SPH falls out of open train door

Ah, schadenfreude!

Government-linked Singapore Press Holdings has apologised to government-linked SMRT Corporation for an instance of libellous fabrication. There goes SPH’s vainglorious claim to “fair, objective” journalism.

The government has tried for over a decade (over a decade!) to paint bloggers et al of being beneath the standards they have set for themselves and their coterie of fawning media. Time and again, they have resorted to innuendo and outright accusations both, saying that blogs, online forums and social media are full of distortions and half-truths. Now, who has been shown to be engaging in total untruth?

Last week, SPH’s “citizen journalism” portal Stomp posted a photograph (above) said to show a moving train with its doors open. I had my suspicions the moment I saw it. Firstly, if the train had been moving, why was the railing beyond the open door not blurred? Secondly, the right foreground had a bit of a sticker which is typically found on the platform safety doors, indicating that the picture was shot by someone standing on the platform. Thirdly, there was a streak of light over the open door which looked to be a reflection of overhead lights somewhere, once again suggesting that the picture had been taken through glass from the platform.

According to The Online Citizen, the caption that went with the picture on Stomp said:

“I was on my way home from Boon Lay MRT to City Hall MRT last night. At Lakeside station at 10.15pm, one of the doors started making noises during ’Doors Closing’ and remained stuck open even while the train started moving.”

The posting was attributed to wasabi.

SMRT promptly challenged the veracity of the photograph, maintaining that its trains had safety features that would prevent them moving if the doors remained open. Interestingly though, in the story about SMRT’s response, the Straits Times revealed that the picture had been taken by a certain Samantha Francis, who stepped forward to assist SMRT in its investigations. So, she was wasabi.

It also said that Ms Samantha Francis, 23, who claimed to have taken the picture at Lakeside MRT station on Tuesday night, was not actually at the MRT station that day. This assertion is based on CCTV footage and Ms Francis’ ez-link card details, it added.

In the statement, an SMRT spokesman also said that the railings of the train tracks visible in the picture do not match those at Lakeside MRT.

Ms Francis, who is a content producer at citizen journalism website Stomp, took the picture and posted it on Stomp on Wednesday morning. She said she had boarded a train at Lakeside MRT at 10.15pm the night before.

She told The Straits Times that after the train pulled into the station, the doors on the opposite side to the platform swung open first. Finding this strange, she took a picture through the closed doors in front of her. Then, when the doors in front of her opened, she entered the train and took another picture of the opposite doors, one of which remained open until the train pulled into Chinese Garden, the next stop.

She added that two other people were in the same carriage as her: a Chinese man in T-shirt and bermudas, and an Indian man.

Yesterday, Ms Francis met SMRT staff at Lakeside MRT to assist in their investigations. She showed them where she was standing when she snapped the picture, and described what she was wearing that night to help them spot her in CCTV footage.

SMRT staff asked if the ez-link card she gave them to check was her only one, and if she had used it to enter Lakeside MRT on the night in question. She said yes.

— Straits Times, 22 June 2012, So, was door of moving MRT train open?, by Rachel Chang

What I failed to notice in that story was the newspaper’s mention of Samantha Francis as a “content producer”. Actually, even if I had noticed it, I probably wouldn’t have attached much significance to it.  Like many others, I thought Stomp operated on the basis of ordinary people out there sending pictures and newsy bits to the Stomp office, where a small staff might sift through them and choose which to upload onto the site. Certainly, that was the impression that I had of it, and I think SPH wanted people to see it that way. Why else would they call Stomp their citizen journalism portal?

That said, Stomp had never acquired any reputation for important breaking news, let along anything resembling the concept of journalism. My brief forays into the site often led to me fleeing from so many pictures of car wrecks, cats in trees and migrant workers on their day off.

Now, it turns out that Samantha Francis/wasabi was no ordinary outsider submitting stuff gratis to Stomp. She was on their paid staff!

