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You might have been told when you were growing up that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Some of you went on to learn the hard way, though, that the wrong words at the wrong time or place could earn you a slap across your cheek, or a punch in your eye.  Hopefully that taught you the lesson you needed to learn: that words can hurt, and that you should always maintain composure, decorum and civility in your public communications.  But if you didn’t, consider what being prosecuted for defamation might be like.

Although precise definitions vary around the world, defamation generally refers to damage caused to a person’s reputation resulting from either false or reckless public statements made about them.  The statements can be made either orally (in which case they’re considered to constitute slander) or in writing (in which case it’s considered to be libel), and need only to have been relayed by the communicator to a single other person to be actionable. Although truthful statements, rather than false or reckless ones, are usually a defense against defamation that is not always the case in every jurisdiction.  Moreover, while defamation is usually only actionable during a person’s lifetime there are exceptions

In Thailand, defamation may be prosecuted under either section 423 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code , or under sections 326-333 of the Criminal Code. Defined as a type of Wrongful Act, civil liability extends in Thailand to a person who, “contrary to the truth, asserts or circulates as a fact injurious to the reputation or credit of another or his earnings or prosperity in any manner, even if he does not know of its untruth, provided he ought to have known it it’s untruth a form of a wrongful act.” This definition casts a fairly wide net, yet makes clear that the statement at issue must be untrue in order to be actionable. There is also an implication that there must be an intentional correlation between the false statement and the ensuing harm to the other person, meaning that the false statement must have been made specifically for the purpose of causing such harm.

Thailand’s Criminal Code specifies that “whoever imputes anything to the other person before a third person in a manner likely to impair the reputation of such other person or to expose such other person to be hated or scorned is said to have committed defamation and shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding one year or fined not exceeding twenty thousand Baht, or both.” The Criminal Code further provides that even deceased people can be defamed if the false imputation impairs the reputation of their father, mother, spouse, or children or causes hatred or scorn.  Penalties are increased to up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand baht if the defamation is committed by means of various enumerated criteria, such as the publication of a drawing.  However, the code goes on to provide that if the person prosecuted for defamation can prove that the imputation is true, he shall not be prosecuted as long as such proof does not concern personal matters of no benefit to the general public.

When in doubt, it’s best to run prospective communications past a qualified expert for an objective review and analysis before issuing them.  Here more than anywhere, an ounce of prevention can outweigh a pound of cure.

(c) 2023 Frank Rittman

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