Yesterday I heard from a friend that he had received a phone call – at midnight – from our Law Minister K Shanmugam. It was regarding an article written by Eric Ellis for The Global Mail, entitled ‘Out of the Haze, a Singapore Spring?’
The Minister said he was aware that the article was being re-posted widely online, and wanted my friend to convey that he would not hesitate to sue those republishing it.
This was most troubling to hear. Firstly, it must have been a surprising and worrying phone call for my friend to receive so late at night. Personally, I find it rather bizarre behaviour.
Secondly, why did the Law Minister feel it necessary to call someone up in the middle of the night to get him to ‘convey’ a message? And to whom, exactly, did he want the message conveyed?
Last, but not least: apart from the original on The Global Mail I don’t know how many times the article has been reproduced in full. I have, however, seen it shared widely on Facebook and Twitter as people are sharing the link. Are these the people the Minister will not hesitate to sue?
People share links on social networks for a variety of reasons. (In fact, those who have frictionless sharing turned on might be sharing links without even realising it.) It doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the article.
Should we now be afraid of sharing things on Facebook?
The Law Minister’s response to my blog post:
I have been asked about Ms Kirsten Han’s post at spuddings.net. Unfortunately the picture Ms Han has painted is quite untrue. To give her the benefit of doubt, she was not part of the conversation and may not therefore have had the full picture.
I spoke with Remy Choo whom I know and whom I have engaged with. I discuss issues with Remy – I have met him in my office, have met him for dinner, and have had phone conversations with him on various topics. Yesterday, I spoke with Remy about an article that had appeared, and told him the facts. He told me that he himself had thought that the article was actionable and contained a lot of unverifiable allegations. I agreed and told him that the article was libellious – both of us as lawyers agreed on that point.
We then went on to discuss a possible meeting between some of his friends and myself. This was part of my exercise to reach out to people and discuss issues. Remy said he will try and arrange such a meeting.
Remy sent me an email today which pretty much confirms his views that the article is libellious, and saying that he would like to be an “honest and forthright dialogue partner” even if we disagree on issues where we disagree strongly.
My conversation with Remy was like all our usual conversations, where we shared views frankly with each other. I am surprised to see that conversation appearing in print, twisted to give quite an untrue picture.
Remy Choo’s first statement:
Yesterday evening I received a call from Law Minister Mr K Shanmugam regarding an article written by Eric Ellis for The Global Mail, entitled “Out of the Haze, a Singapore Spring?”
The call came rather late at night, but I guess lawyers (and Law Ministers) are rather nocturnal. Minister shared his views about the article, noting that he thought it was libellous. Minister also noted that it had been re-published. I agreed that there were many unverifiable facts in the article and that it appeared to me that the article was libellous.
As the conversation concerned an article that was being re-published by my friends, I informed them of this conversation and the views of Minister. I had earlier in the day informed them of my opinion that the article was libellous under Singapore’s laws on defamation (and that as much as I disagreed with the scope of defamation laws, this was the law as I understood it).
I want to clarify that all my communications with Minister have been cordial, open and frank and that my phone call with him relating to the Ellis article felt anything but sinister to me.
I thank Kirsten for the concern she expressed towards me in her article “Midnight phone calls”.
Remy Choo’s second statement:
Many people have been attacking Kirsten Han for her assertion in her article “Midnight Phone Calls” that I was told to “convey” a message by Law Minister to persons who were re-publishing the article written by Eric Ellis for The Global Mail, entitled ‘Out of the Haze, a Singapore Spring?’, saying that he was aware about it being shared widely online and that he would not hesitate to sue those republishing it.
This misapprehension is no fault of hers: this is what I told her after my phone call with Minister Shanmugam. It was incorrect and unfair of me to indicate that the Minister wanted to “convey” a message that he “will not hesitate to sue”, and for her to be blamed for the mischaracterization.
The fault for the mischaracterization lies completely with my misunderstanding of the purpose of the phone call from Minister. As I said in my earlier post, the purpose of the phone call was a personal communication about a public matter. I apologize to both the Minister and Kirsten for the miscommunication, which was solely occasioned by me.