Are you handicapped?

I believe no reasonable person would deny that the law exists to protect each and every person in society from those that do not abide by the rules and seek harm (not just physical) to others. Think of it if you will as the rules that govern any competition to ensure that no one party gains an advantage over the other by means that would be considered unfair.

Of course, we can debate if the rules themselves are fair but that is not the point I want to explore today. The point I want to explore today concerns accessibility. The reason for this is not just because of the high-profile cases with regards to PM Lee (background here) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (background here) versus TRE but a case that has hit Valuebuddies.com, the investment forum which I frequent.

Now I can understand the need for a law in order for individuals or entities to seek redress when they feel that they their reputation or character has been harmed. I don’t wish to make comments on the cases against TRE because I have no knowledge of the said defamatory article or comment. In the case of Valuebuddies.com, the administrator and moderators were informed by the legal counsel of a certain executive chairman of a public-listed company who felt that certain posts made in a discussion of the company were defamatory towards him. The letter from the legal counsel was therefore a protest and asked for the administrators and moderators of the website to take down the posts in question and applying a ban to the individuals who made the posts. (unfortunately the said posts have not been made public but there is an ongoing discussion here)

The administrator and moderators of the website are not paid volunteers as the site is a free to join website and ads on the site only go towards covering costs of maintenance of the site. Users of the site also tend to be retail investors that benefit from the collective discussion of views and analysis in the vein of The Motley Fool. Of course, the administrators, moderators and users could have sought pro-bono legal services but would that be the best course of action given that these are all laymen who would have to do so at great personal expense of time and effort (i.e. these volunteers have a life too)?

Therefore, it is not unfathomable that the best course of action for the website was to comply with the demands of the legal counsel representing the chairman rather than contest that the posts in question was in fact “fair comment” which is  a permissible defense when confronted with a charge of defamation.

If, by this reasoning (which invoke backward induction for all you game theory geeks out there), those of relatively greater wealth can get their lawyers to send letters of protests (which probably incurs a cost in the region of $100-200, chump change for someone whose net worth runs in the millions) for comments which they feel irked but may not necessary be considered defamatory once examined under the defense of “fair comment” and know that the demands of the letter will probably be complied with because it will come at great expense for the layman (especially as a representative of a community that provides a free service) to defend himself.

I wonder if there are any safeguards in place to prevent such abuses?

[Updated: Lucky Tan weighs in. mrbrown delivers another hilarious one]

Advertisements