Tuesday 26 June 2012

SMRT Stumped by Stomp

By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2012

THE photograph that a content producer of citizen journalism website Stomp posted online, supposedly of an MRT train running with one set of its doors open, has been found to be false.

On discovering this, Mr Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspapers Division, sent a letter yesterday to Mr Tan Ek Kia, the interim chief executive of rail operator SMRT, apologising for the incident.

The content producer, Ms Samantha Francis, was also sacked by SPH, which owns Stomp, on the same day.

The 23-year-old had initially claimed that she took the photograph at Lakeside MRT station last Tuesday night. But following investigations by SPH, she eventually admitted that she had taken the image from a post on social networking site Twitter. The original tweet has since been removed.

SMRT had said that its own ez-link records and closed-circuit television footage showed Ms Francis had not been at Lakeside MRT station at all last Tuesday, as she had claimed.

The rail operator also assured commuters that its trains are not able to move off if the doors are not properly closed.

Mr Daniel said in his letter to SMRT: 'My team and I would like to apologise unreservedly to SMRT for this erroneous report by one of our staff. We truly regret the damage this has caused SMRT.'

He added: 'Aside from breaching our professional ethics, what she (Ms Francis) has done goes against all the values that we stand for.'

The photograph purported to show a train at Lakeside station with a set of doors on the other side open.

Ms Francis claimed she boarded the train, which then travelled to the next station with the doors open all the way.

Mr Daniel said SPH staff found after detailed checks that the photograph that Ms Francis posted was likely taken at Pasir Ris station, which is a terminal station.

'This could explain why, while the doors on the platform side of the stationary train appear closed, the doors on the other side were open,' he explained.

Mr Daniel also apologised for the comments made by Stomp editor Azhar Kasman on Ms Francis' actions, which were published in The Straits Times last Friday.

Mr Azhar had said Ms Francis was standing by her account.

'What he (Mr Azhar) should have added was that we would be undertaking our own investigations,' said Mr Daniel.

SPH will review and tighten Stomp's operating procedures, he added.

Mr Azhar said yesterday that he deeply regrets that one of his staff 'breached professional ethics and posted a fabricated report'.

'I want to assure the public and all our readers that Stomp does not tolerate such unethical behaviour,' he added.

The photograph first appeared on Stomp last Wednesday, and was picked up by The Straits Times the next day. The newspaper published a picture story headlined: 'Questions over photo of open train doors'.

This was followed up last Friday with a report on SMRT officials expressing doubts about the photo and Ms Francis assisting with their investigations.

Extending his apologies yesterday, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez said: 'This is a very regrettable breach of our journalistic ethics. The credibility of our content is critical to our readers, and all of us in the newsroom. Upholding this is a duty of each and every member of the team.

'We will have to work to improve our print and online processes, to do right by our readers.'

When contacted, Ms Francis said she was 'sorry for what has happened', but declined to say more.

When asked to comment on the case, Ms Indranee Rajah said that when one is putting up content for public consumption, it is important to verify the accuracy of it, as the public assumes it is accurate and reacts to it.

'This is even more so when a piece of content is put up by a member of the media,' added the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Information, Communications and the Arts.

Ms Indranee's deputy in the GPC, Mr Baey Yam Keng, said SPH was right to sack Ms Francis.

'What she did was wrong, she did not verify the information and lied about taking the picture,' he said.

SMRT treating fake photo case seriously
It is considering response to incident that led to firing of Stomp employee
The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2012

TRAIN operator SMRT said yesterday that it is treating seriously the matter of a false picture of one of its trains moving off with its doors open.

Mr Goh Chee Kong, its senior vice-president for communications and services, told The Straits Times that SMRT is considering its response to the matter.

The photograph was posted on citizen journalism website Stomp last Wednesday by one of its employees.

Stomp content producer Samantha Francis, 23, was sacked by Singapore Press Holdings, (SPH), which owns the website, on Sunday.

She said she had taken the photograph of the train running with a set of doors open.

She said this had occurred when she was travelling from Lakeside station to Chinese Garden station last Tuesday night.

But SMRT ascertained on Thursday, through records of Ms Francis' ez-link card and station CCTV footage, that she had not been at Lakeside station on the day in question.

Following this, Ms Francis admitted she had not been at the station, and she had in fact taken the picture from Twitter.

