The blogging community has been recently rocked by three cases of high-profiled defamation suits against Yawning Bread and Temasek Review Emeritius involving Law Minister Mr Shanmugan, Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong and F & N Chairman Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
Both blogs were well read and could be considered the top few socio-political blogs in Singapore with a daily readership of close to ten thousands each.
These are perhaps the first initial times that bloggers have been slapepd with defamatory legal suits by the government and many netizens were fearful that now the ruling party may adopt the same strategy previously used by strong man Mr Lee Kuan Yew when he hauled many opposition political members to court for costly defamation suits.
Incidentally, this blog was also sued for defamation by a few companies late last year for a whistle-blowing article but we have managed to settle the case out of court. The implicated parties have also filed a police report.
It was a harrowing experience for the blog owners and we have since put the matter behind us and learned to blog more responsibly. We tried to counter-check all our soruces and if possible meet up with them before posting up an article.
We have to regretfully put away many whistle blowing articles as the writers either did not want to meet up with us or that the material could not be properly verified with facts.
There is also the rumour that perhaps the government may be taking strong-handed actions against TRE – a blog that is seen as very anti-establishment and may even have cause the ruling party to lose its strong majority votes during the recent GE 2011.
Moreover, since there is now an editor – Mr Richard Wan, fronting the popular socio-political blog, the government has a target man to fire its rounds whenever something amiss is found in the blog.
Many foreign media agencies were also previously sued for expensive defamatory charges involving the ruling party ;leaders.
Our bloggers here tend to live lives on the edge as we hardly have the coveted freedom of speech tag when we blog unlike other countries whereby anything bloggers or press reporters write can be let to go under the sun.
I remembered reading articles in the main stream media in Australia whereby writers can crudely criticise their political leaders without the fear of being sued or even criticised. With the new defamation suits flying around so carelessly now, many bloggers will have to rethink how they are going to blog especially when popular blogs like TOC and TRE have the massive additional task of flagging it’s hundreds of daily comments for moderation.
Mr Lee Hsein Yang’s case incidentally involved a comment published in TRE that was deemed defamatory by the Prime Minister’s brother.
The free press tag goes a long way for some reporters in other developed countries to write fearlessly and sometimes too critically – leaving the political leaders with nowhere to hide their face.
However, many are opinion pieces and there isn’t much material that can be classified as defamatory.
Unfortunately. here, our press is tightly controlled and thus we can never read many critical pieces of our political leaders in the main stream media – leaving the alternative media with a free hand at trying to balance the news reporting.
I am not for bloggers or even our press reporters to freely criticise our political leaders anyhow but indeed there is much room for our mainstream media to improve in the area of balanced reporting.
Yahoo Singapore has fortunately came in recently to fill in the gap and I can see that their news reporting is somewhat balanced.
Alternative media has all along being critical of the government and it’s policies – as they try to fill in the gap for our conservative main stream media.
However, bloggers being amateurish and not too professional in terms of news reporting, may have unconsciously lapse into dafamatory articles as evidenced by the TR Emeritius defamation case.
I am unsure how the three defamation cases will pan out eventually - will bloggers now write cautiously so much so that they will lose their edge or continue to write fearlessly inviting more potential defamatory suits in future?
History has shown that our bloggers are rather expressive and adventurous and I am sure that after this week of high-profiled defamatory suit cases, we will be back to business again very soon.
Nevertheless, bloggers must write carefully now and check their facts or at least the articles must be substantiated by some form of research before posting.
Taking everything wholesale .from unknown sources and post them up can be dangerous as the person may have an axe to grind against the authorities.
Sources also need to be checked so that at least their identity can be verified before their writings are posted up for the world to read.
Doing anything otherwise will surely invite more future potential defamatory lawsuits from the ruling party.
Written by: Gilbert Goh