Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tesco - Attacking Free Speech

A group of authors have signed a letter to The Times calling on Tesco to 'exercise restraint' over their ongoing libel action in Thailand. The protest has been organised by English PEN, a campaign group for freedom of expression. The full letter to the newspaper reads as follows:

Sir, We are writing to urge Tesco to exercise restraint over libel actions that we understand to have been recently launched by its subsidiary Tesco Lotus in Thailand. The claims have been brought against three critics of Tesco Lotus. One of these critics, Jit Siratranont, faces two years in jail accused of criminal defamation, and a civil damages claim of 1.1 billion baht (£16.6 million). While we accept the need for Tesco and other corporations to protect their reputation, we are concerned by this disproportionate response.

The offence of criminal defamation is considered by most international watchdogs to be incompatible with the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Its deployment now by a subsidiary of a UK-based company, which prides itself on “upholding basic human rights” and which “supports in full the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, sends an unsettling message around the world.

As writers we greatly value the tradition of free speech in Britain, and we would like to think that a leading international business such as Tesco would be concerned with exporting these values along with its groceries. We urge Tesco to impress its critics with the force of argument, not the threat of imprisonment.

Lisa Appignanesi

President, English PEN

Mark Haddon

Jonathan Heawood

Director, English PEN

Nick Hornby

Anthony Lester, QC

Marina Lewycka

Deborah Moggach

The supermarket is currently engaged in a libel battle with two Thai journalists for making critical comments about the retail giant. A libel battle that, according to one human rights expert, would be 'unable to succeed' if the action was taken in the UK.

Judging by some of the comments in The Times piece, many people are turning off Tesco altogether. Perhaps this is the start of a wider ranging boycott of the retailer. This case could, if it proceeds, be their McLibel. I for one will not shed a tear.