MALAYSIA – An interesting online defamation case is unfolding in Malaysia – a blogger is suing an elected official. The case is so intriguing that it got me thinking about how this libel lawsuit would play out in the United States.
Blogger “Sekupangdua” Sues For Libel
A blogger that goes by the handle “Sekupangdua” (Real name Ahmad Sofian Yahya; “Sek” from here on out) is suing a Malaysian politician for the Taiping, Perak region, Nga Kor Ming. The whole thing started in January of this year when Sek posted a story to his blog entitled “Hot! Expose on Nga Komeng and Pakatan Rakyat Robbery!”. Now, I speak Malay just about as well as I speak Klingon (oh, ok, I know a little bit of Klingon), so I can’t give you a detailed explanation of what the article said, but judging from the title, we can assume it had to do with a robbery.
Like any politician on the globe, Nga was none too pleased with Sek’s assertions. Defamation litigation commenced and on June 22, 2012, both parties came to an agreement behind closed doors. In other words, they settled out of court. Nga and Sek contracted a truce; both vowed not to mention the incident online for evermore.
On September 9, however, Nga – a member of the country’s Democratic Action Party, took action on his own website by posting a message that made it sound like the court had ruled that Sek’s post was defamatory, when in reality it was settled out of court. Concerned about his reputation, Sek filed a defamation lawsuit against Nga, claiming that the politician was out to ruin his “blogger reputation.”
Would Sek Win This Online Defamation Lawsuit In An America Court Of Law?
The plight of Sek v. Nga got me thinking about how this case would probably play out in an American court. Would Sek be considered a public figure since he willingly injected himself into political discourse? Would a judge and/or jury determine that since the two parties had previously come to a detentes than Nga was breaking a contract and therefore liable?
An expert on Malaysian cultural life I am not, so it’s difficult to answer the question of whether or not Sek would be considered a public figure in U.S. courts – which would mean he’d have to prove actual malice. If he’s as popular as, say, Han Han is in China, then there’s a good chance that he’d be considered a public figure and therefore, under U.S. defamation law, would have to prove that Nga knowingly lied with the intent to cause harm. If a judge rules that Sek is not a public figure, than he wouldn’t have to meet the actual malice standard.
Moreover, the state in which Sek filed the lawsuit would also affect the decision – because while there is a federal defamation statute in the United States, each state has their own set of slander and libel laws.
In a U.S. court, Sek would also have to prove how the incident harmed him – but he’d have many options, as there are myriad damages one can claim in a defamation lawsuit.