Sunday, 6 January 2013

Blogger Alex Au apologises to PM Lee

Channel NewsAsia, 5 Jan 2013

Blogger Alex Au has apologised to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for comments deemed as defamatory about the sale of computer systems used by town councils in his article, "PAP mis-AIMed, faces blowback".

He said in a blog post on Saturday that he recognises that the article, when read with the comments or by themselves, meant or were understood to mean that Mr Lee was guilty of corruption in relation to the transaction between the PAP-run town councils and Action Information Management Pte Ltd.

He admitted and acknowledged that these allegations are false and completely without foundation.

Mr Au apologised unreservedly to Mr Lee for the distress and embarrassment these allegations have caused.

The article in question has also been taken down.

Mr Au's apology came a day after he received a letter of demand from Mr Lee's lawyers, asking him to remove the posts, as well as apologise on his site.

PM asks blogger to remove 'defamatory post'
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday asked blogger Alex Au to remove an allegedly defamatory article and readers' comments that suggested he was corrupt and would hide wrongdoing in a town council matter.

The online article by Mr Au and the readers' posts following from it constituted "very grave libels" against Mr Lee and "impugn his character, credit and integrity", said his lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

In a legal letter to Mr Au yesterday, Mr Singh asked the blogger to remove the allegedly offending material immediately from his website and publish an apology within three days.

Mr Au's article "PAP mis-AIMed, faces blowback" on Dec 21, centred on a decision by People's Action Party (PAP)-run town councils to sell to and then lease back their IT systems from Action Information Management (Aim). The directors of Aim are former PAP MPs.

He had questioned this move by the PAP MPs, saying it raised issues of trust and integrity.

The article attracted posts from readers, several of which referred to corruption. Yesterday, Mr Singh cited 21 of them as being "highly defamatory allegations".

He said that the posts, when read with the article or on their own, were understood to mean that Mr Lee "is guilty of corruption" in the Aim case and "will abuse his powers to cover up the matter or prevent any investigation into his corruption".

Mr Lee's lawyer said that Mr Au, who decides which comments sent to his site are published, was responsible and liable for the offending posts as well.

Yesterday, Mr Au said he would remove the article and the posts. "I will accept that they are defamatory and will take them down as requested, and put up a letter of apology," he said.

But he added that the legal action should not "distract" from the sale of town council software to Aim. As of 10.30pm last night, he had not removed the material.

Mr Lee had suffered damage and incurred costs over the libel, said his lawyer. But just as in a recent case, Mr Lee was giving Mr Au a chance to apologise and remove the posts.

Mr Singh said: "He has decided that, just like he gave the editors of TR Emeritus the chance to apologise and remove their libel against him in February last year without claiming damages and costs, he will extend a similar opportunity to you."

Six months ago, Mr Au had to apologise for contempt of court over a blog post on plastic surgeon Woffles Wu's traffic fine.

Very grave libels: PM's lawyer
Lawyer's letter demands apology for allegations of corruption over contract
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2013

IN AN article published online on Dec 21, blogger Alex Au had dwelt at length on issues raised by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council over the termination of an IT contract.

Titled "PAP mis-AIMed, faces blowback", it questioned the termination as well as the sale of People's Action Party (PAP) town councils' software to an IT firm. The company, Action Information Management (Aim), had ended the service contract with the Workers' Party-run town council in 2011.

Among other things, it suggested that the case be investigated, and also linked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the issue.

The article attracted more than 150 comments from netizens, with several alleging corruption and others suggesting any investigation would be covered up.

Yesterday, Mr Lee's lawyer Davinder Singh cited five portions in Mr Au's article and 21 of the postings when he took the blogger to task.

Mr Au's article, noted the Senior Counsel at Drew & Napier, had made a specific reference to "town councillors" and "nearly all PAP MPs in the town councils across the board".

This was done, he charged, "in the context of your very serious suggestions of criminal breach of trust and, by your reference to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Attorney-General's Chambers, of corruption".

