by Attorney Aaron Kelly (Original Article)
The laws governing defamation in Singapore is the Penal Code and the Defamation Act. On the other hand, the Limitation Act governs the statute of limitations of filing a civil action based on tort or when the law imposes a fine for violation of the defamation law.
With regards to journalism, it is not only the author of an allegedly libelous article, or the editor, who can be sued; those who are indirectly involved, such as printers and news vendors, may also be sued. Generally, Singaporean courts do not tend towards doling out grossly exorbitant awards. Besides, the quantum of awards for general defamation cases has remained consistent over the last 15 years. However, persons holding public office or politicians are equally entitled to have their reputations protected as those of any other persons.
In addition, defamation also has been relevant to the foreign press in Singapore. Publications such as the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, the Bloomberg business news wire, Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) have been sued for defamation before, and have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars either in damages or out-of-court settlements.
Finally, newspapers in Singapore may not have the right to refuse revealing their sources (also known as the “newspaper rule”), especially when it is in the interests of the public and of justice to know. In Singapore, this privilege is only given by the law in one case – under the Legal Profession Act (confidentiality between a lawyer and client). (Please see)
Under the Defamation Act, Under Section 21 of the Defamation Act (Chapter 75), the same shall not affect the provisions of the Penal Code (Chapter 224) or any other written law relating to criminal offences or any prosecution for a criminal offence for defamation.
Under Article 499 of the Penal Code, the following exceptions may not constitute defamation:
a) It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it is for the public good that the imputation should be made or published.
b) It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any discharge of his public functions, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.
c) It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question, and respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.
d) It is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of a court of justice, or of Parliament, or of the result of any such proceedings.
e) It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a court of justice, or respecting the conduct of any person as a party, a witness or an agent, in any such case, or respecting the character of such person, as far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further.
f) It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no further.
g) It is not defamation in a person having over another any authority, either conferred by law, or arising out of a lawful contract made with that other, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.
h) It is not defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject-matter of the accusation.
i) It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another, provided that the imputation is made in good faith for the protection of the interests of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.
j) It is not defamation to convey a caution, in good faith, to one person against another, provided that the caution is intended for the good of the person to whom it is conveyed, or of some person in whom that person is interested, or for the public good.
Sections 500, 501 and 502 of the Penal Code states that punishment for defamation shall constitute an imprisonment of two (2) years.
Under Section 6 of the Limitations Act, an action for tort or actions to recover any sum recoverable by virtue of any written law shall not be brought after the expiration of 6 years from the date the cause of action accrues.
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