement.
“He sits on the board of directors even though not holding any position,” he told the court.
Anwar had in January filed the defamation suit seeking RM50 million in damages and an injunction to stop Utusan and its editor-in-chief from repeating statements about him being a gay rights proponent.
At the hearing on July 18, Anwar had told the court that it was “public knowledge” that Utusan Malaysia was Umno-owned and that it took orders from the party’s president.
Anwar also agreed then that homosexuals should be discriminated against to protect the sanctity of marriage, but pointed out that archaic laws should be reviewed to prevent innocent people from being punished.
Earlier this year, Anwar was acquitted of a charge of sodomising former male aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, with the High Court ruling that the prosecution had not done enough to prove Anwar had committed sodomy against Saiful.
Just days after Anwar was exonerated, Utusan Malaysia front-paged a story titled “Anwar ulas isu gay” (Anwar discusses gay rights), claiming the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) de facto leader had told a BBC interview that laws on homosexuality in Malaysia were considered “archaic” and “not relevant”.
In two articles published in Utusan, former PAS leader Datuk Dr Hasan Ali had reportedly referred to the BBC interview when slamming Anwar for allegedly calling for homosexuality to be made legal in the country.
The hearing resumes on October 23.