Saturday 25 February 2012

TRE removes post about Lee Hsien Yang

Editors appoint new lawyer; express regret for defaming Mr Lee
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2012

SOCIOPOLITICAL website TR Emeritus (TRE) did an about-turn last night and removed a defamatory posting about corporate chieftain Lee Hsien Yang from its portal. It also expressed regret for defaming Mr Lee.

This comes less than 24 hours after TRE said it would vigorously resist Mr Lee's demands.

The final decision followed a meeting between Mr Lee's lawyers from Stamford Law, and a TRE editor, Mr Richard Wan, who went into the session with a new lawyer. He is Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh of Tan Kok Quan Partnership, replacing Mr M. Ravi.

Mr Ravi was discharged abruptly earlier in the day. He had said on Wednesday that TRE intended to fight Mr Lee's demands, in defence of the freedom of expression in cyberspace.

When contacted, Mr Ramesh said his client declined to speak to the media on why TRE made the U-turn.

But in a statement posted on its website after 10pm, TRE's editors said they 'acknowledge and regret that a defamatory comment about Mr Lee Hsien Yang was placed on our website by a netizen'.

'We had and have no intention to defame Mr Lee. We have removed the said defamatory comment from our website.'

The editors also thanked Mr Lee, the chairman of listed conglomerate Fraser and Neave, for his co-operation and understanding.

Mr Lee's lawyer Tan Chuan Thye said in a statement last night: 'My client is satisfied his requests have been met, that the false and defamatory postings have been removed and that TRE has acknowledged and expressed regret over this posting. The vindication of his name and reputation is important.'

The defamatory comment was made by a netizen called 'abs' on Jan 30, in the comments section following an article about former Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong's personal life.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee's lawyers served a letter on Mr Wan. They said that the statement by 'abs' was 'false, defamatory, made without basis, and designed to embarrass, cause distress to and denigrate our client'.

They also noted that the comment was also cached on a website called Temasek Realm, an aggregator site that collects posts from various websites.

Besides asking that TRE take down the comment and publish an apology, the lawyers asked that it procure the removal of the comment on Temasek Realm.

On top of that, they asked that TRE provide the name and full particulars of 'abs' as well as that of the editor or webmaster of Temasek Realm.

The offending remark is no longer accessible on Temasek Realm.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Lee's various demands have been fulfilled. His lawyers however declined to elaborate.

But they said Mr Lee will not be taking any further legal action.

The late-night settlement capped a day of drama that began with TRE being spammed by netizens making defamatory remarks about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - Mr Lee's brother - and his wife Ho Ching. This followed the website's apology to PM Lee for an article that alleged cronyism in the appointment of Ms Ho as the head of Temasek Holdings.

TRE then said it made a serious error in PM Lee's case but argued that acceding to Mr Lee Hsien Yang's demands would 'open the floodgates to more of such demands in the future, rendering TRE impossible to continue with its operation, spending most of its time apologising'.

By yesterday afternoon, Mr Ravi was no longer representing them.

At night, all was relatively quiet on the website.

The editors had disabled the comments section at the end of their latest statement, disallowing any netizens from making any remarks.

They wrote: 'TR Emeritus wishes to put this episode behind us and move on.'

Lee Hsien Yang's demands not unreasonable: TR Emeritus
The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2012

THE editors of sociopolitical website TR Emeritus (TRE) last night clarified that Mr Lee Hsien Yang had never made 'unreasonable' legal demands of them, nor asked for any monetary compensation.

In a posting on the site, they pointed instead to a report in The Straits Times on Saturday, which they said had given the inaccurate impression that the Fraser and Neave chairman had made unreasonable demands that might have led to the site being shut down.

'For the record, TRE is not saying that Mr Lee's demands were unreasonable. Our concern had been that acceding would have opened the floodgates for more demands in the future which would have affected the operations of our site.

'We wish to clarify that at no time did Mr Lee demand any monetary compensation and accordingly, this was never part of our discussion.

'We regret this unhappy episode and have no intention of causing any further distress to Mr Lee.

'We do not wish to entertain any further media queries on this incident.'

The posting is the latest development after one of the TRE editors, Mr Richard Wan, was served with a letter from Mr Lee's lawyers last week regarding a defamatory comment on the website.

TRE has since reached a resolution with Mr Lee. It has taken down the comment as well as posted a statement of regret.

The ST report on Saturday had quoted Mr Wan as saying that he initially feared he might have to shut the site down if they were unable to accede to all of Mr Lee's requests.

