Mistranslation Defamation

mistranslation defamation case
What happens if you bungle a word in a different language? Can you be sued for defamation?

During the 2012 elections, many people clamored for President Obama’s school records. He declined to produce them, arguing college academic records have no effect on governing. An educator in Hong Kong, however, is bending over backwards to make sure every man, woman and child is familiar with a sub-par university grade, because if he can convince a judge of his long-time struggle with the English language, he may successfully defend himself against defamation charges. The case also raises the question: can you be sued for mistranslating?

Parent Files Complaint; Principal Uses Incorrect English Word To Describe Complaint

The mistranslation defamation melee started several months ago when a parent at the Wah Yan College – a well-known Catholic secondary school on Hong Kong Island – submitted a complaint about a teacher named Shiu Han-po. The principal of the school, George Tam Siu-ping, allegedly  repeated the accusation and called the complaint “valid.” Upon hearing the news, Shiu filed a HK$200,000 defamation lawsuit against Tam.

Teacher Files Defamation Lawsuit Over Alleged Mistranslation

The defending principal, however, insists he should have used the word “real” not “valid.” He’s arguing he only meant to convey that the parent filed the complaint, not comment on its veracity. Shiu is not hearing it, though, and formally accused Tam of “endorsing a groundless complaint filed by a parent.”

Lawyers Produce Evidence Of ‘Bad English’ In Mistranslation Defamation Case

As part of their defense plan, Tam’s lawyers stressed that their client often misuses English words. They went so far as to provide transcript testimony proving Tam once used the word “invest” for “investigate” and “divert” for “disclosure” in other former documents. Tam’s attorneys also highlighted that even though their client has a Masters degree from Hong Kong University, he failed his A-Level English exam in 1970.

Perhaps in an attempt to elicit more sympathy for their client, the defendant’s attorney also called attention to Tam’s lifelong breathing difficulties and severe shortsightedness. Are they purposefully conjuring the image of a well-meaning, but bumbling, nerd being bullied by the better looking jock? (Hey, perception plays a large part in defamation lawsuits.)

Judge Set To Deliberate Mistranslation Defamation Evidence

Judge Wang Hung-chun, the ruling official, seemed sympathetic to Tam’s plight, and she is due to hand down a decision soon. We’ll have to wait a few days to see what happens in this translation misinterpretation defamation lawsuit.

Are you interested in learning more about international defamation laws? Check out the Kelly Warner International Defamation Law Database. If you are looking for a lawyer to assist with a defamation issue – whether it is international or domestic in nature – get in touch with Kelly Warner law today.

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