Thursday, May 12, 2005

Another lesson about making your words public: Traditional Media 1, Mr Miyagi 0

I was really angry this morning when I heard how I was quoted by Today:
"I am aware that the laws of defamation apply whether online or offline, and A*Star has a legal right to sue for defamation"
Other than that, my captors have treated me well since I was shot down while flying a combat sortie over Iraq. While I don't know if the journo was really at fault for chopping the quote to that size and slant, it is nonetheless an obvious lesson which you'd think I'd have learnt ages ago. Everyone has a motive and an agenda. You will be used. Question their motives first before talking. The spiel on my side of the phone had gone like this (in response to the question put to me about what the ramifications for bloggers were), and I paraphrase myself (because nair record down):
The lesson to be learnt here is that the laws of defamation apply to all publications, online and off. Bloggers would hopefully have learnt that once you've blogged, you have published, and a publication is public. A*Star or anyone has the right to sue for defamation if they have been defamed by a blogger. As for the AcidFlask-A*Star matter, he [AcidFlask] may well have defamed A*Star, we don't know, but I think the agency's response smacks of bullying. I mean, come on, the fella is just one student, you are an [govt] agency, and I think you can't possibly have protected the 'reputation of your agency' and your country by threatening to sue the one student who mouths off'.
Us 'veteran' bloggers have egg on our faces now. The fuckers. Like that how to be cool anymore? I couldn't possibly stay angry all day with this around
Surf stop: SarongPartyFrens
iTunes' party shuffle is playing a copy of: Never Make Your Move Too Soon - Ry Cooder - Borderline, of which I have the original CD and therefore didn't steal music.


Blogger Ah 9 said...

As always...speaking to the Press has it's dangers....

tendency to be misquoted is there when they chop chop and try to shorten sentences and save newspaper space for 1900 ads, etc etc. Bleah.

5/12/2005 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger Ah Leng said...

The press already knows the slant they wanna give the article. They just need a couple of blokes to give their views, butcher what you fellas said, and then turn around and make it seem you guys back them up.

That's the press for you mah.

5/12/2005 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Postmaster-General said...

Yes the press is evil, but think about it, with blogs you can defend yourself by putting up the actual quote. Heh...

Poor mr.miyagi. It's ok. we all know you are good. Also despite what I've said, you're cool. Cool enough for me to poop on! (thank you triumph the comic insult dog).

5/12/2005 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Gilbert Koh said...

One week ago, the ST sought to interview me about my views about the Acidflask incident, following my decision to close my blog Singapore Legal Mumbo Jumbo Demystified (

Over the phone, I gave some oral comments on a strictly off-the-record basis. I then told the journalist Melissa Lwee that if she wished to quote me in her article, she should send me a list of questions in writing, and I would then reply to her in writing.

I preferred to give a written reply because this would allow me to organise my thoughts on the Acidflask more precisely and thereby reduce the possibility that I would be misquoted, misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Melissa indeed sent me the list of questions, and I replied in writing via email that very same day (last Friday).

Among other things, I commented on the likely chilling effect of the Acidflask incident, not just on Singapore bloggers, but on Singaporeans generally.

I said that A*STAR's threat of legal action sent a signal to the public which was quite contrary to the Singapore government's recent efforts to encourage Singaporeans to speak up and express their views.

I mentioned that international organisations such as Index for Free Expression and Reporters Without Borders had already noted this case, and that this wasn't good for Singapore's reputation.

I also said that despite being a frequent visitor to Acidflask's blog, I could not recall ever seeing anything on his blog that was defamatory in respect of A*STAR or Philip Yeo.

I further said that my impression of Acidflask, based on his blog, was that he was a mature, responsible and highly intelligent person, just as we would typically expect a PhD student, PSC scholar and Gifted Programme student to be.

I further said that many Singapore bloggers want to engage in constructive discussion of important social issues, but now, despite their best intentions, they may become fearful of doing so.

And I went on to say more.

To date, the Straits Times still hasn't featured my comments.

In view of what the Today newspaper has now done to both you and Mr Brown, I can't help but speculate about the possible reasons why.

One of my guesses is that unlike you and Mr Brown, I had given my answers in writing. Thus I had the opportunity to state my comments very precisely; and furthermore I had written proof of exactly what I had communicated.

Thus there would have been little opportunity for the Straits Times to put any slant on my comments that I did not intend.

Of course, that may possibly be why they didn't use my comments at all.

I'm not sure who has suffered the worst fate -

you and Mr Brown (whose comments were both quoted in a manner and tone that failed utterly to reflect the true spirit of your respective views)

or me (whose comments were in written form, and crystal clear - and therefore not used, as they could not have been misused).