The letter then added: "Our client is specifically referred to. It is widely known that our client is one of the PAP MPs in the Ang Mo Kio Town Council. It is also a matter of public knowledge that our client is the secretary-general of the PAP."

Likewise, the subsequent posts by the blog's readers had suggested that the PM "is guilty of corruption" in the Aim case and "will abuse his powers to cover up the matter or prevent any investigation into his corruption".

"These are false and baseless allegations," said Mr Singh.

"Your act of publishing these highly defamatory allegations or causing them to be published makes you responsible and liable for them in law," he added.

The publication of the article and posts was done "maliciously", he said, adding: "They constitute very grave libels against our client, disparage our client and impugn his character, credit and integrity."

The article and posts were also available to "all and sundry" on Mr Au's website, and would be "republished widely over the Internet, as has happened".

Mr Singh's letter demanded that Mr Au put up an apology on his website Yawning Bread, and immediately take down the article and posts.

This is the second time in six months that Mr Au has been asked to apologise for an article on his blog.

Last July, he apologised after commenting on the case of plastic surgeon Woffles Wu's traffic fine, after the Attorney-General's Chambers wrote to him to say that his post was contemptuous of the courts for alleging that courts were biased towards the well-connected.

In February last year, he also removed comments about Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam after receiving a lawyer's letter from the minister.

The latest case had arisen after the chairman of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, Ms Sylvia Lim, questioned the termination of computer and financial systems provided by Aim, a PAP-owned firm.

This had happened after her party took over the town council following the Workers' Party's victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011.

Ms Lim had also questioned the 2010 sale of the 14 PAP town councils' IT software to Aim.

In response, the coordinating chairman of the PAP town councils, Dr Teo Ho Pin, had issued several statements explaining the termination, and why and how the software was sold.

Yesterday, Mr Au said he would comply with PM Lee's demands, but added that it should not "distract" from the issue of the sale of the IT software.

He said: "From what has been disclosed so far, reasonable people would have many questions, and while news of me getting a lawyer's letter might be temporarily more 'newsy', it is more important for Singapore that these questions be answered, not avoided."

Websites' liability for all content affirmed: Experts
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2013

THE lawyer's letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holds blogger Alex Au responsible not only for what he wrote, but also for comments that netizens posted on his blog. The move affirms the principle that websites can be held responsible for content they publish, just like in traditional media, said experts.

Mr Au's liability was even clearer in this case, they added, as he has declared on his site that he has a "relatively stringent" policy of screening comments and publishing only those satisfying his guidelines.

It is not the first time a website has got in trouble for publishing comments from readers. Last year, sociopolitical site TR Emeritus took down a defamatory comment after Fraser & Neave chairman Lee Hsien Yang sent its editors a lawyer's letter.

In Mr Au's case, PM Lee took issue first with the blogger's own post on the town council saga. But he also held Mr Au responsible for defamatory comments posted in response to his article.

Many of the more than 20 posts cited alleged corruption.

The lawyer's letter also cited Mr Au's moderation policy as evidence that he endorses the comments.

On his blog Yawning Bread, Mr Au says "comments are disallowed unless they satisfy the guidelines in the main", meaning they must be relevant, cogently argued and provide references for assertions.

The defamatory comments, the lawyer's letter charged, thus "contain statements which you subscribe to and endorse, in the sense that they satisfy you to be rational, reasonable and having basis in reputable sources".

Lawyers said the case showed that moderating online comments can be tricky.

Even without moderation, websites can be held liable for others' defamatory remarks. But by giving the impression that he had exerted editorial authority over such comments, Mr Au could no longer use the defence of unintentional defamation, noted Mr Loh Kia Meng of Rodyk & Davidson.

Lawyer Chia Boon Teck said Mr Au's policy "may make things worse for himself... (as) his purported moderation may unwittingly be lending credibility to the defamatory postings".


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