On discovering this, Mr Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English and Malay Newspapers Division, sent a letter on Sunday to Mr Tan Ek Kia, the interim chief executive of rail operator SMRT, apologising for the incident.

The content producer, Ms Samantha Francis, was also sacked by SPH, which owns Stomp, on the same day.

The 23-year-old had initially claimed that she took the photograph at Lakeside MRT station last Tuesday night. But following investigations by SPH, she eventually admitted that she had taken the image from a post on social networking site Twitter. The original tweet has since been removed.

— Straits Times, 25 June 2012, Editor-in-chief apologises to SMRT over Stomp picture, by Amelia Tan

So another falsehood is exposed. Apparently not everything on Stomp had been submitted voluntarily; they had staffers whose job was to take other people’s twitter images etc and put them up under anonymous names as if those other people had submitted them! Not only were the “news” being faked, the whole process was being faked and the public misled.

Meanwhile however, you’re going to see blame being focussed on Francis, deflecting responsibility from the higher-ups at SPH. In fact, if you read the above quote carefully, you’d notice that SPH is claiming credit for unveiling the truth (“following investigations by SPH, she eventually admitted . . .”). Eh?  Wasn’t it SMRT that investigated and proved the picture to be a fake?

Nor is anyone within official circles going to revisit their claims that only SPH (and its twin, government-linked Mediacorp) stands for responsible journalism. But the damage has been done. From now on, anytime the government tries to paint new media as untrustworthy, they’re going to have this incident thrown back at them like so many cream pies. Pflaphtt.

Oh, and by the way, why aren’t we hearing anything about damages?  If a blogger had tried to pull the same stunt, would SMRT or any government-linked body not have been quick to send lawyer’s letters and so forth?

29 Responses to “SPH falls out of open train door”

  1. 1 Sgcynic 25 June 2012 at 19:12

    The stomp posting is injurious to SMRT’s reputation (what’s left of it) and potentially causes public alarm. It certainly isn’t simply sack the girl and be done with it. Exchange of lawyer’s letters between SMRT and SPH ought to follow in ‘normal’ circumstances with claims of compensation. Also there would be police follow up and ‘stern warning’ issued. While one can argue that it is not as serious ad a bomb threat, it is definitely more alarming that say the case where photos of a bear spotted at a bus stop.

  2. 2 Sam 25 June 2012 at 19:13

    hmm. i think the question we should be asking is whether this is an anomaly or common practice at Stomp. it is entirely possible that Francis was an overzealous staffer acting on her own. still, it is indeed disturbing if it were common practice, as Stomp purports to advocate citizen journalism. it would be informative to know the editorial process behind Stomp.

    it is not an entirely unheard of practice to have a user-generated content site getting its staffers to submit content with fake accounts masquerading as users to further a particular angle or attract a particular audience segment.

    but somehow i think nobody in the mainstream press is going to ask these questions.

    • 3 Daniel Yap 26 June 2012 at 13:41

      Not uncommon, not illegal, but certainly not what I would expect from a government news portal that prides itself on “responsible journalism”.

      They’re not dirty per se, but they no longer can claim any high ground.

  3. 4 Chris 25 June 2012 at 20:14

    This kind of thing is reprehensible, and Ms. Francis needs to feel the full weight of the law. Living is scary enough without having false photographs to make it worse.

    That being said, it is not unknown for doors to fly open during operation of a train, at least in other places. I have been on trains in New York City and in London where train doors opened while the train was moving. Luckily, in neither case was someone leaning against the doors and the trains immediately stopped and the train driver dealt with the problem personally.

    This is why people are cautioned not to lean against the doors.

    The other thing that concerns me is how stupid this site’s people were in putting up a dishonest picture in these days of citizen journalism. It is very simple nowadays for the thousands of people who follow such stories to demonstrate that any picture is not what it purports to be. To deliberately post something that you know to be faked or untrue is just waiting for trouble.

  4. 5 The Crazy Horse 25 June 2012 at 21:05

    Clap, clap, clap!

