Singapore court fines WSJ editor Melanie Kirkpatrick for contempt

Friday, March 20, 2009, 7:10 by Business Editor

A Wall Street Journal senior editor was accused of writing three articles which allegedly insulted the city-state’s judiciary. She been fined 10,000 Singapore dollars (6,660 US) for contempt of court on the same issue.

The High Court order also ordered Melanie Kirkpatrick, a deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, to pay 10,000 dollars in legal costs on top of an earlier judgement against publisher Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc. She was also accused of allowing the articles to be published. The articles, according to the satement “impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore Judiciary.” Melanie Kirkpatrick is based in New York, USA.

There were contempt charges against two other editors of the WSJ too which were dropped after Melanie Kirkpatrick’s conviction.

“Public interest requires that the individuals who were responsible for the publication of the offending materials be also held accountable for their actions,” the statement by the court said. The two editorials and a letter by Singapore opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party, published in the Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July 2008 formed the matter of concern before the Singapore court.

Judge Tay Yong Kwang, however did not impose a fine above 25,000 dollars, as demanded by the attorney general on Kirkpatrick. This is not the first time Kirkpatrick has been in the spot for such an issue. Way back in 1985 she was in contempt of the court in Singapore for an article in the Wall Street Journal Asia. The court found it to be “written contrary to the best journalistic practices that one would have expected from an international  newspaper.”

However the defence appealed to the court that melanie Kirkpatrick “had no intention or desire to undermine any institution in Singapore, including the Singapore Judiciary and its individual judges.” However Kirkpatrick had the support of journalists and the journalist groups. “We urge the High Court to reverse this decision in order not to jeopardize the freedom of foreign journalists to express their views about the situation in Singapore,” Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said earlier this week.

In addition to this Dow Jones & Co, owner News Corp. Dow Jones’ spokesman in Asia, Joe Spitzer was also ordered to pay 30,000 dollars in legal costs.

“Neither Ms. Kirkpatrick nor Dow Jones agrees with the substance of the charges or the contempt judgement. Dow Jones is committed to defending the right of The Wall Street Journal Asia to report and comment on matters of international importance, including matters concerning Singapore.” the statement from Dow Jones said. Terming it as harmful to the country’s image, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged the judge to stop the proceedings against Kirkpatrick. They also said that it displayed to the world the country’s “chronic inability to tolerate criticism”.

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