What do you do when you get calls saying you will be sued? You press the panic button, of course!
I learnt a big lesson when I wrote a story on sex-for-hire for footballers posted on the FA of Malaysia website for the Malay Mail in 2000. Never mention names on stories that carry serious allegations of misdemeanor.
This story was carried by the Malay Mail in March 2000.
IT was perhaps inevitable. While the national soccer team are in shambles, FA of Malaysia (FAM) will now have to grapple with Internet surfers who have polluted their official website with offers for sex services.
Log on to www.fam.org.my and click the Guestbook icon for feedback from the fans.
Built to enable the fans to engage in intellectual discourse or exchanging views, two, however, have answered to the call of e-commerce by making the site as an avenue to advertise sex, aimed specifically at footballers.
One surfer who identified herself as ##### from Malacca, even went to the extent of implicating one former national striker, saying that he was her regular customer. Another who identified herself as #### offered sex services, with her boyfriend as the contact person (e-mail address was furnished).
The two, apparently, submitted the so-called feedback on March 7 just before midnight.
Since the story had gone through the normal screening process via the sports editor, the chief sub and the editor himself before seeing print, I was not liable for it. Our mistake was to publish the two names. Out of guilt, I tried to speak to the two girls personally to offer my sincere apologies. Subsequently the matter was settled out of court. But you can imagine the sleepless nights I had to go through for weeks and months.
Getting sued, receiving letters of demand and letters that are thinly-veiled threats have become an occupational hazard for a journalist. But I had always felt the sportswriting fraternity and those related to them have a greater degree of tolerance towards criticism, sporting enough to take everything by their stride and believe in freedom of expression. Sportswriters in general enjoy greater liberties to cross swords with the powers-that-be as long as there is no malicious intent.
In this respect, I offer my former Malay Mail colleague Haresh Deol my deepest sympathies.
Haresh is being sued by a lawyer representing the National Sports Council (NSC) for reproducing two articles that had already been published by two newspapers.
Ex Malay Mail chieftain Rocky has blogged about it here
Ex Malay Mail sports editor Tony Mariadass shares his thoughts here
And I feel disgusted that Government servants who are supposed to serve us, the rakyat, the fans, the NGOs, the industry, have the time to send letters of demand to journalists.
Since the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have issued a statement and clearly making a stand for the authorities not to harass sports journos, the Sportswriters Association of Malaysia (SAM) is expected to follow suit.
In the interim, I am also expecting the Sports Minister to advise his underlings!