Thursday, July 1, 2010

Politicians' Law Suits Of Moral Victory

Speaking on the proposed Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act to shield writers and publishers from "libel tourism", US Senator Patrick Leahy named Singapore as one of several countries whose "weak libel protections" attracted foreigners to file defamation suits against US journalists in those countries. The Bill would prevent US federal courts from recognising or enforcing a foreign judgment in a defamation case, in line with the constitutional first amendment which guarantees freedom of speech.

“Over recent years, American authors, reporters and publishers have fallen victim to libel lawsuits in countries with significantly weaker free speech protections than what our First Amendment affords,” said Leahy on 22 June 2010.

Last year Dow Jones and Co's Far East Economic Review lost $405,000 in a defamation suit filed by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In March, the International Herald Tribune publisher New York Times Co had to apologise and pay damages of $60,000 to PM Lee, and $50,000 each to SM Goh and MM Lee for an article that stated "Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew's son". Lamenting to Charlie Rose he was being put on the same list as Kim Jong-il, PM Lee said, "In this case the same journalist and same newspaper had made the same allegation and apologized and paid damages and promised never to do it again. And they did it again."

Asked to comment on the effect of the US legislation on defamation suits by Singapore politicians against US based media, NUS Professor Kevin Tan suggests that the (financial) impact is minimal if the suit is won here and the defendants have (little) assets here to be seized or frozen. Unless Dow Jones or IHT decides to invest heavily in the Singapore media scene. Nevertheless, SMU Assistant Professor Jack Lee argues that "The moral victory of having succeeded in the defamation claim before the Singapore courts is sufficient". Well, Australia is also included as a country with "weak free speech protections, increasing the filer’s chance of prevailing." So why is Dr Ross Worthington still sitting pretty? You know, the guy who documented the slapping of Dhanabalan in his "Governance In Singapore"? Surely the moral victory is worth an effort?

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