But this proved unnecessary since a resolution had been reached with Mr Lee, whose position all along had been that he simply wanted TRE to remove the defamatory postings related to him from its site.

Website flooded by defamatory comments
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2012

NETIZENS have inundated TR Emeritus (TRE) with defamatory comments since it apologised on Wednesday to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for an article that allegedly defamed him and his wife Ho Ching.

The sociopolitical website's editors appealed to those responsible to stop, even as they said they are pondering whether to shut it down.

'There is no need to ensure that TRE will 'meet its maker' as it is one of the options which is being seriously considered by the team,' said the editors yesterday.

In an article on the website, they said that by 4am yesterday, moderators had had to delete at least 300 comments that were 'outright defamatory and seditious' - six times more than what they would usually have had to remove.

The latest comments were mainly about Ms Ho and PM Lee.

The website had published an apology to PM Lee for an article that alleged cronyism in the appointment of Ms Ho as the head of Temasek Holdings, the Singapore Government's investment company.

Pointing to the ensuing deluge of comments, TRE editors said never before had they needed to remove more than 50 comments in a day.

'We have every valid reason to believe that these comments were posted intentionally to get TRE into further trouble.'

They said the defamatory comments were not from their regular pool of commentators, whose monikers are largely recognisable in the website's community.

They added they would report postings deemed unlawful to the authorities. But genuine commentators need not worry about being exposed, they said.

In an earlier post on Wednesday, the editors said TRE receives 'thousands of comments' daily. Some unwarranted comments might slip through, or some moderators might accidentally let them through 'due to the limited legal knowledge they possessed', they said.

They asked readers to alert them to such incidents.

Lee Hsien Yang sends lawyer's letter to TRE
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2012

MR LEE Hsien Yang, the chairman of listed conglomerate Fraser and Neave (F&N), has sent a lawyer's letter to sociopolitical website TR Emeritus (TRE), asking it to remove an allegedly defamatory comment on its site about him.

Mr Tan Chuan Thye from Stamford Law, acting on behalf of Mr Lee, sent the letter on Tuesday to Mr Richard Wan, one of TRE's five editors.

In the letter, Mr Tan told TRE that a netizen had left a defamatory remark about Mr Lee in the comments section for one of its articles late last month.

'Mr Lee is determined to protect his reputation and would take all necessary and appropriate steps to do so,' Mr Tan told The Straits Times.

When contacted last night, Mr Wan confirmed that he had received the lawyer's letter.

He added that the website has appointed lawyer M. Ravi as its legal counsel.

Mr Ravi told The Straits Times: 'TRE will resist the action vigorously in defence of freedom of expression in cyberspace.'

He added that he will be drafting an 'appropriate response' to Mr Lee's lawyer.

Mr Lee, chairman of F&N since 2007, is also the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

On Sunday, lawyers acting for PM Lee sent a letter to TRE asking it to take down comments that alleged cronyism in the appointment of his wife, Madam Ho Ching, to Temasek Holdings. They also asked that TRE publish an apology.

TRE has since complied.

A search of TRE's website found that on Jan 30, a netizen made a comment on an article about allegations concerning Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong's personal life.

That comment was still on the website as of midnight last night.

The Straits Times understands that today is the last day for TRE to comply with the lawyer's demands.

TRE to continue operating
Editors make decision following settlement with Lee Hsien Yang
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2012

EARLIER this week, sociopolitical website TR Emeritus (TRE) felt its days could be over if it failed to accede to all the demands of corporate chieftain Lee Hsien Yang, who had accused it of having defamatory content.

But yesterday, Mr Richard Wan, one of its five editors, told The Straits Times that TRE would continue operating, following a settlement with Mr Lee, chairman of listed conglomerate Fraser and Neave.

'Right now, we have to do the responsible thing and carry on running the website. We have many readers, and we do not want to let them down,' he said.

He also said he would continue to be the public face of TRE and that the website, whose founders were once anonymous, will not retreat underground.

TRE's decision follows a gruelling week for Mr Wan, who identified himself in public nine days ago as one of the editors of the website.

The 49-year-old director of an IT company was subsequently served with two lawyer's letters on defamatory content on the website.

The first was from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, followed by another from his brother Hsien Yang on Tuesday.

TRE has since apologised to the Prime Minister and reached a settlement with Mr Lee on Thursday night.

But it was the lawyer's letter from Mr Lee that worried the TRE editors, said Mr Wan, when asked what led it to hint in a post on Thursday that it might close down.

'We were worried we would have no choice but to shut down as we would not be able to accede to all of Mr Lee's demands.