5/12/2005 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Tym said...

I second Gilbert Koh's point: always always always reply in writing. We used to do it at work, but you not government agency also can do it.

Oh, and I'm more cautious than GK: I'd say never speak off-the-record unless you super-trust the journo (i.e. have an existing relationship that precludes the possibility of betrayal --- and even then must tink carefully...).

5/12/2005 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Gilbert, I don't know if your comments have been conveniently ignored or not, but the ST is apparently still on this story. I got an email asking for my views just two days ago. I doubt my answers will appear, seeing as how they're text and specifically designed to resist quoting-out-of-context.

5/12/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger WhiteOut said...

trackback It's Really Not Fun To Have Your Message Carelessly Conveyed The Pen Is Mightier.

come to think of it, i dont remember any local media being critical about astar and its chairman regarding the acidflask affair ... am i wrong?

5/12/2005 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger Tempest Blue said...

I agree. What A*Star's response has done is to put the fear of speaking our mind back into us. I don't really know what I am allowed or not allowed to say anymore.

What, I can't say Mr So-and-So is a #$$@#4, !@#%^^ and #$%@#$ and his company is very @##$$ ##$$ anymore, or I'll get sued?

Who knows, maybe even your words below

"...but I think the agency's response smacks of bullying..."

may be defamatory.(I hope not)

5/12/2005 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger cour marly said...

It's so obvious the reporter didn't do the requisite homework. Since when did you get promoted to 'veteran' blogger!

5/12/2005 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger aGent X said...

Gua 'caya lu!
- I believe you, in Mat Rock lingo...

5/13/2005 12:14:00 AM  
Blogger Ruok said...

I too knew u were somehow not quoted fully in the article, and am glad that you clear the air in your blog. And again, its a pity what you said didn't make it to the print. A real pity.

I am wondering now if xia suay oops xue's comments were not quoted fully as well.

5/13/2005 02:06:00 AM  
Blogger smudgi3 said...

I knew immediately when I read the article that something was wrong. The "Uh oh" went off in my head and I knew I would be reading about it soon. So much for being on the news.

5/13/2005 02:49:00 AM  
Blogger princessdominique said...

I am on television (not the news/press) but I must say, they MASTER in The Art of the Slant! They know what spin and what take the piece will have before they even set out to do it. It's like a jury convicting you before they've seen and heard all the evidence!

5/13/2005 03:00:00 AM  
Blogger whateverstreet said...

the singapore press has learnt the bad ways from foreign paparazzi. it'll be soon we see local journalists following the footsteps of their counterparts from the hk/tw/us tabloids, stalking their targets for reporting.

5/13/2005 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger pea said...

No, the Press does not shorten because there are 1900 ads but because every news article adheres to news values, articles are shortened knowing readers get bored and bothered by lengthy pieces.

Today and the ST is different. Today is a free tabloid and ST is a broadsheet; their purposes are vastly different. Further, Today being free meant news values will have to be compromised. It is a trashy paper indeed.

You should be utterly surprised most journalists on the ground are anti-government, and they do try their best to get balanced quotes.

It doesn't help making such making such sweeping statements unless you know someone who works for the press or you know how the newsroom operates.

5/14/2005 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger pea said...

My point is everyone here is overtly critical of something that requires more than just the superficial level of analysis. Like politics or law, the media cannot be understood just by what you think you see.

Instead of blemishing it wholesale, why not try to understand its intricate workings?

5/14/2005 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger desiderata said...

Thanks to Gilbert Koh for sharing an important aspect of dealing with media interviews.

The caution that Tym adds is indeed a precaution worth taking -- don't even speak "off the record"...I share my episode.

I was working at a diplomatic mission in KL as a press executive, and over tea, had a local pressman ask me about a then "hot issue".

I told him I could speak to him as backgrounder FYI only -- off the record.

To my horror, the information was used and attributed to a HC spokesperson (no name) in a news report the following day. I almost "lost" my job!

So yes, we Msian bloggers too face similar challenges and hurdles trying to contribute towards building a more civil society (I believe many of use members of borderless bloggersworld do!)-- we benefit by sharing experience with each other.

Welcome to visit my cyberhome too -- just 7weeks young! (

5/14/2005 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i used to work for the newspaper and TV media. i know how these things work. I know who gets the shit when things that dont tow the line get published.

For me, the editor has the responsibility to bring out the truth. if not the truth, then at least a balanced view. If you can't do at least that, then why even both being an editor for a paper. Might as well edit something else or work somewhere where you can at least write it the way you see it.

5/16/2005 12:38:00 AM  

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