Shocking news and curious comments


Why bother to formulate a new law to check fake news when the real stories are already incredible?

There must be better explanations for such incredible reports and the bizarre responses from people in power.’
OVER the past week, the news about Malaysia has been running the range from the outrageous to the absurd.

To use a quirky English phrase, the stories beggar belief. In other words, too surreal to be believed.

With the Government proposing a new law to check the spread of “fake news”, there must be better explanations for such incredible reports and the bizarre responses from people in power.

I am listing three examples. The first is Switzerland’s decision to confiscate the equivalent of RM400mil, purportedly linked to 1Malaysia Develop­ment Bhd (1MDB), which was seized from Swiss banks last year.

The Swiss lawmakers are set to debate a motion to en­­able part of the funds to be sent back to Malaysia, but according to recent reports, there were no claimants for the money. For context, the RM400mil is more than this year’s budget for my home state of Melaka and the surplus of RM26.4mil can pay for the new bridge on the alternative coastal road in Klebang.

Next is the 91m super yacht, Equanimity, impounded off Bali last Wednesday.

Indonesian police seized the vessel sought by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in response to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) request to enforce a court order.

Police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal Abduh said the US$250mil (RM976mil) yacht’s Auto­ma­ted Identification System (AIS) had been switched off in nearby seas before the seizure.

Penang-born businessman Low Taek Jho, who is also known as Jho Low, criticised the DoJ for not proving any offence before acting.

“It is disappointing that, rather than reflecting on the deeply flawed and politically motivated allegations, the DoJ is continuing with its pattern of global overreach – all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing,” read a statement sent by his unnamed spokesman.

Eyebrows were raised when Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali said the Government would not claim the yacht.

But Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak’s peculiar comment that the DoJ had not shown any “tangible proof” of Low’s ownership of the yacht drew ire and scorn.

He said besides allegations in the civil suit, on hold since last August, there was no evidence of Low’s ownership.

As former minister of trade and industry Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz noted, all it takes is a simple search. The “SuperYacthFan” website, which has a directory of the world’s wealthiest yacht owners, states that it belongs to Low and his Hong-Kong-based investment fund, Jynwel Capital.

If Low is innocent, the solution is simple: Just bite the bullet and face the DoJ.

The third curious case involves Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Comm Datuk Seri Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd’s frozen Australian bank account.

Australian police froze the A$320,000 (RM970,490) account after filing a forfeiture application in the New South Wales Supreme Court in March last year.

Strangely, the senior police officer does not want his almost RM1mil back. His reason? High legal costs.

Australian police noted a “flurry of suspicious cash deposits” into the CID director’s account, which had been dormant since it was first opened in 2011.

The account reportedly grew by nearly A$290,000 (RM879,500) in a month in 2016, mostly in deposits below A$10,000 (RM30,330) – the limit for law enforcement agencies to receive possible money-laundering alerts.

The money came in from branches and ATMs around the country, from the tiny towns in Queensland and in Tasmania to the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, a week after the officer visited Australia.

In response, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said an inquiry found that the account was opened in 2011 to enable the transfer of funds to finance the CID director’s son’s education in Australia.

The IGP said the dormant account was reactivated in 2016 for the officer’s daughter’s master’s degree, adding that Comm Wan Ahmad Najmuddin provided documents to prove the money was from the sale of a RM700,000 house in Shah Alam.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki initially ruled out any further probe as both Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the IGP had exone­rated the CID director. However, Azam has since been quoted as saying the MACC had begun investigating the matter following a report lodged by an unidentified whistleblower.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed provided another queer twist to the case by suggesting that Australian authori­ties were using the media to embarrass Malaysia and by asking if they had an axe to grind.

With more doubts continuing to be raised over the case, Dr Ahmad Zahid said Comm Wan Ahmad could have been “a little naïve” about Australia’s legal system.

We can’t blame Malaysians to be sceptical, given the status of the person in question.

Naïve or not, just how costly can it be to hire a good lawyer in Australia to seek justice for the huge amount of money wrongly confiscated?

There have been such cases before and Malaysians have won, most notably former Selangor mentri besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib.

On May 1998, he was acquitted of currency regulation breaches involving more than A$1.2mil (RM2.9mil then).

Muhammad had pleaded not guilty to knowingly making a false currency report when entering the country on Dec 16, 1996, and then failing to declare currency when leaving six days later.

Besides saying that the ex-teacher’s English was not good, his lawyers argued that he didn’t know the country’s money exchange laws and that the funds were for buying land for himself and his three brothers.