'But now, thanks to the settlement, we no longer have this worry and we will continue running the website,' he added.

He also explained why TRE chose to settle, after asserting it would vigorously resist Mr Lee's legal move.

'At first I didn't think the other side would want to settle. So we had no choice but to engage Mr Ravi to resist the action.'

He was referring to lawyer M. Ravi, who said on Wednesday TRE would not give in, in defence of freedom of expression in cyberspace.

But Mr Wan said his family became anxious about the situation on Thursday and wanted him to settle it swiftly.

He then got in touch with Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh through a mutual contact and engaged him after the lawyer expressed confidence that a settlement could be reached.

Both sides have declined to give details on how the settlement was reached.

TRE said in a statement published yesterday afternoon that acceding to all of Mr Lee's demands would compromise the running of the website, making it virtually impossible 'given the way a sociopolitical news blog works'. But, it added, a 'mutually acceptable resolution' was reached on Thursday that addressed and allayed their concerns.

In the letter sent by Mr Lee's lawyers, one of the demands was that TRE publish an apology and an undertaking that it would not let the defamatory comments and any similar allegations be posted on the website.

TRE's editors argued then on their website that it receives thousands of comments daily and inevitably in moderating them, sometimes 'unwarranted comments' slip through. They also said they had limited resources for moderation.

After reaching the settlement, TRE published a statement of regret over the incident.

Mr Wan said the website has learnt some lessons from both episodes and will tighten its processes.

Its comment filter system has been programmed to monitor remarks more closely. The team will also be stricter in their editorial process, especially when vetting articles from contributors, he added.

Defamation rules for new and old media 'the same'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2012

SOCIOPOLITICAL website TR Emeritus' (TRE) removal of a netizen's defamatory comment, and its expression of regret over the posting, establishes that the rules for new media are the same as that for traditional media - responsibility still lies with the publisher, said lawyers.

But this does not mean that website editors must now apologise for all allegedly defamatory comments made on their portals, they added yesterday.

In fact, if website operators remove such comments once they have been informed, they can argue that they were previously unaware of the comments' defamatory nature, said lawyers. That is, that they had been 'innocently disseminating' the defamatory comment.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang sent a lawyer's letter to TRE asking for a defamatory comment to be removed. The chairman of listed conglomerate Fraser & Neave also asked for an apology and that the website pledge that no such allegations would be published again.

The TRE editors took down the comment and expressed 'regret' that Mr Lee had been defamed.

However, they did not make a public undertaking that no such allegations would appear on their site again.

Bloggers interviewed said that such an undertaking would be impossible as most do not review every comment.

Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen's interim editor-in-chief Ravi Philemon said its articles receive 500 to 600 comments a day in total and that it is 'impossible' to vet them all. Instead, it relies on a robot that flags posts with certain sensitive words, and also operates an 'inform and take-down' policy.

This, which lawyers said is common practice for international websites, means that they will remove a comment once notified of its defamatory nature.

Such action limits their damages if sued in court, said Mr Sreenivasan.

'The website has shown that it took steps to mitigate the harm suffered by the defamed party,' he said. 'It doesn't exonerate you legally, but such pro-active steps will reduce the potential damages that can be claimed against you.'

In this regard, websites have an easier time than newspapers due to the ease of deleting a comment.

'If you were a newspaper and you've published millions of copies with a defamatory letter, you cannot get those copies back,' said Rodyk and Davidson partner Gilbert Leong. 'Online, you have more control. You may not be able to prevent people reposting the comment elsewhere, but you can remove it from your site.'

Bloggers maintained that they will not apologise for comments made by others.

Mr Terence Lee, editor of the website New Nation which runs sociopolitical articles, said acting immediately to take down a comment is sufficient and called for 'more cooperation between public figures and bloggers'.

'There's no need to send lawyers' letters when they can just inform us of the comment and ask us to take it down.'

Other TRE members had doubts about going public
by Wong Jiahui Alicia, TODAY, 25 Feb  2012

SINGAPORE - When they first heard of Mr Richard Wan's suggestion to publicly reveal his identity, the other four members of the TR Emeritus (TRE) team had strong apprehensions, they said.

Still, the other members, in a joint email response to Today, said they were willing to go along with Mr Wan's suggestion and, as a result, Mr Wan was unveiled as a TRE editor on Feb 15 in a social media forum.

But the recent incidents, which have hogged the headlines for the past few weeks, have strengthened the others' resolve not to reveal their identities, they said.

Based in countries such as the United States and China, they described themselves as Singaporean professionals and businessmen, some already retired.

