Sg Straits Times & the Jothy Curry House case – my 2 cents worth


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.

ndcurry 3

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.

[email protected]

– 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?

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Andrew

    There are some flaws.

    Does Mr Tharumaraj have screenshots of the positive comments?

    As for Mr. Poh, he probably went overboard with describing the taste of the fish head curry.

    I still don’t see the point this lawsuit.

    1. Rebecca

      Yes, maybe be a bit harsh tho I would say if this is my review, it would sound similar! LOL.

      But seriously there is no point in tis lawsuit unless Jothy just wants to make headlines!

      1. Anti-Irresponsible Bloggers

        Serve them right!!! Freedom of speech my foot! It’s all with malicious intents. There are 5 worst profession…. politicians, lawyers, bankers, insurance agents and now… bloggers!! Line them up and shoot them please!!! Muahaha!

      2. Andrew

        Grow up please

      3. rebeccasaw

        Same here – get a life! Bloggers? Bankers? Insurance agents? What’s your issue?

      4. dila

        fella got problem with ppl who earn quite a lot, i think heh.

      5. rebeccasaw

        Yea. Jealous probably 😉

  2. Caroline

    well no comment.. but i do know that the place less ppl visit one. :/

    1. rebeccasaw

      I think all along also this restaurant is not doing well?

  3. WinnieKepala

    I’m on Huai Bin’s side on this. Dr M has been an advocate against internet censorship. Its the only channel for Malaysia freedom of speech. It is the blogger’s right to his opinions. Unless the restauranteur have physical evidence of removal of said positive comments and financial data to back decline of business, this is a ridiculous suit. And 6 million in damages? Come on.

    1. rebeccasaw

      Yes, utterly ridiculous. Everyone is wondering what is the point of this really!

  4. Tipster

    No fish head but Singapore based Global Indian Foundation who runs Global Indian International Schools is suing Google Inc in New Delhi High Court for adverse comments appearing on internet. Look for GIIS K12 EDUCATION PRIVATE LTD Vs. GOOGLE INC

    1. rebeccasaw

      huh? I do wonder if Google is a sue-able entity jz fr being a search engine!

      1. reus

        as you know GIIS Delhi is offering scholarships for sending students to Singapore. how can we get the phone number of GIIS Delhi. please help us.

  5. foodlovee

    The writer certainly went over board.He was not commenting,he is telling all the people out there,”It’s a tourist trap. Avoid it like a bad case of herpes”.Nobody has aright to tell others to destroy another’s livelihood.

    1. rebeccasaw

      Actually yes, a lot pf people opined that the use of those words were the very one tht “might” give Jothy’s a case. But that’s still debatable for now

  6. Marcky

    Huai Bin didn’t make any slanderous remarks. He just said the food sucked (which is a subjective opinion), he did not state hard facts like “the fish came from a drain” or “the curry had roaches”.

    Therefore I see no substance in the lawsuit. An extension of this case, Jothy’s trying to sue Google because Huai Bin’s blog came up first in search, further demonstrates Jothy’s naivete as well as their grasping at straws to make a quick buck off a rich internet company and alleged millionaire-bloggers (haha) when they should be fixing their food first.

    I can tell you for a fact, no blogger can cause a restaurant to be completely out of business unless what the blogger says is true.

    1. charles

      Absolutely right. “o blogger can cause a restaurant to be completely out of business unless what the blogger says is true.” Fair enough !!!! HB will stand strong in this case, may the tiny fish head be ashamed of their act.

      1. rebeccasaw

        Agree with both of you! So many restaurants in KL gets so many negative feedback from bloggers, and we got so many food bloggers here tool.
        Yet we do see crowds at those places. It’s not like EVERYBODY will believe what they read on the net, nor do EVERYBODY read blogs!

  7. pw

    Does the case have locus standi established on the ground that the blog has malicious intend?

    The part on the blog entries moderation could not be established as claims of positive comments on blog is under the jurisdiction of the blog owner himself and it will be at his discretion and responsibility to remove or edit the comments put forth by visitors to his blog. Do not allow publication of comments does not tantamount to deletion of comments.

    There are many social media network which allows comments on food etc. lambasting on the quality of food in critiques. The operator should consider finding out the cause that leads to such comments directly from the bloggers. It is not like Mr. Poh’s handphone number is not available online or something. He tweeted and published on his blog numerous times of his latest contact number. If there is no effort to contact Mr. Poh for that course to the cause, I would be wondering if the law-suit is meant for alternative intent.

    The main thing for F&B operator is to be objective about it. If a dish needed some extra attention, please do make a review, invite bloggers and show them how it is made and highlight what is so special about the dish. There could be many factors that can cause the taste of the same dish to change and you may not get it exactly the same everytime.

    **Reader discretion is advised.**

    1. rebeccasaw

      Very right! Instead of a 6mil suit, this can be settled amicably.

  8. Aeron Constantine

    I invite people to go n taste by themselves on the food.check the price,check the taste n check all you need to justify.whether its nice or not,revert back to website n
    Leave no racism on board.we expect freedom to voice but to make sure no racism created.

    1. rebeccasaw

      Yes indeed that would be the ideal way. But all of us always have something to say when something negative is mentioned about a plc, a person or so. It’s like everyone wants t ogive their 2 cents worth. End of the day, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. and if 70% of the comments says its bad, as a reader myself I’m also doubtful of the food already!

  9. A Malaysian

    Only can happen in Malaysia where judges, cases can be fixed, police can be bought! The whole country is a joke!

  10. Enda Bergene

    Hey, possibly it is a bit offf subject however in any case, I have been surfing about your weblog and it appears really neat. impassioned about your writing. I’m creating a new weblog and hard-pressed to make it appear great, and supply wonderful articles. I’ve found a lot on your website and I sit up for additional updates and might be back.

  11. smallkucing

    Not everyone have the same taste in food. If the restaurant food is good, no matter what a blogger said, people will come back for more. Chinese saying “real gold not afraid of red hot fire”.

    1. rebeccasaw

      Totally agree! It can’t be that one blogger’s opinion will ruin your biz entirely if you’re serving awesome food!

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