Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tesco sues Thai journalist - 3rd Thai citizen sued in one month

It appears Britain's Tesco wants to teach Thais to keep their mouths shut -- never to criticize the big-box storesthat may be threatening the livelihoods of small retailers -- or face lawsuits. The British-based multinational has launched a lawsuit against a third Thai in one month! (I blogged about the previous two lawsuits here.) The Guardian newspaper -- which is also being sued by Tesco -- reports:

Tesco in Thailand is suing a second columnist from a Bangkok business newspaper for £1.6m in libel damages.

The global retailer, trading as Tesco Lotus, claims the business gossip writer for Bangkok Business News damaged the company's reputation when she said the company did not "love" Thailand.

The offending article in Nongnart Harnvilai's tongue-in-cheek "Buzz" column was part of a collection of short stories on page 28 of the paper, and ran to just a few sentences.
The article continues:

Campaigners for free speech said the latest writ underscored Tesco Lotus's determination to stamp out criticism of its rapid expansion, which has been hotly debated for nearly a decade.

"Obviously Tesco Lotus is on the warpath," said Roby Alampay, of the South-east Asian Press Alliance (Seapa). "It's out to silence not only criticism, but seems to want to stop anyone saying anything about the company. We find that very ominous."

A committee of the Thai Journalists Association concerned with the potential erosion of press freedom is due to meet the columnists today to discuss ways to combat Tesco Lotus's tactics. Next week, Thailand's Human Rights Commission is set to address the company's multiple libel writs and the tactic of going after individuals rather than the organisations they represent.

Both Jit, 56, and Kamol, 58, had criticised Tesco Lotus's "aggressive" expansion in Thailand, saying it had come at the expense of small retailers who could not compete with company's 370 superstores and hypermarkets across the country. They also said the company had sought to minimise its Thai tax liabilities.

Nongnart, 45, joined the fray when she remarked on Tesco Lotus's plans to open a further 130 outlets, saying Thai competitors were in for a tough time. "Ha, Tesco Lotus doesn't love Thais," was her sign off. In the libel writ Tesco Lotus claimed the article had hurt its image and demanded £1.6m to repair the damage.

"It was supposed to be funny," said Duangkamol Chotana, the Bangkok Business News editor. "It's not even real criticism. I can't understand how Tesco Lotus feels damaged by this. I'm surprised by their action because they should understand and respect media freedom."

Bangkok Business News has said it will fight the actions and is backing both its columnists even though they - rather than it - were named in the writs.

Notice that Tesco choses not to sue a Thai company, but an individual journalist. This tactic suggests to me that the company is not serious about claiming damages -- how much money does a Thai journalist earn? -- but merely wants to intimidate Thai journalists.

What does this mean for freedom of the press in Thailand? For Thai peoples' rights to decide for themselves what kinds of neighborhoods they want to live in? For the rights of locally owned businesses? Thailand is not a level playing field, in which corporations and individuals have equal access to justice. The legal system here is not "fair" as in the West (i.e. the UK where Tesco is based). I think Tesco is taking advantage of an uneven playing field. To put their big box stores wherever they want them to go -- regardless of what Thais citizens want.

At a minimum, a company that "loves" Thailand would likely show respect for the institutions of Thai civil society. When a big company fires off lawsuits against journalists, this undermines the ability of the press to do its job. Thailand may pay a high price for Tesco's decision target journalists with lawsuits, especially if Tesco's example encourages other firms to follow its lead.

Update: Concerning the first of the three recent lawsuits by Tesco against Thai people, see Bangkok Pundit's post, "McLibel"


  1. what make Tesco think that we Thai people can't live without those big box? Full of junk, try to feed us with 10% meat in their meal and another thing is, why we allow the fa-rang company to make the money out of our people any way. They have no respect at all, RUDE! and Faul like that!. I think they should get out, go home and don't come back.

  2. Do people ever realize Tesco Lotus sells pirated sony playstation and nintendo wii games? I would love to see them get sued for that! suckers!


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