Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Butterfly On A Wheel

Update 13 Jan 2015: Singapore court orders blogger to pay PM nearly $22,000 for legal costs
Speaker Roy Ngerng, of online blog The Heart Truths, addresses the crowd during a protest against new licensing regulations imposed by the government for online news sites, at Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 8, 2013

A Singapore court has ordered a blogger to pay S$29,000 ($21,700) to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as legal costs after Lee won a defamation case late last year.

Lee won a High Court defamation case against blogger Roy Ngerng, 33, in November, the first time the city-state's leadersued an online critic.

Ngerng was sued for his blog post in May when he was alleged to have implicated Lee in impropriety in connection with how funds in Singapore's mandatory retirement savings scheme, the Central Provident Fund(CPF), are managed.

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Full coverage: 

A Butterfly On A Wheel

ROY NGERNG YI LING does not look like a dangerous radical. An affable, earnest, rather wonkish 33-year-old, he was until June 10th a “patient co-ordinator” in one of Singapore’s public hospitals. He plausibly describes himself as “naive”. Mr Ngerng, however, is now a celebrity in Singapore, at the centre of a lawsuit that says much about the ways the place has changed in recent years; and the ways it has not.


He is now jobless, sacked for engaging in conduct “incompatible with the values and standards” the hospital expects of its employees. This is but one of Mr Ngerng’s travails. He is being sued for defamation by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. He might face financial ruin.

The alleged “serious libel” was made on Mr Ngerng’s blog on May 15th. Mr Lee’s lawyer argued that an article he posted about the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a compulsory-savings scheme to provide for Singaporeans’ retirement, accused the prime minister of “criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF”.

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Butterfly on a Wheel: Who will pick up the pieces?
On June 13th, The Economist published an opinion piece on Singapore, about blogger Roy Ngerng and LHL which they entitled Butterfly on a Wheel, adding more controversy to the PR fiasco otherwise known as LHL’s defamation suit

Butterfly on a wheel carries a similar meaning to the phrase, “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. That phrase accurately sums up the PAP’s system of knuckleduster politics and rule through control and fear and non-accountability. More crucially it sums up a view that the PAP sees dissent to their policies or differences of opinion on the normally self-levelling and democratising cyber-sphere as a nut that needs smashing.

Originally they attempted to tip the balance by forming an Internet Brigade but then lawsuits and defamation came into play. The lawsuits as tools of control are why we talk about Rule BY Law to emphasis that it is not the Rule OF Law which is the one necessary for democracy to function.

In Singapore, we have already established that public bodies cannot sue individuals through such cases as that of Han Hui Hui. No doubt this is why LHL sued Roy in his personal capacity as a private citizen but whatever the reason, it is an incontrovertible fact that the law suit is private and personal.read more

Blogger Roy Ngerng case: PM Lee’s press secretary issues response to Economist article

The Economist has published a letter from Ms Chang Li Lin, the Press Secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which was issued in response to an online article on the publication’s website on the case of blogger Roy Ngerng, who is being sued by Mr Lee for defamation. The letter is as follows:

SIR – I refer to the article “A butterfly on a wheel” (June 13th). You referred to an “alleged ‘serious libel’” by Roy Ngerng. This is not an allegation. Mr Ngerng has publicly admitted accusing Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation. After promising to apologise and to remove the post, Mr Ngerng did the opposite; he actively disseminated the libel further. This was a grave and deliberate defamation, whether it occurred online or in the traditional media being immaterial.

What is at stake is not any short-term positive or negative impact on the government, but the sort of public debate Singapore should have. When someone makes false and malicious personal allegations that impugn a person’s character or integrity, the victim has the right to vindicate his reputation, whether he is an ordinary citizen or the prime minister. The internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation. It is perfectly possible to have a free and vigorous debate without defaming anyone, as occurs often in Singapore.

related: Public debate at stake in suit against Ngerng: PM’s press secretary

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Mr President, Please clarify. Who straightens out the wheel breaking the butterfly?


On June 13th, The Economist published an opinion piece on Singapore, about blogger Roy Ngern and LHL which they entitled Butterfly on a Wheel, adding more controversy to the PR fiasco otherwise known as LHL’s defamation suit.

Butterfly on a wheel carries a similar meaning to the phrase, “using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut”. That phrase accurately sums up the PAP’s system of knuckleduster politics and rule through control and fear and non accountability. More crucially it sums up a view that the PAP sees dissent to their policies or differences of opinion on the normally self levelling and democratising cyber-sphere as a nut that needs smashing.

