Thu, 20 Nov 2003

'Tempo' wins its case against Texmaco

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Central Jakarta District Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of Tempo magazine in a civil suit filed by Texmaco group owner Marimutu Sinivasan, who was seeking tens of millions of dollars in financial compensation from the weekly for publishing articles that he claimed had tarnished his image and businesses.

In the much-awaited verdict, the panel of judges ruled that the defamation suit against the weekly was invalid as Sinivasan, according to Law No. 40/1999 on press, should have used his right to respond to the series of articles he deemed libelous in the first place.

The panel of judges also said that what Sinivasan and Texmaco group were trying to do was obstruction of press freedom.

"The plaintiff has attempted to hamper the press from performing its function, which is to publish information important enough for the public," presiding judge Sylvester Djuma said as he read the decision.

The plaintiff's lawsuit was also deemed to be too obscure by the judges, as it failed to specify which of the 18 companies in the Texmaco group had suffered from material or non-material losses that resulted from the publication of several Tempo articles critical of the ailing business empire.

The panel of judges also ruled that the counter-suit filed by the magazine would be discontinued.

The plaintiff's lawyers said they would appeal.

Sinivasan, who resigned from his post as Texmaco group president director last month, filed the suit after alleging that the magazine published some 50 articles between December 1999 and December 2000 which he claimed had ruined his image and the companies. He demanded Tempo pay damages amounting to US$51 million.

Tempo counter-sued the businessman for obstructing press freedom. Its lawyers sought financial compensation of $100 million.

In the course of seven months of trial after Sinivasan filed the civil suit on May 26, each side called eight witnesses, including former state-owned Antara news agency chief editor Parni Hadi and senior journalist R.H. Siregar.

Speaking after the trial, Tempo chief editor Bambang Harymurti said that there were still judges who stood for promoting press freedom.

"Therefore, the press should not be fearful of informing the public about how state funds are being used," he said.

The same panel of judges also presided over a trial between Texmaco and the Kompas daily newspaper in a defamation suit.

The court decided to approve the out-of-the-court settlement between Marimutu and top executives of Kompas in a civil suit filed by the businessman.

In a letter of agreement signed by Sinivasan and Kompas co- founder Jakob Oetama and chief editor Soeryopratomo, which was read by the plaintiff's defense lawyer, the former had agreed on Nov. 14 to unconditionally terminate the civil suit against the daily.

The agreement was reached after a series of closed-door meetings without the presence of their lawyers.

Member of Kompas defense team Amir Syamsuddin said that he knew nothing about how the agreement had been reached by both parties.

"I have no information as to why Sinivasan decided to withdraw the suit, after all these lengthy legal proceedings," he told reporters after the trial.

He regretted the fact that Sinivasan had neither informed the court nor the public in general about his true motives behind the belated agreement.

Sinivasan sued the daily, its co-founder and chief editor over news articles published since 1999, which he deemed to have tarnished the image of 18 companies within the giant PT Texmaco Group.

His lawyers sought financial compensation of $151 million (approximately Rp 1.23 trillion). Kompas itself demanded $150 million in a counter-suit.