Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dow Jones seen to appeal Singapore ruling

By John Burton in Singapore, Financial Times

Published: September 26 2008

Dow Jones is expected to appeal a defamation ruling by a Singapore supreme court judge against the Far Eastern Economic Review that was brought by two of the city-state’s top officials, potentially setting the stage for a legal showdown in Hong Kong, where the monthly magazine is based.

Although the Singapore courts have not yet held a hearing to assess damages, Feer has no assets in Singapore that could be seized. If Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, his father and former prime minister, decide to collect damages, they would have to go to the Hong Kong courts.

If that happens, Feer will seek to prevent enforcement of the Singapore judgment in Hong Kong. One of the arguments they plan to make against enforcement will involve a challenge to the impartiality of the Singapore judicial system.

The looming legal battle comes as the Singapore government this month sued the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, another Dow Jones publication, for contempt of court after it published editorial comments that “impugn the impartiality, intergrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary,” according to Walter Woon, the city-state’s attorney general.

“Our editorial pages have a history of defending free speech and free markets, while providing a forum for a diverse range of views. We will continue to defend our right to fulfill our mission and fully intend to contest the contempt proceedings brought against us by the Attorney-General of Singapore,” Dow Jones said on Thursday.

Woo Bih Li, a supreme court judge, ruled this week that Feer had defamed the Lees in an 2006 article.

The judge held that the article in which Chee Juan Soon, an opposition politician, compared the government to a local charity that had engaged in mismanagement constituted “defamation by implication.”

Feer argued that the article amounted to fair comment, but the judge dismissed the defence and said it did not apply in Singapore.

“It is notable that court has determined that the public interest privilege that is available in the UK and other commonwealth countries, is not applicable in Singapore,” said Dow Jones. Singapore, a former British colony, bases its legal system on that of the UK.

Mr Woon told Reuters this week that the Journal had previously “accused our judges of being biased” and “this smacks to me of an ideological campaign.”

Singapore’s government and leaders have sued other leading foreign publications for defamation, saying the suits are necessary to protect the country’s reputation for integrity.

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