Originally they attempted to tip the balance by forming an Internet Brigade but then law suits and defamation came into play. The law suits as tools of control are why we talk about Rule BY Law to emphasis that it is not the Rule OF Law which is the one necessary for democracy to function.

read more

Accused blogger in Singapore receives unexpected support

(ABC.net.au) - The prime minister of Singapore is suing a jobless blogger for criminal defamation.

The alleged offence for which he could get two years jail: questioning the government. It's an old tactic in Singapore to silence dissent. But this time there's been an unexpected twist.

Citizens have rallied publicly in support of the accused blogger, and donated more than $100,000 to help fight the case in the courts.

related: Singapore blogger receives unexpected support in defamation case against PM Lee Hsien Loong


Singapura Pundit: An Open Letter to Roy Ngerng

Dear Roy, Firstly, the Pundit would like to express sympathy about your recent unemployment. You must be going through a trying period now. On one hand, you do not want to disappoint your supporters, many of which are likely to be egging you to carry on your fight against a Government they perceive to be bullying and heavy-handed. On the other hand, some of the pro-PAP crowd are having a field day gloating over your sacking.

Since open letters seem to have become fashionable lately, I have decided to write one in the hope that you will come to read this through the network of Social Media. Some of the hardcore opposition supporters reading this letter will certainly see it as the work of a "PAP Dog/Troll/IB."

But the truth is that the Pundit is an ordinary Singaporean who can identify with you. In those heady campaigns of 2006 and 2011, the Pundit saw the PAP government as an oppressive regime and believed that more Opposition parties were needed in parliament. At one point, the Pundit nodded along to the proposals of the SDP at their rallies, cheered for a "First World Parliament" alongside many thousands of WP supporters and rejoiced the night when Aljuneid turned blue. But a lot has happened (and failed to happen) since then and the Pundit's opinion about the PAP and the Opposition has changed. But that is a topic for another day.

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Roy Ngerng vs TTSH: The News Cycle Spins On
Roy Ngerng, poster boy for TTSH during happier times with his ex-employer

In PR, when clients encounter an issue, for example a price increase (don’t think consumers ever welcomes one), we usually advise them to explain their position…and that’s it. Keep quiet. Do some media and online monitoring, but do not make any further comments unless absolutely necessary.

Most issues usually die down after a short while when there’s no new development. Do not do anything that prolongs the issue’s lifespan in the public attention. In this light, the dismissal of Roy Ngerng must be welcomed by most journalists (yet another story to milk out of this saga!). The news cycle continues to spin.

This latest development brings back memories of related incidents where people were fired from their jobs for making offensive comments in their private lives – Anton Casey and Amy Cheong come readily to mind.

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Why I changed my mind: Roy

It was a case of twist and turn as theonline went on overdrive again over Roy Ngerng, the man catapulted to headlinefame soon after he was locked in a legal battle with the Prime Minister.

In just one hour yesterday evening, the blogger was saying different thingsabout his sacking by Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

At 4.30 pm, he said on his Facebook page he understood why he was sacked and that he could have performed better at work.

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Politics. How far do we go before it becomes an idol?


This whole Roy Ngerng versus Lee Hsien Loong ridiculous debacle has somehow bothered me and I can’t seem to put a finger to it. Many years ago, I used to have very strong views about Singapore politics as well. A contributing factor to Kat and I deciding to move out. When asked why we migrated I’d use this narration: “You know the movie the Matrix?...” pause for effect… “We took the red pill!”… Watch people’s face light up… Works every time when asked why we wanted to move out of Singapore…

These days (as I aged)… I don’t normally care about politics or news in general, for that matter, anymore. I guess I have now more things to worry about… than to - “worry about tomorrow”. I strongly lean on the “tomorrow will worry for itself” part of Matthew 6:34 now. Ignorance is bliss I reckoned…

So why do I now want to write a post about politics? It’s weird… My Facebook feeds are split right down the middle on this Roy versus the PM thing with supporters on both camps. Actually, more specifically it’s the Roy camp versus the “this-is-silly-lets-move-on” camp. Singaporeans are getting more and more vocal and some even stand behind this character, throwing money at him and really believing that gathering at a park in the thousands (Singapore has many million people by the way) would really make a difference.

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Pronounced Guilty

I am not going to talk or even bother to debate about what was the turnout in Hong Lim Park last Saturday. Be it 3000 or 7000, people showed up, showed solidarity to the cause is enough for the PM to consider a gracious exit in the whole Roy Nerng debacle. while $5000 might seems less than loose change, it is enough to feed a family of four for quite some time, even in Food court.

No, I will not talk about what Roy Nerng suggested, there are enough people out there debating on this topic, and seriously, before Roy said his piece, I have formed my opinion.