The Straits Times understands that SMRT had identified the train in the picture through details such as the advertising on its walls.

The train was pulled from its network for two days and tested for mechanical faults.

Other trains were also tested, but SMRT found no anomalies.

On Sunday, Mr Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of SPH's English and Malay Newspapers Division, apologised to SMRT for the incident.

In a letter to Mr Tan Ek Kia, the interim chief executive of SMRT, he said: 'Aside from breaching our professional ethics, what she (Ms Francis) has done goes against all the values that we stand for.'

So, was door of moving train open?
SMRT looking into veracity of photo posted on Stomp website
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2012

TRAIN operator SMRT has assured passengers that its trains will not be able to move off if the doors are not properly closed.

This is in response to a picture posted online of a train supposedly running with one of its doors open.

'We wish to reassure commuters that the MRT system is built with many fail-safe features to ensure passenger safety,' the company said in a statement yesterday.

SMRT also said it has looked into the matter and questioned the veracity of the picture.

It said it took the incident seriously and checked the doors of its trains which ran through Lakeside MRT station on Tuesday. No anomalies were found, it said, but investigations are ongoing.

It also said that Ms Samantha Francis, 23, who claimed to have taken the picture at Lakeside MRT station on Tuesday night, was not actually at the MRT station that day. This assertion is based on CCTV footage and Ms Francis' ez-link card details, it added.

In the statement, an SMRT spokesman also said that the railings of the train tracks visible in the picture do not match those at Lakeside MRT.

Ms Francis, who is a content producer at citizen journalism website Stomp, took the picture and posted it on Stomp on Wednesday morning. She said she had boarded a train at Lakeside MRT at 10.15pm the night before.

She told The Straits Times that after the train pulled into the station, the doors on the opposite side to the platform swung open first. Finding this strange, she took a picture through the closed doors in front of her. Then, when the doors in front of her opened, she entered the train and took another picture of the opposite doors, one of which remained open until the train pulled into Chinese Garden, the next stop.

She added that two other people were in the same carriage as her: a Chinese man in T-shirt and bermudas, and an Indian man.

Yesterday, Ms Francis met SMRT staff at Lakeside MRT to assist in their investigations. She showed them where she was standing when she snapped the picture, and described what she was wearing that night to help them spot her in CCTV footage.

SMRT staff asked if the ez-link card she gave them to check was her only one, and if she had used it to enter Lakeside MRT on the night in question. She said yes.

SMRT's statement yesterday said: 'We thank (Ms Francis) for coming forward today to assist us with our investigations. We are checking a few more things, as from our records (CCTV footage and ez-link card trip details), she was not at Lakeside MRT station on 19 June.'

Stomp editor Azhar Kasman confirmed yesterday that the photos of the incident were submitted by a Stomp content producer. In response to SMRT's claim that Ms Francis was never at the station, he said: 'We have verified the details with her and she stands by her account of the incident.'

Questions over photo of open train doors
The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2012

This picture, supposedly showing a moving MRT train with its doors wide open, was posted on citizen journalism website Stomp yesterday.

The person who posted it claimed to have been on the way home on Tuesday night when the doors stayed open even as the train was moving off. But some observers are questioning the claim. They cite smudge marks and reflective light spots as proof that the photo was taken outside the train. SMRT said it views the incident seriously, and is trying to contact the netizen. It added its safety system ensures that trains cannot move off if the doors are not properly closed.

***** Update *****

Alleged case of train moving with doors open didn't happen
Editor-in-chief apologises once again to SMRT for fabricated Stomp posting
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2012

SINGAPORE Press Holdings' (SPH) English and Malay Newspapers Division failed to uphold the high standards of integrity it strives for when one of its employees posted a fabricated photograph online, said its editor-in-chief yesterday.

For that, Mr Patrick Daniel apologised to rail operator SMRT again, following last week's posting on citizen journalism portal Stomp of a picture said to be of an SMRT train moving with its doors open.

In a letter to SMRT interim chief executive Tan Ek Kia yesterday, Mr Daniel said: 'I must apologise to you again for the false Stomp post and also for the great trouble we put SMRT through to check your fleet of trains.

'My colleagues and I have strived always to uphold high standards of integrity throughout the organisation but we failed in this instance.'

