Sue me Tesco by mattsteinglass
May 22, 2008, 11:42 am
Filed under: Asia, Media | Tags: ,

So it seems Tesco, the UK-based international supermarket chain, has learned a trick or two from former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra and is suing people who write articles criticizing it. A bunch of A-list British writers have come out with a letter denouncing the chain for trying to use the courts to exercise a chilling effect on free expression.

This is pretty disgusting — one of the Thais they’re suing, Kamol Kamoltrakul, is a middle-aged journalist of very moderate means whom they’re suing for 100 million baht, or $3.2 million. This is the kind of tactic Thaksin’s Shin Corp used when back in 2004 it sued Supinya Klangnarong and the Thai Post for 400 million baht for an article noting that Shin Corp’s profits had taken off since Thaksin became PM. Thaksin himself adopted the tactic from Singapore, where Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, current PM Lee Hsien Loong, first sued opposition leader Chee Soon Juan into bankruptcy, meaning he is legally ineligible to leave the country and pragmatically kneecapped in his political activities, and then sued the Far Eastern Economic Review for interviewing him (along with a series of other publications that got involved).

It does sound as though the articles denouncing Tesco in Thailand have followed some rather sloppy third-world journalistic protocols, including insufficiently sourced allegations that the company plays games with its taxes, and a typical developing-country attitude towards statistics (Kamol’s article initially claimed Tesco made 37% of its global revenue in Thailand, which is absurd on the face of it; it’s overstated by about 10 times, and gives one little confidence in the reliability of the article’s other claims). But if Tesco wants to address charges and resentments such as these, it has a splendiferous advertising budget at its command to do so, and can certainly enlist the aid of sympathetic journalists with ties to the business community. There is no moral distinction between a company that sues a journalist or activist for millions of dollars for saying something the company doesn’t like, and an authoritarian regime that gets that journalist or activist fired or puts them in prison; these are differences of tactics, not of character, and what Tesco is doing is postmodern Stalinism. They are smearing their own brand amongst consumers in countries that do believe in freedom of expression, and hopefully they’ll pay a price at the cash register for it.


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