What really got me interested is that Roy has been found guilty and being punished! No, the trial has not started yet. But his Employer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital has past the verdict and pronouced him guilty.

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He That Opposeth Shall Come to Nought

Ladies and gentleman, what do the two men above have in common?

Alright. Other than the thick nice hair, determined cheekbones, fleshy lips, thick eyebrows, nerdy glasses. same hair parting on a buay song face. What else? It shouldn't be too difficult for you. Both men spoke out against the PAP and were sued by the same family. Both men worked for public entities and were sacked respectively by their companies. The older man was made a bankrupt and the younger one is doomed to follow suit. A stark difference stood out between the two. One is a politician and the other, a commoner. The happenings in the previous weeks shown Singaporeans clearly that there the setting point didn't matter so long as the motivation was the same - all will be exterminated.

In another display of Constructive Politics, Roy was sacked from his job at TTSH. Whatever reasons that his employer gave, I am not really interested. That was his employer's prerogative. I'm sure they would have perfectly valid reasons to do so. For me, the question was never the justifications behind the sacking but whether the motivation mimics the intent. A justification can be crafted to sound perfectly gracious or even noble even when the motivation was anything but that. That, only TTSH knows for sure.

In the mean time, the people of Singapore, of course, believe that the sacking was not politically motivated. Because Constructive Politics.

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Just a Matter of Time

I was wondering where Roy Ngerng was working as I only knew he was a healthcare worker. I was pondering which hospital is so supportive of his quest on CPF issue. Alas yesterday, the inevitable happened. He was fired when he is not proven guilty by the judge.

Frankly speaking, many civil servants are also questioning about the CPF minimum sum as less than 50% citizens can't meet the minimum sum but decided it is not wise to discuss publicly as we are aware there'll be punitive measures. Thus, I reckon there'll be even more people attending the CPF protest at Hong Lin park if more civil servants are brave to attend. Actually some of my brave colleagues told me they voted for the opposition and I was in awe of their bravery for sharing.

Many of us disagree that the government is holding on to our CPF money just because of a minority black sheeps who can't manage their finance and they are denying the majority who can manage their finance. It is just an easy excuse for them to keep our money yet they are enjoying high salary thus the CPF minimum sum doesn't affect them.


Same Old Story… Same Old Ending?

The prelude has happened exactly as before. Will all this come true?

More importantly, or will the well-wishers who donated more than $90,000 to him so far donate another $500,000 or more to pay the damages in full to PM Lee, so he doesn’t have to spend 20 years in the wild. Or will Roy have to spend 20 years out in the cold before he can settle at $30K with the Prime Minister? And will PM Lee settle at $30,000 or will he take the view that since Roy has crowd-funding support behind him, he should be able to raise whatever amount is awarded as damages?

Time will tell…


Thoughts on "horizontal" freedom of speech

It is trite that freedom of speech has limits. The issue is often a question of where the line should be drawn, and in what circumstances should speech be restricted.

Freedom of speech has traditionally been conceived to operate "vertically", that is, to protect citizens from Government sanction. However, recent developments concerning employees who have been sacked for making certain comments against leading public figures have brought the "horizontal" dimension of free speech into the spotlight.

In the latest of the saga involving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, the blogger has been sacked from Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he worked. The Straits Times reports in "Tan Tock Seng Hospital dismisses blogger Ngerng" (11 June 2014):

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I believe in the need for diversity in opinion and freedom of expression

But I cannot take on a us-versus-them at all cost approach when it comes to discussing such matters.

So even though I am an opposition supporter, I will also say that the whole defamation suit is thoroughly ridiculous on both parties and it's been politicized to create a false underdog martyrdom, when the whole crux of the matter really is - Don't make false and damaging claims that are unfounded and steeped in lies.

I know a lot of opposition parties and supporters are positioning this as a repression of the 99% in Singapore and human rights and whatnot, but it really isn't. And the whole matter has been blown out of proportion on both fronts.


Blogger Roy Ngerng's employment contract with Tan Tock Seng Hospital terminated
Blogger Roy Ngerng has been fired by his employer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), with immediate effect. - PHOTO: ST FILE

Blogger Roy Ngerng has been fired by his employer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), with immediate effect.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, TTSH said it was terminating its contract with Mr Ngerng because of "conduct incompatible with the values and standards expected of employees, and for misusing working time, hospital computers and facilities for personal pursuits".

Mr Ngerng, 33, was employed on a yearly contract with TTSH for the past two years as a patient coordinator at the Communicable Disease Centre. The hospital said his supervisors found that "he was misusing TTSH time and resources to pursue personal and non-job-related interests".


related:
Blogger sued by Singapore PM fired from job