Facebook user apologises for doctoring City Harvest news article

The doctored Lianhe Wanbao headline (left) and the real headline (right). The part circled in blue says a PAP lawyer "saved" them, referring to the six accused in the City Harvest case, whereas the actual headline states that it was an outdated law t
The doctored Lianhe Wanbao headline (left) and the real headline (right). The part circled in blue says a PAP lawyer "saved" them, referring to the six accused in the City Harvest case, whereas the actual headline states that it was an outdated law that "saved" them from heavier sentences.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - A man who uploaded a doctored newspaper report on Facebook, suggesting a lawyer - who is an MP from the People's Action Party (PAP) - saved the six people accused in the City Harvest church case from harsher sentences, has apologised on social media.

Mr Neo Aik Chau, 38, a delivery driver, posted the apology on his personal Facebook page on Tuesday (Feb 6), saying he was wrong to have made the post and that it was unintentional.

He also apologised in at least two other Facebook groups, but not on the public page where he had uploaded the report with a doctored headline.

Mr Neo's social media apologies came a day after the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) wrote to him about the false report.

Writing in Chinese on his personal Facebook page, Mr Neo said he had fairness and justice in mind but "truly made a mistake".

"I spoke frankly without thinking," he wrote. "I swear not to post anything like this again! Please forgive me!"

In a separate post in a Facebook group, he said he was only expressing a personal opinion and not scandalising the court.

Originally posted on a public Facebook group whose name translates to "Policy discussion forum" in Chinese, Mr Neo's post was of Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao's Page 1 report but with a false headline.

The original headline said an outdated law saved the church's founder Kong Hee and five others from harsher penalties, but the false headline said a PAP lawyer saved them, referring to Mr Edwin Tong, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, who was Kong's lawyer in the criminal trial.

The Wanbao report was about the Court of Appeal's decision to uphold a High Court ruling that Section 409 of the Penal Code could not be applied to the six accused of misusing millions of dollars of City Harvest Church funds for the pop music career of Sun Ho, or Ms Ho Yeow Sun, wife of senior pastor Kong Hee.

 

The section provides for heavier punishments for certain groups of people who commit criminal breach of trust.

On Monday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament the AGC considers the Facebook post of the doctored article a case of contempt by scandalising the courts.

Later the same day, the AGC said in a statement that contempt of court in its various forms harms the proper administration of justice in Singapore, and that it would take firm action against such instances.

Shin Min Daily News, a Chinese newspaper, reported on Tuesday (Feb 6) that Mr Neo said he was intrigued by coffee-shop chatter over the City Harvest verdict.

"I was feeling inspired. Using a mobile application, I wrote a new headline," he told the newspaper. "I'd only meant to put it on the Facebook group as a talking point, and did not have malicious intent. I didn't think it would be reposted."

While his online apologies did not mention Mr Shanmugam or the AGC, they attracted comments referencing fake news and the Home Affairs Ministry within hours of their publication.

User William Lee wrote it was "sad" that Mr Neo had to apologise for speaking his mind, adding: "If one does not work in the news industry, how does it draw the label of fake news?" he asked.

Lianhe Wanbao editor Goh Sin Teck, who is also editor of Chinese morning daily Lianhe Zaobao, said on Feb 5 the paper handles news in a serious and responsible manner.

"However, our news headline was spoofed by others," he added. "This is definitely not creativity and is a type of behaviour with malicious intent, attempting to mislead the public. It should be condemned."