Stop suing journalists: RSF tells Singapore leaders
Fri, Mar 26, 2010

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders has urged Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, MM Lee Kuan Yew and other top officials to stop taking "libel actions" against journalists.

RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard wrote an "open letter" to the Singapore leader Thursday asking for a meeting about the group's observations and proposals "for guaranteeing press freedom" in the affluent city-state.

His letter followed an apology and payment of damages by the New York Times Company to the Lees and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong over an allegedly defamatory article.

"A foreign news organisation has yet again been forced to apologise to you and your father and pay you a large sum of money for publishing an article you did not like," Julliard said.

He urged the government to "put a stop to the libel actions" being taken against journalists.

The New York Times Company on Wednesday issued an apology to the Lees and Goh over an article about political dynasties it published in February in its global edition, the International Herald Tribune (IHT).

The article, entitled "All In The Family", was written by Hong Kong-based columnist Philip Bowring.

Davinder Singh, a lawyer for the three men, said the New York Times Company and Bowring would pay damages totalling 160,000 Singapore dollars to the leaders, who said their reputations had been sullied by the article.

An apology that appeared in the IHT's Wednesday edition said the article may have implied that the younger Lee did not get his job on merit.

Singapore's leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in defamation cases against critics and foreign publications.

The leaders have defended their actions as necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

"Freedom of expression is not a source of political unrest. Quite the contrary," said Julliard, who proposed a meeting with the prime minister.

"We have no comment," the prime minister's press secretary Chen Huai Liang said in response to an AFP query.

Last year, Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review and its editor paid more than 400,000 dollars (S$561,613) to settle a defamation suit filed by Prime Minister Lee and the elder Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore.

A Wall Street Journal senior editor was fined 10,000 Singapore dollars in March 2009 for contempt of court over three articles that were ruled to have insulted the city-state's judiciary.

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