How much he paid the lawyers remains a mystery, though.

Veera PandiyanMedia consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Albert Einstein: Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

Along The Watchtower by M.Veera Pandiyan The Star

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Telling fact from fiction, fake news


Easy target: Fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

HARDLY a day passes without someone sharing a video with me. No one bothers to check, not for a minute, if this could be nothing more than a fake video gone viral. Yet, amazingly, they are quick to forward such things to me.

And that doesn’t even include the unsolicited political messages, through which senders expect their receivers to echo their political enthusiasm.

More alarmingly, residents chat groups on uncollected rubbish or poor maintenance, suddenly see political messages popping up in them. Even prayer and old classmates chat groups aren’t spared, my goodness.

Blame it on what is often dubbed “silly season”, leading up to the general election, but don’t test our patience by diverting our attention to something trivial. It is downright irritating and insulting. And who cares about these politicians, anyway? Not everything in life is about politics, after all.

On Friday, a video went viral on what looked like a gun fight between the police and a notorious gang in Kuala Lumpur.

Some truth-seekers took the trouble to check with the media, but most would have despatched it to their friends in no time at all.

As trained journalists, we obviously scrutinised the video to look for give-aways. It doesn’t take a detective to pick out the holes, but then, there are many gullible Malaysians.

For one, the tiny yellow taxis in the video don’t exist in KL. There is no such building with that staircase structure in the capital, either, and there was a camera crew in plain view running around filming the action scenes, clearly indicating a movie set.

Most of the cars in the video aren’t even models we regularly see in Malaysia, and there was also a guy who ran by wearing what appeared to be heavy clothing.

On Thursday night, it got even sillier.Leaping out of the world wide web was a video of what’s been made to look like a Malaysian student being bullied in a classroom.

The comments by some racist airheads really infuriated me. With the victim appearing Chinese, the bully possibly Malay – he looked Indian to me – it became fertile ground to sow the seeds of hate.

At no point did it occur to them that this video could have come from Singapore. It didn’t even cross their minds that Malaysian students no longer wear uniforms entirely in white. The last time students were decked completely in white was probably in 1979 – during my time as a student. And desks and chairs in green? In our schools?

The Education Ministry has come out to confirm that the incident in that widely-shared video happened in Singapore on Feb 9.

Describing the footage as a “severe case of bullying”, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan urged netizens to stop spreading the clip.

“This happened at Westwood Secondary School in Singapore. Please don’t spread this video and claim that it happened in Malaysia.

“Before forwarding anything, it would be wise to authenticate its veracity to avoid confusion and misinformation,” he added.

A group of students from Westwood Secondary School were filmed punching, kicking and throwing chairs at a classmate in a video that then went viral, reported Singapore’s The Straits Times on Feb 18.

In the video posted on Facebook page Fabrications About Singapore on Feb 15, a student can be heard egging his friends on to “teach” one of their classmates a lesson.

Two students were captured throwing chairs at a boy seated at his table in a classroom while on his mobile phone. The boy is stunned when a chair hits his head.

A student then slaps the boy, before throwing a series of punches and kicks at him.

Then, the student overturns the boy’s chair, shoves him to the floor and continues to pummel him.

Then, there was the fake sex video, which purportedly featured national badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei as a “movie star”.

I meet my fellow Penangite regularly, and I can safely say that I have observed him up close and personal.

I can tell that Lee is much more muscular than that skinny, presumably, porno actor in the video, and the hairstyle doesn’t even match our sports idol’s.

Lee has done right by making a police report, and let’s hope the police, with the help of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, swiftly track down the culprits of this vicious smear campaign.

It’s obvious that some people not only want to discredit the three-time Olympic silver medallist but are looking for maximum mayhem by aligning their dubious act to coincide with the release of his feature length biopic Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend next month.

And that’s far from the end of the tall tales. There’s also this pathetic fake news about rejected Musang King durians from China – timed to perfection to be “reported” right before the International Durian festival in Bentong.

The Internet burned with a doctored picture depicting a mountain of the “rejected” fruits, which were said to have been exposed to extremely high levels of insecticide.

Those who shared that piece of poor journalism – either because they were sincerely concerned, genuinely ignorant or politically motivated – didn’t know, or cared to find out that Malaysia doesn’t export durians in its original fruit form but rather, as frozen pulp in packages.

And for sure, the Chinese wouldn’t have wanted to bear the freight charge to return these bad durians to Malaysia. The life span of our durian is only a day or two. How could it have been stacked up like that in the picture?

Durian lovers who inspected the picture could tell they were not Musang King, but instead, something of Thai origin.

