Singapore — University student Quah Zheng Jie, who has been falsely claimed to have been interviewed for a story in Lianhe Wanbao, has gone on Facebook (May 14) to call the response from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to a complaint from him as “disappointing”.
A reporter from the Chinese language daily identified as “James” had sought to interview Mr Quah, who had recovered from Covid-19, about his experience with the illness. The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student declined because he wanted to keep his experience private.
“James”, however, went ahead with a story based on Mr Quah’s social media posts but claimed that he had interviewed the NTU student. The story was published on May 7, with the headline in Chinese, which translated into English read “NTU Student Perplexed At How He Contracted Covid Virus Despite Not Having Left The House During Circuit Breaker Period”.
This prompted Mr Quah to take to Facebook on Thursday (May 10) to decry the falsehood that had been told about him. He wrote: “Not only did ‘James’ make up this entire piece of fictional work. It is troubling that he chose to use it as a vehicle to sensationalise the Covid-19 situation with such a headline.”
On Wednesday (May 13), the Editor of NewsHub, SPH Chinese Media Group, Ms Han Yong May, published an open letter responding to Mr Quah.
Ms Han said that “James” had “used the wrong method to report on the story, by framing the article as an interview”, and had failed to tell his supervisor that Mr Quah had “declined to be interviewed”.
But she added that the story could still have been written “making reference to the facts publicly available, e.g. public social media posts”, but that the “story was not fabricated” since “details were based” on Mr Quah’s social media posts.
She also apologised to Mr Quah because the story was wrongly attributed to an interview that he had never given.
While Mr Quah thanked Ms Han for her response and acknowledged that he had received an email from SPH’s legal counsel, he called the responses “disappointing” and said that they did not address what he had raised in his first Facebook post on May 10.
The NTU student seemed unhappy with SPH’s assertion that the story had not been fabricated but that it was allowable for the reporter to have written it because of publicly available facts.
Mr Quah wrote: “To date, the only thing they have apologised for is ‘wrongly attributing a story they ran to an interview with me’.”
He then responded on May 14 in detail to Ms Han’s letter, and added a table of what actually happened to him compared with what was in the story by “James”, in which there were considerable discrepancies.
Mr Quah wrote: “How can SPH make up a fictional story based around my real information?”
“SPH claims that the changes made to my family circumstances and my surname were an attempt to obscure my identity. I cannot help but doubt this statement, but I do not wish to pursue it.”
He added that he was easily identifiable in the story, which has had a psychological effect on him and his family. Moreover, he expressed concern and puzzlement that the fabricated news was able to pass through several people at SPH, given that it was put as a top story on the front page, “it is implied that they must have viewed it as important, exclusive news”.
He further wrote that since the premise of the story, about his movements before the circuit breaker as well as his family having stayed home, is essentially false, “it feeds the paranoia that one could get infected with Covid-19 even with less exposure”.
“The original article was also titled ‘NTU Student Perplexed At How He Contracted Covid Virus Despite Not Having Left The House During The Circuit Breaker Period’. It perplexes me why this title, when unproven, was published in such a time of public concern and paranoia.”
The NTU student wrote that recovering from Covid-19 has been stressful, and “this long-drawn situation has not made things easier”, adding that this is the last time he is addressing the issue. /TISG