Digital Defamation

Some years ago, blogger Roy Ngerng was found by the High Court to be defamatory to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong because of his statements about him on his blog. Ngerng had suggested in his blog that PM Lee has misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings and had compared him to City Harvest Church leaders who allegedly misused S$50 million in church funds. He was ordered by the Court to pay PM Lee S$100,000 in general damages and S$50,000 in aggravated damages.

What is defamation?

Writing or saying something about another person can be declared defamatory by a court if it causes harm to the person’s credibility. Defamation is the harm caused to a person’s reputation that could lead to them being avoided or hated or ridiculed. Under section 499 of the Penal Code, criminal defamation is writing or saying something intending to harm someone. It comprises libel, for written words, and slander, for spoken words. However, it is not considered defamation under the following circumstances:

  • If you are stating an honest opinion on how a person is conducting public functions.
  • If it is about a person’s character regarding how they are conducting public functions.

The penalty for defamation is imprisonment for up to 2 years or a fine.

What is your course of action if you have been defamed online?

If you believe that you have been defamed online, you can make a report with the police. You can subsequently start a civil lawsuit for defamation or make an application under the Protection from Harassment Act. It is also possible to try and solve the issue out of court through mediation or settlement. In order to determine the best course of action, we would recommend speaking to one of our experienced lawyers for advice.

When can you sue for defamation?

You can sue for libel over online defamatory material under the following conditions:

  • The statement or material posted online must be considered defamatory, i.e., if it lowers you in the eyes of right-thinking individuals of society, causes you to be avoided or exposes you to negative behaviour against you.
  • The material in question must clearly refer to you.
  • The material must be communicated to a third party in some way, for instance, if it is published and read or seen by anyone. Usually, the larger the audience that has viewed the material, the greater the damage done.

What are the remedies for defamation?

The following damages or remedies can be received from a defamation suit:

  • Monetary damages can be awarded, which are quantified by taking into consideration the gravity of the defamatory statement, the impact of the statement and the degree of publication (size of the audience).
  • Prohibitory or interlocutory injunctions can be made. Prohibitory injunctions stop any future publishing of the defamatory material and interlocutory injunctions compel the accused to retract the statement made.
  • If a false statement is published about you, you can apply for a protection order to the District Court under section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act. This would ban the statement from future publication.

Can you sue the network service provider?

No, you cannot sue the network service provider for defamatory material against you online. They are protected under section 26 of the Electronics Transaction Act from liability for the creation, publication and circulation of defamatory content on their platform.

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What are some defences to defamation?

The following are some ways in which a defamation charge can be defended in some cases:

  • The defence of justification: the accused must be able to substantiate the statement with facts.
  • The defence of fair comment: the accused must prove that he or she was expressing an opinion, based on facts, the opinion of a relatively unbiased person and related to a public interest matter.

Alternatively, the accused can absolve himself or herself from liability through an Offer of Amends. This would require proof that the defamatory material was created innocently along with a public apology and informing the audience of the content that the publication was defamatory.

Can you take another course of action if the accused’s material is considered not defamatory?

In some cases, the content published about you may not be considered defamatory, but can still be harmful to you. In some cases, you may still be able to sue the perpetrator under the tort of malicious falsehood if the content claims something that is not necessarily defamatory but is still false and could have negative repercussions.

How We Can Help You

At Lions Chambers LLC, we understand that both being accused of defamation and having defamatory comments made about you can be extremely damaging for you. We have experienced lawyers who are well versed in Singapore Defamation proceedings.

Lions Chambers LLC is an established law firm in Singapore. Our team of lawyers specialise in various areas of law and will be able to assist you. Our consultations are free. Please call +65 8777 3677 or click here to WhatsApp us today.

Need Advice ?

Speak to a Lawyer Now

At Lions Chambers LLC, we pride ourselves on being responsive. We understand that some problems need immediate attention, let us assist you.