A Yawning Bread article about Chee Soon Juan and Gopalan Nair got me intrigued about the legal definition of defamation in the world. What a tangled mess! It is not a simple matter, of course, because where emotions are concerned, particularly in the heat of the moment, it is hard to apply common sense. By common sense, I refer to the determination of malicious intent to harm another's feelings and reputation. Anyway, here's a quote from wikipedia where Singapore's concerned:
Singapore has perhaps the world's strongest libel laws. The country's leaders have clearly indicated to the public that libel, as they choose to define it from time to time, on the Internet will not be tolerated and that those they deem responsible will be severely punished. On March 6, 1996, the government made providers and publishers liable for the content placed on the Internet. Even the owners of cybercafes may be held liable for libelous statements posted or possibly viewed in their establishments.
In 2001, a Singapore bank was fined SG$2 million (approx. 1 million euros or 1 million US$ at the time) for accidentally publishing a mildly libelous statement during the heated discussion of a takeover bid. The mistake was corrected very quickly, and there was no intent to do harm. In fact, it was reported that no harm seems to have been done. Nevertheless, the offended parties were awarded SG$1 million each. Apparently confirming the stringency of Singapore’s defamation law, Business Times declined to report on the matter because one of the libeled parties objected.
Please refer to the Wikipedia page for access to the citation links 20 and 21.
I am rather disturbed by some of it, particularly since this does apply to myself as I delve into some issues that may be controversial. I tend to write off-of-my-head (quite unlike Mr. Au of Yawning Bread, who writes with great eloquence and structure, often backing his articles with sources of fact and citations - the proper thing to do). While I generally try to avoid being angry or unreasonably critical of others in my posts, I know I do get caught up in emotions from time to time. The "obvious" solution to "shut up" is unappealing and I feel infringes on my rights. However, I do recognize the fact that I will on occasion say something that hurts another and unfairly too. In those cases, I do not see reason why I cannot simply apologize, amend or retract my statements humbly and sincerely but instead have to face the possibility of getting hauled to court. Of course, there are those things where people choose to be offended by. What aspects of the law protects me from malicious attempts to claim that I had maliciously defamed them instead!?
Finally, a personal opinion on Chee Soon Juan and the Singapore courts: I generally agree on a need for the concept of "contempt of court". If a court is held in contempt, then what is the point of engaging in the judicial process? However, it brings me great discomfort that a court does not seem to have to do anything to show that it should not be held in contempt. I know little to nothing of the court system. My questions are: Is there a way to seek redress if one considers a judge unfit or biased without causing undue disruption to the judicial system? What is the body that can act as a counterweight or oversight to the courts should the latter become corrupt and unworkable? Do we have a transparent means in Singapore to ensure that it is possible to verify if rulings are openly fair and made in good faith?
Where Chee Soon Juan is concerned, it is my opinion that he is likely guilty. From what I have seen, he has never come across as logical and methodical where his anti-government, anti-LKY/LHL statements are concerned. As far as I can tell, he is the epitome of political theater. He says the things he say, but never really presenting any compelling facts that proves he is right. Some of the responses to him, however, feel heavy-handed to me. I hesitate to use the term "unfair".