Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Fishy, Much?

The Malaysian corner of cyberspace is (slowly) buzzing with horror at the BN-led government's intentions to expand the Printing Presses and Publications Act to everything published on-line by Malaysians. Bloggers, in particular, appear concerned about arbitrary or indiscriminate prosecution.

They forgot irate restaurateurs.

Already no stranger to controversy, Poh Huai Bin of sixthseal.com was reportedly sued for allegedly defaming a Lonely Planet destination: Jothy's Fish Head Curry Banana Leaf Restaurant, in Kota Kinabalu. The RM6 million suit even mentions Google as a co-defendant.

As Malaysians, we have strong attachments to food. Much of it still feels as if they came out of our own kitchens. When we have bad experiences in restaurants that we felt had let us down, we express that hurt in many ways. This is particularly true for the institutions and places that grow old with us.

Poh's history aside, it appears on the surface to be a case of scapegoating. Taste buds usually don't lie. Still, he's being accused of "defamation". Would it have been better for Poh to go through the "proper channels", i.e., complain to the restaurant's manager? Would it have worked?

Also, how long has it been since the Lonely Planet listing? The work that goes into such guides means a long time between updates, perhaps as much as several years. Any noticeable drop in quality could have happened since - and it doesn't have to take years. Besides, favourable listings by any authority isn't something set in stone.

A chef will have a bad day on occasion. Maybe it's just bad luck that it was also a bad day for Poh to be at the restaurant. However, his harsh commentary, which includes allusions to a veneral disease, could have been worded differently.

If the quality of Jothy's food has been on a steady decline, nothing will improve its fortunes short of a revamp of how it does business. This multi-million-dollar lawsuit, however, is more likely to isolate the place further.

(I also question the wisdom in naming Google a defendant, a move one tends to associate with lawsuits-for-show. Google's probably too busy to care, and this isn't McDonald's vs McCurry.)

The only thing a court victory for the restaurant would achieve is that no-one will publicly badmouth it. However, it's also unMalaysian to subject friends and family to a bad restaurant experience. Nobody - and certainly no Malaysian - would knowingly patronise an eatery with substandard offerings.

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