By Ahmad Osman and Walter Fernandez
MR J.B. Jeyaretnam may not be able to read, write or speak Tamil but that does not mean he can evade responsibility for the defamatory remarks in an article in Tamil and published in the Workers’ Party newsletter, argued Senior Counsel Harry Elias yesterday.
It would also be a “sad spectacle” if the secretary-general of the WP and the overall editor of the newsletter did not take responsibility for the contents of his party’s publication, The Hammer.
Mr Elias was representing the 11-member Tamil Language Week organising committee, which is suing Mr Jeyaretnam, Mr A. Balakrishnan, the author of the offending article, and the Workers’ Party for defamation.
Mr Jeyaretnam, who is representing himself, Mr Balakrishnan and the WP in the defamation suit, has declined to be called as a witness and cross-examined.
Addressing Justice Goh Joon Seng at the High Court, Mr Elias noted that the law covering the extent of liability in such cases stated clearly that not only the author but also the editor and proprietor of the publication were responsible and jointly liable for any damages imposed by the court for defamation.
In this case, there was no doubt that Mr Jeyaretnam was the editor of The Hammer because it was stated in the permit issued by the Information and the Arts Ministry.
So, he argued, the Non-Constituency MP was also responsible for the defamation.
This view, he added, was unwittingly supported by Mr Balakrishnan, who, despite claiming he was wholly responsible for the Tamil section, acknowledged in his affidavit that Mr Jeyaretnam was the “general editor”.
Even if Mr Jeyaretnam had appointed sub-editors, he was “vicariously” liable for any article approved by them because of his position as the “general editor”.