A Singapore justice Thursday fined an editor of The Wall Street Journal 10,000 Singapore dollars ($6,600) for three articles that the city-state’s government said showed contempt of its judiciary, a news report said.
Melanie Kirkpatrick, a deputy editor of the New York-based business newspaper’s editorial page, had acknowledged responsibility for the publication of the articles in The Wall Street Journal Asia that the justice found to be in contempt of court.
Kirkpatrick, who was not in court, has seven days to pay the fine, the online edition of the Straits Times newspaper said.
The three articles were published in June and July.
The first article was an editorial on Singapore’s democracy, the second a letter from pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan and the third an editorial on a report by a human rights institute on the Singapore judiciary.
Singapore’s attorney general argued that the articles “contained passages that scandalise the Singapore judiciary”.
In November, the Singapore High Court fined The Wall Street Journal‘s publisher, Dow Jones Publishing, 25,000 Singapore dollars for running the articles, the highest fine so far for such an offence in Singapore.
Dow Jones denied that the articles constituted contempt of court.
Two other journalists of The Wall Street Journal Asia – Daniel Hertzberg, its international editor, and its managing editor Christine Glancey – are also facing contempt proceedings related to the articles.
Singapore leaders and officials have won large sums in damages after taking critics and foreign media to court. They argued that they have to protect their reputations against unfounded criticism.
New charges by Singapore against the Wall Street Journal
This time the Lee family’s personal fief reaches all the way to New York
The Singapore government has again gone after the Wall Street Journal, this time charging Melanie Kirkpatrick, a longtime New York-based editorial page editor, over two editorials and a letter to the editor that ran in the paper’s Asian edition last July and August.
Being charged in the Singapore courts is tantamount to being convicted. As far as can be determined, the lawsuit-happy government and the family of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew have never lost a case against the press in its own courts. The Singapore attorney general said the submissions to the newspaper were guilty of “scandalizing the court” by impugning its integrity, impartiality and independence.
The current case grows out of a decision in which the Singapore High Court fined Dow Jones Publishing Co. (Asia), the publisher of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal Asia itself as a company last November for the same case. At S$25,000, the fine was the highest ever brought against a journalistic enterprise in Singapore and, according to the judge, was because the published items “contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence” on the part of Singapore’s judiciary. The government has now gone after Kirkpatrick as well.
According to the Journal, the first of the editorials, titled “Democracy in Singapore,” concerned comments made in a Singapore court as damages were being assessed against Chee Soon Juan, the much-arrested head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the two lost a defamation suit brought by Lee Kuan Yew, now Singapore’s Minister Mentor, and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article the Chees published in their party newsletter that the court held implied corruption on the part of the government.
The Singapore attorney general, the Journal said in a news story, also complained about a letter to the editor written by Chee and a Journal editorial that cited a report by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute on the state of democracy and human rights in Singapore. The 72-page report became an embarrassment to both the government and the Lee family after Singapore invited the International Bar Association to hold its annual convention in the city. The report, titled “Prosperity versus individual rights? Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Singapore,” makes 18 recommendations which the association urges the Singapore government to implement as a matter of priority.
Singapore’s government, the report said, “is currently failing to meet established international standards in these areas.” Reports of opposition candidates being targeted for criticizing the government, it says, “are of significant concern and threaten democracy and the rule of law in Singapore.” It describes an “apparent climate of fear and self-censorship surrounding the press in Singapore,” and that the “increasing tendency for high profile and respected publications to pay large out-of-court settlements to avoid litigation with PAP officials and the continued run of success within in-court claims is worrying.”
Last September, the attorney general charged three youths with scandalizing the judiciary when they showed up in the courthouse wearing pictures of a kangaroo wearing a judge’s gown during a court hearing to assess damages in a lawsuit filed by the Lees against Chee and his sister.
The Singapore government filed its first contempt charges against what was then the Asian Wall Street Journal for an editorial in the mid-1980s after the late Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, then Singapore’s sole opposition member of parliament, was acquitted by Senior District Judge Michael Khoo in a Singapore court of making a false declaration about the accounts of his Workers’ Party. The editorial pointed out that Khoo lost his job as a senior judge and was unceremoniously moved to the attorney general’s chambers, widely considered to be a much lower posting. The government, then headed by Lee Kuan Yew, charged that the Journal’s editorial had brought the government into disrepute. From that point forward, a long string of charges were filed against the Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review, which is also owned by Dow Jones.
Dow Jones has hardly been alone, however. The government or the Lee family, including his son, have filed defamation or contempt charges against virtually every major publication in Asia, including the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, Time Magazine, the Economist, the now-defunct AsiaWeek and any other publication that refuses to toe the Lee line. The Far Eastern Economic Review, especially under the late editor Derek Davies, was a particular target. The Review in September was fined for having defamed the Lees pere and fils, in relation to an interview with Chee Soon Juan in which the serially jailed opposition leader said Singapore would never change until Lee Kuan Yew was dead.
Dow Jones is now in the hands of the Murdoch-owned News Corp. The current charges are becoming a test of News Corp’s nerve. It is a news organization that in the past has sought to steer clear of controversies with governments.
The media watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 140th out of 167 countries surveyed in terms of freedom of the press. The country has been kicking foreign journalists out for writing critical articles about the republic since the early 1970s.