Blogger’s defamation liability ‘depends on existing statutory law’

(Bernama) – The question of whether a blog site owner or editor is liable for defamation depends very much on the country’s existing statutory law, said British barrister Dr Venkat Iyer.

He said judges would need to look at the legislation as it would take a very descriptive approach to say that both would be liable or otherwise, unless the online reader’s attention had been specifically drawn to a legally difficult statement.

Dr Iyer, who is also senior lecturer of the Univerisity of Ulster’s School of Law, United Kingdom, said: “Sometimes, the person who owns the blog site might not even be aware that the particular posting has been made. So, under those circumstances, you need to be careful not to penalise the editor.

“But, if it turns out that the blog site owner is aware of the nature of posting, then I would say it would be justified in holding the blog site owner and editor liable for defamation.” He was replying to a query by Sarawak and Sabah Chief Judge Tan Sri Richard Malanjum on whether an online owner or the poster was accountable for adverse and negative remarks posted on online portals.

Malanjum said it was a bit unfortunate that the courts became the victims of “horrible remarks” on the few online portals in Malaysia, which sometimes posted comments with contents that the readers could not even swallow.

Earlier, Dr Iyer delivered a talk on “Media Law, Right to Privacy and Bloggers”, at a dinner in the Kuching Court Complex here last night.

On the usefulness of disclaimer clauses to the blog site owner, Dr Iyer said these were not foolproof and it was unlikelay that complete immunity would be enjoyed because, unlike conventional media, blogs were mostly unmoderated.

“Blogs which are either news or opinionated are not static as most bulletin boards or discussion forums, and act as a medium in-between newspapers,” he said.

Despite the serious nature of legal challenges, including defamation, contempt of court, harassment, violation of copyright and national security threats which were not always in terms of substantive law, he noted a need for pragmatic approach, rather than legislative laws that could be too harsh.

“The analogy with the British law on confidentiality of journalists’ sources might be a good model to follow because at the end of the day, it is for the judges to apply the law sensibly,” he said.