While the "old" Temasek Review website was helmed by one owner, the current one is run by five editors - working as a committee - and they seek to reach consensus on decisions. But the four overseas-based TRE members told TODAY that this is not always possible because Mr Wan, being in Singapore, sometimes has to make a decision for the team and only informs them about it later on. While they would prefer to discuss the matter beforehand, ultimately they have to stand by his decision, they said.

One example was when Mr Wan switched lawyers representing TRE regarding an allegedly defamatory comment about Fraser and Neave chairman Lee Hsien Yang that was posted on the site.

In a posting online, the other TRE members stated they were only aware of the changes after Mr Wan had "excused" lawyer M Ravi and updated them that the site was now represented by Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh of Tan Kok Quan Partnership.

Moving ahead, one option they are considering is registering a legal entity overseas which would take ownership of TRE. One of the factors they would consider is the defamation laws in place in the country where the entity is registered.

But would this move protect the site from further lawsuits?

Mr Lionel Tan, a partner in law firm Rajah & Tann, told TODAY that a person who feels he has been defamed by a foreign entity will still have the right of action because postings can be viewed by Singapore residents.

"But because they are situated outside Singapore there will be more procedural difficulties in taking legal action against the company," Mr Tan pointed out.

And if Mr Wan remains an editor of the site with control of its content, he could still be seen as having responsibility for the site and legal action can be taken against him, Mr Tan added.

'Now that I am out, I have to face the music'

In light of recent troubles, TRE editor says other editors will 'remain anonymous'
by Wong Jiahui Alicia, TODAY, 25 Feb 2012

Within a week of revealing his identity publicly as an editor of socio-political website TR Emeritus (TRE), IT businessman Richard Wan (picture) found himself on the receiving end of two Letters of Demand from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Fraser and Neave chairman Lee Hsien Yang for defamatory comments made about them on the website - an outcome he had "absolutely not" expected when he made the decision to allow the public to put a face to the controversial website.

"To be frank, if I knew what was coming I would have hesitated coming out. But now that I'm out I have to face the music and deal with it," said Mr Wan.

The storm has blown over for now, with TRE able to resolve matters with the lawyers.

But speaking to TODAY at a cafe in Bishan on Thursday - before Mr Lee Hsien Yang's lawyers and TRE reached a resolution later that evening - Mr Wan expressed some regret about his decision, which he had pushed for, even in the face of resistance by the other TRE members.

In fact, the events in the last few days had led him to question his involvement with TRE. Should he continue to face legal troubles, he will have to resign, Mr Wan said. "My family members are not happy with me. At a certain point, you've got to ask yourself, what are you doing?" said Mr Wan, who is married with a 17-year-old son.

Mr Wan, who joined TRE in 2010 when he volunteered as a moderator, pointed out that he is "doing this on a voluntary basis".

Nevertheless, Mr Wan said he is convinced that he did not make a mistake by stepping forward into the spotlight: There was a need to break away from the "old" Temasek Review website - which was "running like a renegade organisation" - and instil "responsibility" into the website.

The original website was suspended last August after its owner could not be contacted.

On Dec 18, five members of the old team - including Mr Wan - re-launched the site. Among the group, four are editors and the other member handles the technical side of things. Editors write opinion pieces and source for articles online. They also help put up pieces submitted by contributors.

Since they are based in different countries, they communicate via email, which is "not a problem", said Mr Wan.

According to Mr Wan, TRE now pays special attention to personal attacks from their users and defamatory comments about public figures. Such postings would be let through without moderation previously, he said. Now, those who do so will be "warned".

If someone has a valid complaint about a comment, for instance, Mr Wan said moderators will remove the comment swiftly.

But given the high volume of postings, some offensive comments could slip through, he said. When this happens, members of the public should alert TRE and remedial actions would be taken, Mr Wan pledged.

When it comes to articles put up by the TRE team, Mr Wan reiterated that they strive for accuracy. "The old (Temasek Review) will just shoot without checking," he said.

The team now tries to check its information for facts. For example, with the relevant public agency - and this is also why Mr Wan felt he had to reveal his identity as a TRE editor. Otherwise, "it's very hard for us to talk to people, agencies, interview witnesses", he said.

According to Mr Wan, his TRE team members, who had questioned his decision initially, are "using me as test case". And given the current situation, the other members are going to "remain anonymous", he added.

He reiterated his belief that TRE's followers - many of whom want a return to the previous "no-holds-barred" approach - will be able to adapt to the website's new direction, one in which his name will be the first in the firing line.

TREmeritus change of tack and what it means for the blogosphere -

No comments:

Post a Comment