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The Straits Times has hit back at The Online Citizen (TOC) after the latter claimed that the newspaper published a letter containing falsehoods.
In a Facebook post published on Tuesday (1 May), Mr Xu revealed 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 referred to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s recent remarks on how foreign elements must be countered and restricted in any attempt to influence local socio-political matters. In his speech, Mr Shanmugam noted that TOC had employed foreign writers to write almost exclusively negative articles on local socio-political matters.
Claiming 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.”
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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 shared screenshots of the letter on Facebook.
Claiming that he sent Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) – the parent company of the Straits Times – a letter of demand asking the publication to remove the letter and undertake that they will not publish similar allegations, Mr Xu wrote:
“While I have not been told of the undertaking by SPH that they will not repeat the allegations, ST has since removed the letter. I did not ask for an apology or damages from SPH because I just want to see that the right thing is done.”
He added: “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 Wednesday (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 added that it received an email from Mr Xu concerning the letter on Monday (30 Sept). Mr Xu had apparently said that the forum letter writer had defamed him and asked the publication to take the letter down.
The Straits Times apparently told Mr Xu on Tuesday that it did not agree that the letter contained defamatory allegations but took the letter down as a “gesture of goodwill”. In a response published on Wednesday, it said:
“ST responded quickly, taking the letter down as a gesture of goodwill and without any admission of liability, even as it sought legal counsel. ST also did not agree with his allegations of defamation. This was conveyed to Mr Xu on Tuesday afternoon.
“Before ST’s reply could reach him, Mr Xu and TOC took to Facebook and TOC’s website about the matter. Mr Xu made the comments about ST in a Facebook post and in an articled titled “ST removes defamatory letter from site after TOC Editor issues letter of demand”. He also reposted the Forum letter which he had requested ST to take down.”
The Straits Times revealed 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.”
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