Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) and current member of the Media Literacy Council, Calvin Cheng, has made an allegation against the editors of The Online Citizen (TOC).
In a Facebook post on 25 November, Mr Cheng charged that Ms Kirsten Han, who is a freelance journalist and who is also a member of the TOC editorial team, was a “treacherous journalist” who “galvanised” a “hate campaign” against him.
Mr Cheng charged Ms Han for being “unpatriotic... who DURING Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's wake wrote to UK Newspaper The Guardian to criticise Singapore and Mr. Lee.”
Mr Cheng also charged the “editors” of TOC, along with Ms Han, for being “traitorous”.
Referring to the alleged “hate campaign” which he claimed was started by Ms Han, Mr Cheng said, “These tactics must also be fully condemned, and especially Singaporeans like Kirsten Han and the editors of TOC who would gang up with Western forces to do Singapore in.”
As of 28 November, the word “traitorous” originally used in the post has apparently been removed.
It is unclear who or why it has been deleted from the post.
The editors of TOC, besides Ms Han, are Terry Xu and Andrew Loh.
The latter wrote to the MLC chairman, Tan Cheng Han, to inform him and seek his views on the allegations made by Mr Cheng against TOC.
“As someone who has been involved with TOC from its very beginning, 1 December 2006, I am shocked at the unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations - that ‘the editors of TOC... would gang up with Western forces to do Singapore in’ - made by a member of your esteemed council,” Mr Loh wrote in his email to Mr Tan, which was also copied to two other members of the MLC.
“It is a serious allegation made to mislead, misinform and tarnish the names of the editors of TOC. Indeed, the allegations borders on one of potential seditious and criminal behaviour on the part of the editors of TOC,” Mr Loh said.
In his response, Mr Tan wrote:
“As far as I am concerned, while I do not always agree with the positions taken by the TOC editorial team or its contributors, I respect what TOC has done. In no way do I think that TOC has engaged in ‘traitorous’ acts.”
Mr Loh then replied:
“TOC has been around for almost a decade and our work is there for all to see. Certainly anyone is welcome to agree or disagree with our views and indeed many, as you, do.
“What I am concerned about is how a member of the MLC, whose purpose and core values I need not elaborate to, could make such blatantly malicious allegations in public.
“This, I believe, goes against every value which the MLC has pledged to uphold or encourage.”
Mr Tan said, referring to Mr Cheng's remarks about "killing children" of terrorists, that he has “indicated that his [Mr Cheng’s] acts were insensitive and inappropriate and therefore not in keeping with the values of the Council.”
“In other cases where the Council has felt that it has to weigh in, it has done so by expressing its views on the matter,” Mr Tan added. “The Council is not a statutory body with specific powers granted to it.”
Mr Loh said that he was puzzled by Mr Tan’s reply “because it leaves the council helpless in the face of such a recalcitrant member whose behaviour could (and perhaps already has) brought disrepute to the council and its good work.”
Mr Loh pointed out that Mr Cheng’s recalcitrant behaviour was neither a new phenomenon nor a recent one.
“If you were to follow his online postings, you would find that he has displayed such behaviour over a period of time,” Mr Loh wrote.
“Indeed, even in his postings which have led to this current controversy, his words and the manner in which he "engages" others are abhorrent.
“They plainly and clearly go against all that the MLC stands for.”
Mr Tan has had to counsel Mr Cheng earlier this year when the latter made a Facebook posting alleging that playwright Alfian Sa’at was engaging in “irresponsible rhetoric, which allege racial discrimination against our Malay-Muslim brethren.”
Mr Cheng likened Mr Sa’at to “domestic agitators”.
“The Government should watch commentators like Alfian Sa’at closely and if red lines are crossed, the use of the ISA on these domestic agitators should not be ruled out,” Mr Cheng posted.Mr Cheng's attack on Mr Sa'at was roundly criticised online, come as it did at a time when Mr Sa'at was grieving the death of his mother. Mr Sa'at himself had responded to Mr Cheng's post. (See here.)
When asked for his views then about the incident, Mr Tan told TOC:
“I have spoken to Mr Cheng and while I understand that he was trying to warn against religious extremism, I told Mr Cheng that I do not agree with the manner in which he did so."
Mr Cheng has also ridiculed and belittled others who have disagreed with him, calling them “fools” and “idiots”.
Under the MLC’s core values, which are stated on its website here, the council says:
“[Uncivil behaviours online] refers to behaviours that are anti-social, offensive, irresponsible or simply mean. While such behaviours are not unique to the online environment, people can be a lot more callous when communicating through digital technologies as there are no verbal and visual cues. More worryingly, the impact on victims is magnified because of the speed, permanence and openness of the social media environment.”
Other have also weighed in on the latest incident involving Mr Cheng. See here.
WRITER’S NOTE: As for the allegations made by Mr Cheng against TOC, I am glad that the chairman of the MLC disagrees with the charge – that TOC is “traitorous”. TOC is confident of our work and we leave it to our readers and Singaporeans to decide for themselves. We can only express regret that a member of a media literacy council, whose purpose is to promote responsible online behaviour, among other things, has chosen to resort to scurrilous and false name-calling and baseless allegations. We too shall leave it to our readers and Singaporeans to decide on the character of the person making such allegations. - Andrew Loh.