With the general election looming, the recycled rumours of Bangladeshi phantom voters arriving by the planeloads at KLIA2 have resurfaced. Even an opposition state assemblyman, in her Chinese New Year video criticising the #UndiRosak activists, cheekily added that “even the Bangladeshis want to vote.” Can you picture 40,000 of them milling at our airport?

Although not a shred of evidence has come to light to back up the incredulous claim, the myth continues to be perpetuated, and it’s a given it will be rinsed and repeated. Perhaps it’ll be the Nepalese or Rohingya this time?

While the ordinary Malaysian can be forgiven for being easily swayed, it’s an entirely different story when journalists find themselves duped, or God forbid, spreading the “news”.

In the 2013 general election, a prominent TV presenter posted on his Facebook page claiming a blackout occurred at the Bentong counting centre, which led to the Barisan Nasional winning the parliamentary seat, slyly implying the coalition cheated during the result tabulation.

He got his network into hot water when he returned to his FB profile to say, “when my child is born, I will ask him to write an essay with the title ‘The Blackout Night’. The beginning of the essay would be on May 5, 2013, there was a stiff fight in the Bentong seat. Someone had said that he would cut his ears if it is lost, and then the counting process started, blackout …”

To credit MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s opponent, DAP challenger Wong Tack denied the rumours. But let’s hope this presenter has since matured, and perhaps, become more cynical as a journalist or presenter, at least.

The most frequent fake news that sparks to life every few weeks would be the dates of the Parliament’s dissolution and polling.

Interestingly, in the case of the polling date “report”, it involved the Prime Minister having an audience with the King, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and Speaker.

It’s all very simple, really – the PM doesn’t need anyone tagging along, and after meeting the King, he surely can’t be fixing a date since that job belongs to the Election Commission.

A news portal reported that fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

The Asian Correspondent reported: “Without questioning the veracity of certain claims and announcements, it seems that oftentimes, anything resembling a news story – whether shared on social media or via mobile messaging apps – is swallowed wholesale.

“Let’s look at how WhatsApp has become a popular platform to spread news. How many of you have received forwarded messages that clearly resemble fake news and could have easily been dismissed as such? I’m sure so many have, and speaking from experience, it definitely gets frustrating.

“The worst part is that when you question the person who unwittingly forwarded the news, he or she would say, ‘I don’t know if it’s true or not. I received it from someone else, so, I’m just forwarding.’”

This has happened continually because no one is punished for their unscrupulous and reckless deeds, even if their actions lead to undesirable consequences amounting to racial tension, riots and even death.

And the campaigning hasn’t even begun! So, let’s put on our thinking caps and brace for the inevitable soon – a deluge of fake news.

On the beat Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
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Fake news, piracy and digital duopoly of Google and Facebook


“FAKE NEWS” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable. In reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more, but the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious.

Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam. Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive.

Both companies could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

Depending on which source you believe, they have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market — and let me be clear that we compete with them for that share. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year. The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, but the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no — but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity. Your business model can’t be simultaneously based on both intimate, granular details about users and no clue whatsoever about rather obvious pirate sites.

Another area that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight. These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs. Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products.

Look at how Google games searches. A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time. How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm? All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook — 100% of the time. Kim Jong Un would be envious of results like that at election time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force. The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused.

As for news, institutional neglect has left us perched on the edge of the slippery slope of censorship. There is no Silicon Valley tradition, as there is at great newspapers, of each day arguing over rights and wrongs, of fretful, thoughtful agonising over social responsibility and freedom of speech.

What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct. Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

We stumble into this egregious era at a moment when the political volume in many countries is turned to 10. The echo chamber has never been larger and the reverb room rarely more cacophonous. This is not an entirely new trend, but it has a compounding effect with the combination of “holier than thou” and “louder than thou.”

Curiously, this outcome is, in part, a result of the idealism of the Silicon Valley set, and there’s no doubt about the self-proclaimed ideals. They devoutly believe they are connecting people and informing them, which is true, even though some of the connections become conspiracies and much of the information is skimmed without concern to intellectual property rights.

Ideas aside, we were supposed to be in a magic age of metrics and data. Yet instead of perfect precision we have the cynical arbitraging of ambiguity — particularly in the world of audiences. Some advertising agencies are also clearly at fault because they, too, have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

And so, as the Times of London has reported, socially aware, image-conscious advertisers find themselves in extremely disreputable places — hardcore porn sites, neofascist sites, Islamist sites. The embarrassment for these advertisers juxtaposed with jaundice is understandable, but the situation is far more serious than mere loss of face.

