A*STAR, and many in power in Singapore do not know the difference between criticism and defamation. Criticise one of Singapore's elite, and they will most likely call it defamation and threaten to sue.

A*STAR's pompous Philip Yeo has threatened Chen Jiahao, a Singaporean studying in the USA, with a lawsuit over Chen's blog.

Here is an email sent from Chen Jiahao to Valarie Tan, of Channel News Asia

To: Valarie Tan <Valarie@mediacorpnews.com>

Subject: Re: Forced to shut down blog

Dear Ms. Tan:

I am shocked and indignant that in your CNA Article dated May 4, not only had you written an article who stand was far from neutral, you had made at least one glaring factual error that is completely unbecoming of any news agency.

I will only address here the error that is relevant to me. For the record that I am a first year graduate student in the chemical physics PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. I am not "pursuing [my] Masters in the States". Given that a quick Google search of my name turns up the correct school and relevant information about my program of study, I cannot believe that you did apparently not even bother to verify such a basic fact about myself before running a story about me.

I mention in passing your errorneous un-compounding of the word "Web Logs" instead of "weblogs", the ambiguous use of the phrase "pull off" and your discourtesy in referring to me by "Chen" and not "Mr. Chen", and other sundry choices of English that have only served to lower my impression of your journalistic standards further.

Perhaps it had not occur to you that your last email was sent at 11pm local time on May 3 (10 am May 4 Singapore time), and that given my examination period begins tomorrow, I was likely that I would be unable to reply to your email in time for your article, especially when you did not mention the urgency of your request? Your colleague Shing Yi had contacted me earlier at about 3 am local time and I had just sent off a reply to her at 11 pm. Since your email came later at 6 am local time, I thought it would be reasonable to assume to reply to you (also at about 11 pm), that by mentioning her contacting me, you would at least have asked her if she had received any reply.

Obviously, this did not happen. While I am aware of time pressures that you may face in compiling news reports, I cannot in any way understand how you have apparently neglected to verify the simple fact of what I was studying here in the United States. It is highly unprofessional of you to have published a falsehood in your mass media, where millions of otherwise innocent viewers have become impressed with wrong information which may serve to affect their impression of the situation at hand. Such actions are tantamount to professional negligence and are highly unbecoming of any journalist from any news agency.

Your preposterous actions have permanently tarnished my impression of ChannelNewsAsia and has significantly lowered my impressions of your journalistic standards. The facts that your errorneous statement was further propagated by your colleague Wong Siew Ying in her own article dated May 5, and that both times such an errorneous statement could have made it through the editorial review process, only serve to reinforce my poor impression of your company.

For the record, here is more or less what I had sent to your colleague Shing Yi. I give you permission to use this information as long as it is reported in a neutral and factually accurate fashion, and subject to the following conditions: that I am not to be quoted directly as making the following points, and that paraphrasing them would be acceptable; that you may mention contacting me as long as it is made clear that I did not solicit the interview, and that my sole purpose in contacting you is purely in the interests of factual accuracy, especially in the light of your errorneous reporting; and that you will apologize either in your personal capacity or as a representative of ChannelNewsAsia for making the errorneous remarks.

If you do not agree to make an apology, then I may be forced to consider legal action.


First off please note that my pseudonym was "AcidFlask" not "Acid Flask", and that the title of my blog was "caustic.soda".

I am a first-year graduate student in the chemical physics PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. Until last week, I had a personal blog on my university account, which as far as I understand is not a violation of school policy.

On April 22 (Friday), I received the first email from Mr. Philip Yeo, chairman of A*STAR, dated 5:44 am GMT-5 which notified me that he had earmarked a post on my blog (#442) for legal action. Over the next three days he sent me a total of eleven emails which were of a threatening and insulting nature, demanding that I remove "all" the posts on my blog or face legal action for defaming A*STAR and himself.

Despite writing to him three times seeking clarification by email, he had refused to elaborate on which specific remarks he had found offensive and reiterated his demand to remove "everything" on my blog.

Since my end of semester examinations begin this Friday (May 6), I am sure you can appreciate how I was certainly not in the mood to sift through the 400-odd posts that I had written on my blog and edit or remove anything that was potentially defamatory. Therefore the only choice I had to stem the barrage of emails was to take the whole thing off-line. It was only when I wrote to him, informing him of my taking the blog down that he sent me a final (and twelfth) email last Tuesday, saying that his lawyer would follow up with amendments to my apology posted online. To date I have yet to hear from them so I assume the matter is closed.

I cannot reveal the exact details of the communication as Mr. Yeo had also threatened further litigation regarding the disclosure of some of the contents of the exchange.

As for legal aspects, I have been told that this is a thorny issue as it is not clear whether US law or Singapore law applies. The university is supportive of my right have a blog on my university account, but I can afford neither the time nor the money to fight it out in the courts in order to find out how the legal intricacies come together for my case. After all, I am not here in the US neither to experience its wonderful judicial system nor to take extended leave from it in order to fight a legal battle back home.

I would like to emphasize that I still do not know exactly what I had written that he had found offensive, and that Mr. Yeo had demanded that I remove all posts which mentioned either him or A*STAR, whether directly or indirectly, and cease "running [him] down" on my blog. It was impossible to satisfy such vague demands except by taking the entire blog down altogether.

Out of over 400 posts on my blog, perhaps ten or so mentioned Mr. Yeo or A*STAR by name. All of these posts were opinionated commentary (based on fact!) on policies made by A*STAR. One of my comments was on A*STAR's scholarship system. A*STAR gives out scholarships to prospective undergraduates to study technical majors both in Singapore and in reputable institutions abroad. Last year A*STAR instituted a new policy requiring their scholars to maintain a 3.8 grade point average (between A- and A average). Having been a scholar at one point in time, I felt that this was unnecessarily draconian and even counterproductive, as this would unduly influence students to pick easy classes over more challenging (and hence more enriching) classes, and said so on my blog.

In his previous position as chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB), Mr. Yeo had also adopted the same strict stance toward such bond-breakers, labeling them as immoral. I can only speculate as to how his ire could be possibly connected to my decision to break my bond (albeit on a scholarship from a different government agency) and a story in The New Paper in early April about my decision to do so.


It may also interest you that this was the first time that Mr. Yeo had ever contacted me, and that I had never denied him the right of reply to the conclusions that I had drawn based on publicly available facts.

Also, in its 274 days of existence, my blog had seen a grand total of 44,291 visitors, i.e. 162 visitors/day.

I spoke out because as a taxpayer and citizen, I cared enough about the policies at hand to make reasoned opinions about them, and in particular to point out what I considered to be possibly counterproductive side effects. I considered remarks made by persons such as Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan and MM Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year, urging young Singaporeans to speak out, as encouragement to do so. As a young Singaporean who tried to speak out and received such an intimidating response, I am disappointed and discouraged that Mr. Yeo had not attempted to correct any possible misconceptions that I may have had over the interpretation of publicly available information, deciding instead to threaten to sue me for defamation. I cannot say that such actions have promoted the cause of getting young Singaporeans to speak out.

I have delayed considerations of further blogging until the end of my examinations in mid-May.


This message has been bcc:ed to forty concerned friends and fellow Singaporean bloggers. Since I apparently cannot trust your organization to make a neutral and factually accurate statement, perhaps I can rely on them to do a better job.

Chen Jiahao

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