SPH exploring options, including legal recourse, against Straits Times Review site

SINGAPORE - Media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is exploring all options, including legal recourse, against a new website that borrows the name of its flagship newspaper The Straits Times, it said on Wednesday.

The company has also lodged a trademark infringement complaint to Facebook against the Straits Times Review (STR) Facebook page, calling for it to be removed. It said: "We understand that Facebook is looking into our complaint."

The STR website, which has nothing to do with The Straits Times, was registered on April 18 and characterises itself as an "independent news site based in Australia".

It is run by blogger and former political candidate Alex Tan, who had co-founded controversial website The Real Singapore (TRS) and is now based in Sydney.

Mr Tan, a systems engineer, was also formerly associated with Temasek Review, which became TR Emeritus in 2011, and contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC under the Reform Party banner during the 2011 General Elections.

In a Facebook post dated April 21 calling for public contributions, STR had named TRS as one of its "partner sites". A May 4 post added: "Not all articles will be published as I want this to be a permanent initiative and as an alternative to the mainstream media."

TRS was taken down on Sunday, after the Media Development Authority (MDA) ordered its administrators to cease operations and suspended their statutory class license.

Two of its editors, Singaporean Yang Kaiheng, 26, and his Australian girlfriend Ai Takagi, 22, were charged with seven counts of sedition on April 15 for publishing articles that allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes here.

They have been ordered by MDA not to resume the site's operations under another namee. Their lawyer Choo Zheng Xi has said that they have nothing to do with STR.

The site administrator of STR declined to respond to queries from The Straits Times.

Lawyer Jonathan Kok of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing said that sites registered by foreign entities and hosted abroad are outside the legal jurisdiction of Singapore.

But the MDA still has powers to block websites from being viewed here should they be found to have objectionable content that is deemed to be offensive or harmful to Singapore's social, racial or political fabric, he added.

The MDA blocks a limited number of sites - most of which are pornographic - as a "symbolic statement" of Singapore's society values, the authority said on its website.

In 2013, it blocked extramarital dating website Ashley Madison. And from Feb 2 this year, it has also blocked unauthorised websites that promote, facilitate or advertise remote gambling under a new law to curtail online gambling.

On Thursday morning, in a post on the STR Facebook, Mr Tan said he has applied to register his site name as a trade mark in Australia, and added that the trademark registration application cost him "$120 only".

He also uploaded a screenshot of the TM Check page on IP Australia - the Australian government agency that administers intellectual property rights, including trademarks and patents - and said: "A search on trademarks with IP Australia revealed that there is no trademark on 'Straits Times'."

In an earlier post on Thursday, Mr Tan said he had sent an e-mail to SPH. He honestly believes the term "Straits Times" is "general and open for public naming", he wrote, citing the Malaysian English-language daily New Straits Times as an example.

"Let's resolve this issue amicably without wasting resources on legal work. I did not create this website to go into a legal conflict with anyone," he wrote.

"Simply write me an e-mail informing me that you are uncomfortable with me using the term 'Straits Times' and I will have it changed."

waltsim@sph.com.sg

asyiqins@sph.com.sg