Jan 28, 2011
Blog hit fish head eatery’s business
Bloggers worried about impact of libel suit by Sabah restaurant owner
By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief.
Mr Tharumaraj said he and his parents initially ignored the review but decided to sue after the blogger, Mr Poh, allegedly removed three positive comments left by readers. Mr Poh denied doing so on his Twitter account and said he will fight the suit. — PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
KUALA LUMPUR: When Jothy’s Fish Head Curry restaurant owner Tharumaraj Sivaperumal googled his restaurant’s name several months ago, he was devastated to find a scathing review on a popular food blog.
The blog popped up as the first entry on the Google search page, he said.
‘It wasn’t even a constructive or fair comment – not when he called us the worst fish head curry restaurant in the universe. Has he eaten at all the fish head curry restaurants in the universe?’ he told The Straits Times yesterday.
His family has run Jothy’s since 1987 in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. Their two cooks are from India, and their recipes are family secrets.
Mr Tharumaraj, 26, said he and his parents initially ignored the review but decided to sue the blogger, Mr Poh Huai Bin, after he allegedly removed three positive comments left by readers on the post. This was discovered upon checking the posting on another day. Mr Poh denied on his Twitter account that he did so.
The RM6 million (S$2.5 million) suit was filed on Wednesday in the Kota Kinabalu High Court. Mr Poh and California-based Google were named as defendants.
Jothy’s lawyer Marcel Jude Joseph told The Straits Times that this is possibly the first libel suit in Malaysia against a blogger for a review, although there have been similar cases abroad.
He said the suit revolved around three statements in the blog that his client deemed excessive, including calling the restaurant a tourist trap.
Mr Tharumaraj said the statements had affected his business badly as it relied heavily on the tourist trade, including Singaporeans. It is popular with tourists because of its good location in downtown Kota Kinabalu and recommendations in travel guides such as the Lonely Planet series. He added that business from local customers was still good but far fewer foreigners now visit his restaurant.
Mr Joseph also explained that Malaysian laws, including those on defamation, do apply to online publications like blogs. ‘Blogs are just another medium of publication,’ he said.
The suit has caused a buzz in Malaysia’s active food blogging community, with some bloggers deciding it would be wiser to be more cautious.
‘Many of us are not aware of this. We think that it’s our blog, and we can say what we want,’ said food blogger Rebecca Saw, 30, referring to the law on defamation.
‘I’m quite critical but I will probably be more careful in the future.’
She said she would still write honestly if she found the food to be unpalatable or too expensive, as she generally takes the effort to double-check with other bloggers.
Another food blogger, who did not want to be named, said if the lawsuit succeeded, it would have a chilling effect. ‘We’d all be forced into self-censorship for fear of being sued for speaking our minds,’ he said.
He added that many customers probably loved the food at Jothy’s, but a blogger should not be penalised for saying he did not like it if he spoke the truth.
While this libel suit is the first for a food blog, Malaysian political blogs are, however, no stranger to lawsuits and criminal prosecution. One of the country’s most controversial bloggers Raja Petra Kamaruddin has been sued for defamation as well as charged with sedition for his postings.
Mr Poh said on his Twitter account yesterday that he will fight the suit.
– End –
Yeah, so that’s it. My one- liner on Singapore Straits Time. LOL.
But what do you guys think? Moving forward, would you be more selective in your choice of words in your food reviews?