NST snafu: Canberra’s concern may have hastened apology

KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry had raised its concern over a misleading report from the New Straits Times (NST) citing Senator Nicholas Xenophon with its editors, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported today, in what may have triggered the Malaysian paper’s swift apology yesterday.

The international daily reported an Australian ministry spokesman as saying Canberra was “concerned and disappointed by a misleading media report” but did not name the official.

On Wednesday, Xenophon (picture), an independent lawmaker representing South Australia, was falsely quoted by the NST as calling Islam instead of Scientology a “criminal organisation” during his 2009 speech in Australia’s Parliament.

The English-language daily, the oldest in the country, issued an apology the very next day but Xenophon, a known associate of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has said he will sue the NST for defamation even though the article has been removed from its website.

“I will be conferring with both Malaysian and Australian lawyers on this.

“This is a very serious defamation and it is distressing. My views on Islam were completely fabrication... I am sickened,” he said in a phone call to The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

Xenophon was in a team of international observers or “pre-election assessment team” invited to Kuala Lumpur by Anwar to look into the country’s electoral reform attempts.

The team was on a six-day mission from April 25 and was tasked to interview local government and political leaders, before compiling its recommendations on how Malaysia could have a clean and fair polls process, which the country’s opposition leaders have insisted does not exist here.

They had also observed last Saturday’s rally for free and fair elections by Bersih and in an immediate response to the event, Xenophon had insisted that the rally-goers were well-behaved and even festive, instead of unruly as claimed by government leaders.

As a result, Xenophon has come under fire for his allegedly blinkered support for Anwar, with questions raised over his independence and impartiality.


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