In separate remarks to the media, Mr Daniel said: 'I want to state clearly that the alleged incident of a train moving with a set of doors open did not happen.'

His letter to Mr Tan capped the correspondence between the two companies over the incident. SMRT will not be taking legal action against SPH.

On Wednesday last week, Stomp content producer Samantha Francis, using the moniker 'Wasabi', posted a photo of the train on Stomp.

She claimed to have snapped the picture while at Lakeside MRT station the night before.

After the photo was published, SMRT assured commuters that its trains are not able to move off if the doors are not properly closed.

Its checks of Ms Francis' ez-link travel records and its CCTV footage showed that she had never been at Lakeside MRT station that night.

Ms Francis, 23, later confessed to her editor that she had taken the image from a post on social networking site Twitter and posted it. The picture was taken from the outside, of a stationary, out-of-service train.

In a letter on Sunday, Mr Daniel had apologised unreservedly to Mr Tan for the erroneous report by Ms Francis. She was also sacked the same day.

On Thursday, Mr Tan responded to Mr Daniel, asking the news organisation to 'make good the damage done to public confidence in the safety systems on Singapore's rail network'.

He detailed how SMRT spent considerable resources in testing its trains and holding some back from operation.

Stomp editor Azhar Kasman, added Mr Tan, had withheld material information from SMRT that slowed down its investigations.

Mr Tan noted that the photo was originally posted under the pseudonym 'Wasabi'.

But when SMRT staff asked Mr Azhar for Wasabi's contact details and ez-link card details on Wednesday last week so that they could investigate the matter, Mr Azhar claimed that Wasabi was unwilling to share the information or contact SMRT.

He declined to assist SMRT further, citing the confidentiality of his sources, said Mr Tan.

Mr Azhar did not reveal Ms Francis' identity to SMRT until the next day. This was after he was informed that SMRT had spent the night checking its fleet of trains and that the rail operator was considering asking the police for assistance, said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan noted that SMRT 'spared no efforts' in its attempt to identify the train in the picture.

Additional engineers were deployed to check the fleet of trains for abnormalities and trains were pulled back from operation for extensive checks on train doors, he said. Concurrently, other staff reviewed CCTV footage and checked Ms Francis' travel logs with TransitLink to verify her account of the incident.

'Needless to say, this required considerable resources on our part to ensure we follow through as part of the investigation,' he told Mr Daniel.

'SMRT takes its responsibility to ensure a safe rail system very seriously. An event such as that claimed in the Stomp post is serious cause for concern, and that is why our teams spent considerable time trying to identify material factors - which were withheld by your staff, and which, if true, would have compromised the safety of the public.'

Referring to 'shocking revelations' of ethical misconduct by journalists in Britain recently, Mr Tan said that 'thankfully, in Singapore, our media operates at a higher standard'.

'However, actions like those of Ms Francis' remind us how easy it is to 'cross the line' in pursuit of a story, and in doing so, cause the expense of resources and unfounded concern among the public about safety.'

Mr Tan also said that the fabricated report on Stomp had damaged public confidence in the work of SMRT staff, who had been working hard since the major train breakdowns last December to improve operations.

Stomp editor apologises
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2012

STOMP editor Azhar Kasman apologised to train operator SMRT yesterday for a false picture posted on the citizen journalism website by one of its employees.

He also expressed regret that he did not cooperate promptly with SMRT staff during its investigation into the picture that purported to show a train moving with a set of its doors open.

It was posted last week by Ms Samantha Francis, 23, a Stomp content producer.

She has since been sacked.

Mr Azhar was writing in response to a letter from SMRT's interim chief executive Tan Ek Kia, which said that he had withheld material information from SMRT staff after the picture was first posted.

'This was a serious error of judgment on my part,' Mr Azhar, 32, wrote. 'I can only say in mitigation that as a relatively new editor, this was the first time I was dealing with a situation like this.'

He said he hoped to learn from this mistake, and that Stomp's operations would be tightened to prevent a repeat of such an incident.

Yesterday, Stomp addressed on its website some of the questions that have swirled since the incident.

It said that posts from its staff would no longer be put up under nicknames but instead be clearly attributed to 'The Stomp team'.

It also made clear that Stomp - which has one editor and six content-producers - does not pay for content contributed by members of the public.


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