If these sites are getting a cut of the commission, the advertisers are technically funding these nefarious activities. Depending on the type of advertising, it is estimated by the ad industry that a YouTube partner could earn about 55% of the revenue from a video. In recent years, how many millions of dollars have been channelled to organisations or individuals that are an existential threat to our societies?

Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial — understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight.

BY ROBERT THOMSON

Robert Thomson is the chief executive of News Corp, which owns The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. This is adapted from a speech he delivered on March 29 to the Asia Society in Hong Kong.

PETALING JAYA: The proliferation of fake news on social media has benefited publishers like Google and Facebook in terms of digital advertising market share at the expense of other media companies. News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson recently in his speech noted that Google and Facebook, for example, have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year, he said.

The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, he added, noting that the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

Thomson said this during his speech to the Asia Society in Hong Kong on March 29.

News Corp is also the owner of The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. “Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam.

Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive,’’ he said.

Both companies, he said could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

“It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no – but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

“We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity,” Thomson said.

In his speech, he also said although “fake news” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable but in reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more.

But the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious, he said.

Thomson also highlighted on the urgency of algorithms. Another area, he said that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight.

“These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs.

“Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products,’’ he said.

A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time.

“How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm?” he asked. All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook – 100% of the time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force, he said.

“The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused,’’ he said.

Thomson said: “What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct.

Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

He also faulted ad agencies as they have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

“Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial – understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight,’’ he added.

Sources: Starbiz

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KUALA LUMPUR: Your office is swamped by phone calls from impatient customers, asking why they have yet to receive their free plane tickets as promised for ha­­ving participated in a survey.

You find out later that they had completed the survey which was featured on a dubious website.

Or, when you come to work, you see a horde of unhappy customers waiting outside the building, demanding to know why they were not informed that they would have to pay a fee if they did not get their membership cards renewed by the month’s end.

Apparently, there had been a Facebook posting about the new fee ruling.

The above two incidents happened in Kuala Lumpur over the past year.

In the age of scams, fake news and “alternative facts”, such cases are getting more frequent.

A recent incident involved shoemaker Bata Primavera Sdn Bhd, which was accused of selling shoes with the Arabic word “Allah” formed in the pattern on the soles.

Bata ended up removing 70,000 pairs of the B-First school shoes from its 230 stores nationwide.

It was a step which cost them RM500,000 in losses.

The shoes were returned to the shelves only after Bata was cleared of the allegation by the Al-Quran Printing Control and Licensing Board of the Home Ministry on March 30.

In February, AirAsia came under unwanted attention when its brand name was used in a purported free ticket survey and fake ticket scam.

Back in 2014, the airline had also asked its customers to be wary of an online lottery scam which made use of its name to solicit personal information from them.

What is more astounding is that the e-mail highlighting the lottery had been circulating since 2011.

And in January last year, Public Bank saw a rush of customers crowding its branches to renew their debit cards.

A Facebook post that had gone viral claimed that they would be charged a RM12 fee if they did not renew it by Jan 31.

What are the dos and don’ts for companies under attack by fake news?

“A quick and concise response is the way to go,” said AirAsia’s head of communications Aziz Laikar.

“Be prepared. The more high profile the brand is, the quicker the response should be.”

The communications team have to be able to draw up a statement fast to deal with the issue head on before it grows to a full-blown crisis, Aziz said.

He listed out four steps that a company could take.

“Start by immediately responding with facts via a short statement to the media, as well as on social media platforms,” he said.

Aziz also advised companies to lodge police reports and to make use of the chance to educate the public that they should always refer to announcements made via official platforms.

“Also, disseminate the information internally to your colleagues. Every employee should be a brand messenger.

“They are a powerful force to spread the correct message.

“The best way to effectively ma­­nage an issue is to make sure the entire company is aware of the situa­tion and able to communicate it correctly,” he said.

Ogilvy account director Clarissa Ng said that loyal clientele and employees were usually a company’s “first line of defence” and must be treated well.

Ng, who has handled the case of a client hit by rumours of exploding phones, preferred a “low profile” approach in dealing with such fake news.

She opted by focusing on promo­ting the phone’s safety features.

The campaign reassured consumers that the phone underwent rigorous testing in their laboratories in Shenzhen, China, and how its electrical current would be cut off automatically to prevent the gadget from exploding.

“Sometimes, the more you explain, the public will demand more answers. How we handled it was to remain low profile,” she said.

Source: By ADRIAN CHAN The Star

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