21 July 2007

An announcement

This isn't one of those things that I'm happy to have done; but
this isn't one of those things that I'm happier not to have done.

11 July 2007

Theonlinecitizen replies

Choo Zheng Xi, currently a law undergrad at NUS and the co-editor of theonlinecitizen, has replied via MSN. He is the original author who broke Alfian's story, advised Alfian to send in his essay on Francis under a pseudonym, and also published Alfian's op-ed piece "Should homosexuals be allowed to teach" as an uncredited article.

The sum of it: Choo Zheng Xi has refused to answer any of the questions raised almost 2 weeks ago. I am reproducing his reply, stating his refusal to reply, word for word here, with no additions, subtractions or alterations:

[01:47] choo: hey sorri dont think ile be replying to your piece
[01:47] akikonomu: i didn't expect you to
[01:48] choo: ok
[01:53] akikonomu: you see, i don't expect you to have what it takes to explain away that breach of journalistic ethics
[01:53] choo: more like i dont think i need to actually
[01:54] akikonomu: nope. because you can't explain it anyway
[01:54] choo: well you wouldnt know would you =)
[01:55] choo: honestly it'd give the issue more publicity than a non issue deserves
[01:56] choo: none of the grand total of 3 ppl ive asked to look at your piece thinks it matters
[01:56] choo: they're probably the only ppl who read it
[01:56] choo: if i'd replied
[01:56] choo: i might have doubled your readership
[01:59] *** "choo" signed off at Wed Jul 11 01:59:14 2007.

I would like to thank Choo Zheng Xi for taking the time to explain that an explanation isn't needed, and to take the effort to impress upon me that this is a non-issue.

03 July 2007

Alfian writes in

Mr Alfian Sa'at has emailed to clarify the questions raised in the earlier post, and I am reproducing his reply here word for word, with no additions, subtractions or alterations:

there is no big conspiracy. The story goes like this:

a) I file in the 'Francis' article for Trevvy.
b) Trevvy editors freak out; they think it's sensitive. They tell me they're not going to run it.
c) I consider passing it to Fridae (Which will piss off my eds, but I felt the story needed an airing. Francis needs to have people relating similar experiences with him, for people to step up and offer assistance, etc)
d) Someone from TOC is on MSN with me. I mention Trevvy spiking the story.
e) That someone suggests that I run it on TOC, but with a pseudonym. When I ask why a pseudonym, he says certain people in the blogosphere will just jump at it and accuse me of non-objective reportage.
f) At his insistence, I give him a pseudonym. 'Ramlah' is a silly drag name I have for myself; it's an inside joke among my friends.
g) Trevvy decides to run the article. But eds want to call it a 'parable' so as to cover their backsides.
h) Now Trevvy wants TOC to stop running it, claiming exclusivity.
i) It's messy. Ideally I would love to have the story on two different sites catering to two different readership profiles.

As to why I appear as various avatars for the articles (Alfian, Ramlah and one uncredited), much of it was based on editorial decisions rather than my own.

I wish to assure my readers and Alfian's friends that we have cleared the air between us, more than 3 days ago when he sent me this clarification. Notice that all outstanding questions posed to Alfian in the previous post have been cancelled. And I would like to note that 3 days since the poet and playwright explained the situation in his forthright and honest manner, we have heard not a peep from the editors of theonlinecitizen.

Here's what is really at stake: Suppose an article is reprinted several times over, with very minor differences, in multiple locations, but with different author names - or under no name at all - one might jump to the conclusion that either

a. there are different authors, and someone is clearly plagiarising from an original source, stealing someone else's intellectual work to pass off as their own, or

b. there is just one single author, who is running a sockpuppeting operation.

In the case of Alfian Sa'at, it appears that the editors of theonlinecitizen have clearly made a fool out of the poet and playwright - making him look either dishonest or conspiratorial, as either a plagiarist or a sock puppeteer.

Note that it is the editors of theonlinecitizen who have split Alfian's long article into 2 shorter ones - publishing the first under the pseudonym of Ramlah Abu Bakar, and the second as an anonymous article with no author attributed.

We are unclear why the editors of theonlinecitizen have chosen to do this. According to what Alfian has been told by the same editor, certain people in the blogosphere will just jump at it and accuse me of non-objective reportage.

I would understand this as an issue of a possible conflict of interest, i.e. "Some people would say Alfian's writing about Francis being rejected by MOE because Alfian himself was rejected by MOE". But here's the thing, and I hope the editors of theonlinecitizen pay attention: you do NOT deal with conflicts of interest by making the decision to withhold knowledge of the conflict of interest from your readers. An ethical journalistic source would actually *state* the conflict of interest, so that all readers can judge for themselves whether the article is fair and balanced, given the positioning of its author.

It's a simple, fundamental, publishing rule of thumb. Yet theonlinecitizen's editors have chosen to withhold information from its readers, to engage in deception (note the second article here is still uncredited, even after Alfian acknowledges authorship in his blog.

There is nothing wrong with conflicts of interest issues in writing, reporting, or opinion essays - that happens all the time. What is wrong is knowing that there's a conflict of interest, and then deciding to withhold that information from readers. The withholding of the fact is the real ethical issue - knowing who the person is, knowing his conflict of interest, and advising him to withhold his identity - so as to keep readers unaware of the conflict - that is not being open and honest.

It is to my regret that I find theonlinecitizen's silence on this issue most disturbing. That its editors had the arrogance to decide that its readers - and other blog aggregators who linked to those 2 articles - do not need to know the fact is most disturbing. That theonlinecitizen urges full disclosure on the part of the government and yet behaves as though they don't need to practice it themselves is most disturbing. And so it goes.