    This Stomp shit has been used by Sinkies to sabotage one another.

    The most recent involves a middle-aged ‘aunty’ arguing with a younger woman after the latter gave up an MRT seat to her.

    A video of the fracas was posted to Stomp on 19 June, 2012 by a certain Mr Muhammad Khair. According to AsiaOne [http://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20120620-354095.html], the video had gone viral on other sites, with close to 73,000 views reached on Stomp alone that morning.

    I pity the younger lady because it was through no fault of hers, yet she paid a high price of becoming “famous” for the wrong reasons.

    And all because we have Stomp, with the backing of none other than Singapore Press Holdings.

    If Stomp were the efforts of private individuals, fine. Good job, maybe.

    But it’s managed (directly or indirectly) by a national press. What good values come out of sabotaging a fellow citizen, especially when he or she has done nothing to deserve the unwanted attention?

    So it’s karma that Stomp is getting a taste of its own shit.

    • 6 Alfred Bartom 26 June 2012 at 10:51

      Excellent posting, Alex! Tangentially, to Crazy Horse and many, many others who propagate the popular notion that karma is some kind of cosmic revenge or comeuppance mechanism. No it’s not. If this were an American or European viewpoint, then, possibly, it could be excused as ignorance. But it vexes me to see people from this part of the world holding this belief. Please do some study on karma; you misunderstand it completely.

  5. 7 Anonymous 25 June 2012 at 21:13

    Good one alex. 🙂

  6. 9 r0bT 25 June 2012 at 22:49

    I laughed so hard when this story came out. Some of these Stomp jerks come from in house. I’m more interested about what changes Ms Francis’ boss intends to make with his “content producers”. He should start by making sure that all in-house contributions are bylined by the staffers’ real names!

  7. 10 danny 26 June 2012 at 02:19

    When was the last time a blogger was sued?

  8. 11 yuen 26 June 2012 at 07:33

    > Ms Samantha Francis, …, was not actually at the MRT station that day. This assertion is based on CCTV footage and Ms Francis’ ez-link card details,

    anyone finds this a bit disconcerting like I did? SMRT can trace your movements within their transport system, because most people bought their first EZlink cards at discount using their IC so the cards identify their owners

    however, my family’s four IC-identified cards are shared around and I also bought some additional cards that do not identify their owners, so I could be travelling using my wife or kid’s card or an unidentifiable one, and monitoring my movement is more difficult; maybe others want to follow the example…

  9. 16 Jim Soh 26 June 2012 at 08:10

    Stomp is trashy journalism!

  10. 17 Alan 26 June 2012 at 09:01

    SPH’s editor-in-chief sort of matter of fact admitted that the paid staff was sacked for breaching their own professional ethics.

    Just one simple question for SPH editors, if they do have professional ethics to begin with, then how come they are ranked so low in International Press Ratings ?

    Are they next going to say professional ethics has nothing to do with Press Ratings ?

  11. 18 KD Tan 26 June 2012 at 09:23

    “This assertion is based on CCTV footage and Ms Francis’ ez-link card details, it added.”

    Strangely, SMRT’s CCTV systems work when it benefits them, but fails whenever there is a track suicide or accident!

  12. 19 stan 26 June 2012 at 09:35

    We would still like to question on the photo be it moving or stationary. Why were the door/s open? But our SMRT choose to pursue the “stomper” instead of investigating further into the matter of safety

  13. 21 Only me 26 June 2012 at 10:21

    SMRT’s main shareholder is more powderful than SPH, that’s the reason why SPH can’t spin any more tale.
    Lawyer’s letters are only send to people who can be easily bulllied one.

    SPH & SMRT are blood-sisters by the way.

  14. 22 Anon.neig 26 June 2012 at 10:36

    I believe this samantha francis girl has committed and offence under the telecommunications act.

    Sending false message
    45. Any person who transmits or causes to be transmitted a message which he knows to be false or fabricated shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —
    (a)in the case where the false or fabricated message contains any reference to the presence in any place or location of a bomb or other thing liable to explode or ignite, to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years or to both; and
    (b)in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both.

