The Straits Times (ST) has apologised after an activist accused it of stealing intellectual property belonging to HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics), a local NGO that is dedicated to helping abused and exploited migrant workers.
HOME worked tirelessly to help former foreign domestic helper Parti Liyani, who was convicted of stealing from ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family in 2016. Ms Parti appealed the case, with the help of HOME activists and volunteers, and was acquitted of all charges after four long years, earlier this month.
Last Thursday, ST advertised that lawyer Anil Balchandani would speak on how the criminal justice system doesn’t protect in its ‘THE BIG STORY’ segment that will go live on its platforms at 5.30pm. ST then published the live video that it entitled “THE BIG STORY: Hear from ex-maid Parti Liyani’s lawyer Anil Balchandani”.
The video interview with Mr Balchandani, however, was not shot by ST. It was footage from a video interview taken by HOME.
Activist Stephanie Chok, who was one of those who fought to get justice for Ms Parti, accused ST of stealing HOME’s intellectual property. She wrote on Facebook: “Dear The Straits Times, this is highly unethical of you. From the way this is advertised and framed, you make it seem as if Straits Times scored a video interview with Anil Balchandani.
“However, the video footage you are using is from HOME’s video interview with Anil…You edited bits of that video into your news segment, giving the impression that it is an ST Big Story coup.”
Revealing that the video was shot by a volunteer who did the work on a pro-bono basis instead of charging HOME, Ms Chok said that ST should have reached out to the migrant rights group if it wished to use portions of their video:
“This video is HOME’s intellectual property and you should have reached out if you wanted to use portions of it. Also, you could have linked to the actual video, but no, you simply lifted chunks from it. This video was shot by a professional videographer who did this on a pro-bono basis for HOME.”
Ms Chok also asserted that ST and other mainstream media outlets were uninterested in covering Ms Parti’s side of the story until she was acquitted in the High Court earlier this month. Pointing out that the case involving Ms Parti was held in open court, the activist said:
“I would also like to add that, prior to this acquittal, the mainstream media, including the Straits Times, were not interested in hearing Parti Liyani’s side of the story, or that of the Defence Team. The hearings, which took place over 20 days in the State Courts, were held in open court. So was the High Court appeal.
“All this news analysis of what transpired in Court: if you had just bothered to be present, to follow the trial, and not only get your soundbites from the Prosecutor, well, you could have contributed to a different narrative way earlier.
“Instead, when Parti was sentenced in March 2019, the news headlines and articles only regurgitated Judge Olivia Low’s grounds of decision.”
She added: “And now, in your thirst for clicks, you are even thieving off the creative content of the NGO and volunteer team that has supported Parti all these years.”
Ms Chok, who also flagged the issue on ST’s posts, asked the Straits Times to make things right. She said: “Do the right thing: take it down, seek consent, and link to the ORIGINAL Youtube video.”
Over 600 individuals reacted to Ms Chok’s post and nearly as many netizens, including prominent individuals like actress Neo Swee Lin, shared the activist’s post on their own pages. Netizens expressed outrage and urged HOME to take legal action against the national broadsheet.
Responding to the backlash, ST took down the video. It said in a statement: “The Big Story on Thursday (Sept 10) had a segment featuring video clips of an interview with lawyer Anil Balchandani, who secured the acquittal of former domestic helper Parti Liyani on theft charges. The interview was done by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).
“Credit was given in the introduction to the segment, the Facebook post and the top left corner of the video. Following feedback that this could be made clearer, we have taken the video down to do so.”
Ms Chok added in an update that ST reached out to HOME to apologise. Revealing that HOME and the volunteer who shot the video generously allowed the mainstream publication to use the footage with clearer attribution and a link back to the source, she said:
“After the furor, the Straits Times reached out to HOME and apologized for their mistake. HOME, and the videographer, have kindly agreed to allow ST to use the footage, but with clearer attribution throughout the interview, and a link to the full video.”
[UPDATE: After the furor, the Straits Times reached out to HOME and apologized for their mistake. HOME, and the…