Paper ordered to pay record libel damages to top officials
SINGAPORE–The Supreme Court in late-July ordered the International Herald Tribune to pay Singapore’s top three officials libel damages of more than $678,000. The newspaper will not fight the decision, The New York Times reported.
The newspaper, which is based in Paris and jointly owned by The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co., did not contest its liability for an August 1994 article that accused Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of obtaining political power for his son, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, according to the Associated Press.
The elder Lee, who is a former prime minister, and his son, who is heir apparant to the prime minister position, each were awarded $214,286. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was awarded $250,000, the AP reported.
The newspaper, which has a circulation of about 7,000 in Singapore, had argued for lower damages and pointed to an apology it printed a month after the original article, the AP reported. But the plaintiffs contended that the apology was late and insincere.
The elder Lee, who has written many of Singapore’s strict press guidelines, said laws were designed to keep journalists from appearing to be “all-wise, all-powerful, omnipotent figures,” according to The New York Times.
The passage which caused the controversy stated, “In the Chinese case, history almost seems to consist of a battle between the corporatist needs of the state and the interests of the families who operate it. Dynastic politics is evident in ‘Communist’ China already, as in Singapore despite official commitment to bureaucratic meritocracy.”
The plaintiffs had asked for damages totaling more than $928,000. The $678,000 award exceeded the country’s previous record for a libel award, in which $285,714 was awarded to the elder Lee when he was prime minister for two cases of slander, the AP reported.