  15. 23 C.H. Cheng 26 June 2012 at 11:25

    It does not surprise me one bit that STOMP does not exercise the same journalistic rigor as the rest of the news organisation.

    A year ago I was the subject of a STOMP post. Dozens of comments later, someone there remembered that I had been featured on RAZOR before. The RAZOR journalist who interviewed me then emails to verify that it is me in the STOMP post and asks if I would consent to give a response. I agreed. The call or email never came. However, a follow up article was then posted, worded to appear that I had given STOMP a response when I had not.

    Feeling somewhat put off, I left a critical comment pointing this out and questioning their professionalism. I still do not hear back from the editor, and the incident fades from memory.

    Months later, I tried to comment on an unrelated article and found my account suspended. I traced back to the last article I had commented on, and sure enough, it had been deleted. STOMP had also quietly amended the post.

    In fairness I don’t know if this is the same editor at the helm, but if this is the standard of editorial integrity they practise there, I’m not surprised this happened.

    STOMP really stepped in it this time.

  16. 24 chaipngi1 26 June 2012 at 11:57

    ” Like many others, I thought Stomp operated on the basis of ordinary people out there sending pictures and newsy bits to the Stomp office, where a small staff might sift through them and choose which to upload onto the site. Certainly, that was the impression that I had of it, and I think SPH wanted people to see it that way. Why else would they call Stomp their citizen journalism portal? ”

    Alex, like many things in this dotty place, the gahmen must intervene to give whatever image it wants to convey to Singaporeans and foreigners! The father, son and holy goh just can’t allow for any spontaneity lest it leads to crescendo of annoying protest. Would not be surprise at all if >90% of submissions to Stomp by the real citizen journalists is simply stomped! by the ‘idioter’ .

  17. 25 Mind The Gaps 26 June 2012 at 13:02

    The stompers are worse than the stationery CCTVs all around the island.
    These are moving squads of so-called citizen journalists that are actually CCTVs in disguise. Going around exposing and judging people (young & old), playing moral police and telling us how to behave and toe your line.

    90% of the stories are petty and most are probably fictionally created by these ‘content-producers’ to divide and urge public to pass frivolous judgements. Not only should they declare their name on the byline, but also their religious affiliation!

  18. 26 Chow 26 June 2012 at 22:47

    Well, the idea I get from forums is that for people posting ‘news-worthy’ pictures the person posting should insert prominent watermarks in the photo otherwise STOMP would hijack them and use it. Take it with a pinch of salt though, I am not saying all content is ripped dishonestly from someone who had no intention of submitting it to STOMP. I am just remarking that there are forummers who claim that such things have happened before.

  19. 27 Samuel Chua (@SamChuaPhoto) 26 June 2012 at 23:40

    STOMP should join the icanhascheezburger group of sites.

  20. 28 Chanel 27 June 2012 at 11:46

    “If a blogger had tried to pull the same stunt, would SMRT or any government-linked body not have been quick to send lawyer’s letters and so forth?”


    The mainstream media and PAP politicians would have a field day using such an incident to demolish (and rubbish) bloggers!!

  21. 29 tinyredleaf 28 June 2012 at 11:06

    A point of clarification: Most social-media sites are run and moderated by staff who are typically called “content producers”. While producing own content is one of their KPIs, most of the time, it’s the job of such people to aggregate content for various sources, possibly with the aid of a battery of matrices that anyone who’s managed a Facebook page is familiar with.

    In effect, the role of a content producer is not much different from that of a copy-taster, a well-established position in most newspapers in the world, not just Singapore’s. He or she is the person who goes through stories from the wires, and determines which to pick up for the paper for the day.

    So, there’s nothing particularly “sinister” that Samantha is one of a number of paid staff running Stomp. Not everything can be left to automated spiders to trawl the Net for every bit of flotsam. Human judgment remains part of the process.

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