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06BANGKOK1629 MEDIA ACTIVIST WINS LANDMARK LIBEL CASE AGAINST THE SHIN CORPORATION

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“56783”,”3/16/2006 10:56″,”06BANGKOK1629″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,

 

“”,”VZCZCXRO0732

 

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM DE RUEHBK #1629/01 0751056 ZNR UUUUU ZZH

 

 

P 161056Z MAR 06 FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC

 

 

PRIORITY 7224 INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS”,

 

“UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001629

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: MEDIA ACTIVIST WINS LANDMARK LIBEL CASE AGAINST

THE SHIN CORPORATION

 

REF: 05 BANGKOK 4723

 

1. (U) On March 15, the Thai Criminal Court ruled in favor of

media activist Supinya Klangnarong, affirming that she had

not libeled the Shin Corporation. Shin Corp, which was until

January owned by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra, had filed the case against Supinya and five

executives of the Thai Post in October 2003 alleging that

comments by Supinya (stating that Shin Corp\’s profits had

increased dramatically since Thaksin had become Prime

Minister) had hurt the company\’s reputation. Supinya faced

up to two years in prison for criminal libel and a $US 5,000

fine.

 

DAVID VS. GOLIATH

 

2. (U) In front of a packed courtroom filled with over a

hundred Supinya supporters, Judge Nawachart Yamasmith ruled

that the published remarks were protected by Thailand\’s

freedom of the press, and were made for the benefit of the

public. Supinya had made her comments in good faith without

the intention of defaming Shin Corp. Furthermore, the judge

stated that Supinya\’s comments had not caused any damage to

Shin Corp or its reputation. Shin Corp is a publicly listed

company, and as such is subject to public scrutiny.

 

3. (U) In February, amidst fallout over the sale of Shin Corp

to the Singaporean company Temasek which angered many Thais,

Shincorp offered to drop the suit as a way of avoiding

further negative publicity. The offer took Supinya\’s camp by

surprise and after a few days of deliberation, she and her

co-defendants rejected it saying that they preferred to hear

the verdict of the court. She said she would only accept the

offer if Shin Corp agreed to make a public statement

acknowledging the public\’s right to scrutinize public

business dealings. Shin Corp was unable to drop the case

without Supinya\’s consent since, under Thai law, she has the

right to seek to clear her name. After the refusal, Shin

Corp said the offer had been made only on the condition that

Supinya apologize. Minutes before the final verdict was

read, Shincorp lawyers again unsuccessfully tried to persuade

the defendants to have the case dismissed.

 

DAMNED IF THEY DO, DAMNED IF THEY DON\’T

 

4. (U) Many analysts point out that the beleaguered Shin Corp

had boxed itself in between a rock and a hard place. By

losing the case, they suffer a humiliating legal defeat to a

scrappy NGO. Winning the case would have meant more bad

publicity and charges that the massive conglomerate was

seeking to crush Thailand\’s cherished freedom of the press.

Despite domestic and international criticism throughout the

trial, Shin Corp had insisted that it would weather the bad

publicity and pursue the case to its conclusion. However,

their position changed once the sale by the Prime Minister\’s

family sparked much widespread controversy.

 

5. (U) Poloff observed the courtroom packed with a who\’s who

of the opposition and NGO community- a leader of the People\’s

Alliance for Democracy, a Thai senator, academics,

international journalists as well as ordinary friends and

supporters were in attendance. While Supinya had complained

to Poloff only last year that the domestic Thai news media

was neglecting her case, the increasingly emboldened Thai

national media were there in large numbers. Although the

positive outcome was not guaranteed, most observers said they

were not surprised by the verdict. Dr. Niran

Phithakwatchara, a Senator from Ubon Ratchathani Province,

told Poloff that the decision was not unexpected as the Thai

courts were the last truly independent institutions in

Thailand. He added that as for the Constitutional Court,

that was another matter.

 

6. (U) Shincorp has thirty days to appeal the decision, but

none is expected. The company\’s $400 million baht ($US 10

million) civil suit against Supinya is technically still

pending, but observers say it has virtually no chance of

success after yesterday\’s failure. Both sides may yet come

to an agreement to drop the case.

 

SUPINYA SPEAKS TO THE CROWD

 

7. (U) Regardless of which way the verdict went, Supinya

would have had plenty to say to the anti-Thaksin rally which

continued to camp outside Government House. Late last night,

Supinya spoke to the thousands of assembled anti-Thaksin

protesters, saying that she would counter-sue the Prime

Minister unless he agreed to quit. She also announced that

her next major crusade would be to campaign to \”free\” iTV and

Thaicom satellites, sold as part of the Shincorp-Temasek

deal, and return them to their rightful place as Thai

 

BANGKOK 00001629 002 OF 002

 

national assets.

 

8. (SBU) COMMENT. David truly has beaten Goliath. As the

Senator noted, the verdict in this case is one more example

of how the lower Thai courts seem to increasingly be willing

to judge a case on its merits, and not on the stature of the

political actors involved. The case is also interesting for

the amount of last-minute coverage it received from the local

media. Although the case had attracted a great deal of

international attention, the Thai press largely ignored what

was very much a landmark case for them, and one that should

have hit home. The verdict, widely reported in the Thai- and

English-language press today, is yet another sign of the ebb

of media self-censorship that has been ongoing since the

anti-Thaksin rallies got started. END COMMENT

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 5:24 am

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