It appears that the dispute between the Straits Times and The Online Citizen (TOC) has yet to blow over. In an article published yesterday (15 Oct), TOC accused the Straits Times of declining to publish editor Terry Xu’s response to a contentious forum letter that the Straits Times had published on its website days ago.
On 1 Oct, Mr Xu said that he sent Singapore Press Holdings – the parent company of the Straits Times – a letter of demand asking the publication to remove a forum letter that allegedly contained “highly defamatory” claims.
The letter claimed that Mr Xu allowed “foreigners to write negative articles about Singapore and then pass(ed) them off as being written by Singaporeans.” The letter writer said: “…what is disturbing about TOC’s articles criticising Singapore is that they were masqueraded as pieces written by Singaporeans when in fact the writers were foreigners.”
She also wondered whether “TOC can assure Singaporeans that it will not lie about its writers’ backgrounds again.”
Taking issue with the writer’s claims that TOC lied about the backgrounds of its writers and sought to pass their work off as articles written by Singaporeans, Mr Xu wrote on Facebook: “I do not fault the writer for having the views that she had but ST should have known better than to publish a letter that contained falsehoods especially when it refers to itself as the best antibiotics to “fake news”.”
An SPH legal counsel responded to Mr Xu’s remarks via a letter issued on 2 Oct. Accusing Mr Xu of impugning the integrity of the organisation, the legal counsel said: “These remarks were unfair and uncalled for, and make serious allegations that have damaged our reputation as a trusted media organisation.”
The Straits Times said that it received an email from Mr Xu asking it to take down the letter on 30 Sept and revealed that it removed the forum letter as a “gesture of goodwill” even though it disagreed with Mr Xu’s claims that the forum letter writer had defamed him.
Noting that Mr Xu blasted the matter on social media and TOC’s website before its reply reached him, the Straits Times said that it has since decided to republish the forum letter and make its position on the matter public, in light of Mr Xu’s actions. SPH’s legal counsel said: “We have taken further legal advice and are reposting the original Forum letter, and stand ready to defend our position.”
TOC is now claiming that Mr Xu sent a response to Straits Times, a day after the mainstream media publication called him out for making “unfair” claims, but has said that the Straits Times has declined to publish Mr Xu’s reply on their website.
TOC published a screenshot of the email Mr Xu sent to the Straits Times on 3 Oct:
In the letter, Mr Xu asserted that the forum letter writer’s “comments about TOC and myself have caused unfair damage to TOC’s reputation.” Noting that he “did not shy away from confessing that TOC does hire foreign staff due to lack of resources,” Mr Xu added:
“If one were to look at the internet records of TOC’s description, one will note that we have declared upfront since 2017 that while we had been supported by local volunteers over the decade but we have since made a few changes to ensure the sustainability of our operations.”
Noting that it “appears that ST has chosen not to publish Terry’s response,” a TOC article dated 15 Oct asserted: “ST rejects publishing TOC Editor’s reply to a letter on the ST Forum asking for TOC to clarify its intentions.”