The furor caused by the untimely death of teenager Benjamin Lim looks set to continue as Minister Shanmugam appears to take The Online Citizen (TOC) and the President of the Law Society, Thio Shen Yi to task.
In his somewhat reactionary speech, Minister Shanmugam comes across as rather defensive and in my humble opinion, needlessly so. The fact that the public have become so involved by this tragedy should surely come as no surprise.
Singapore is a small country that by and large enjoys a peaceful way of life. The tragic demise of a minor by his own hand is one that will keenly be felt across all spectrums of society. While the death is regretful, shouldn’t the Minister be heartened by the camaraderie and unity that Singaporeans have displayed? Clearly, we care deeply for one of our own.
Secondly, doubt has been cast on the professional standards of both the education sector and the police department. This query would have arisen whether or not TOC had reported on it. The fact that the police had visited the school and questioned Lim was something that was reported across many media outlets and social media websites.
The subsequent suicide was also something that was widely reported. Perhaps TOC garnered the most readership and online response but is this because TOC is reporting falsehoods or is it symptomatic of the public’s desire to seek clarity and transparency?
For the avoidance of doubt, I abhor any semblance of rumour mongering and the incitement of fear, but can the reporting by TOC in this unfortunate incident be construed as such? Based on what I have seen, I would think not.
From what I am given to understand, TOC had very early on in the process written to both the Minister and the police force to seek their version of events. For any reporting to be balanced, both sides of the story have to be inquired into and TOC did attempt to do that. Can it be held against them if the Minister’s office and the police force remained silent?
Is the Minister suggesting that in the face of official silence TOC is not permitted to report? Surely that contradicts the need for there to be checks and balances in the government? In the recent reshuffle of the electoral system, PM Lee himself acknowledged the need for there to be alternative voices thereby implying that some semblance of checks and balances is required.
Surely, TOC’s reporting on a public interest matter is an extension of that principle?
Now, it would be a very different matter if TOC had made no attempt to seek clarification from the relevant government departments. But from what I can see, that attempt was indeed made.
Besides, it would appear that the very people who are affected by this tragedy are appreciative of TOC’s actions.
Based on my interactions with fellow Singaporeans, it would appear that many do not know their rights or what the correct procedure in these situations is. Social media and TOC’s publicising of these questions is leading people to discuss these issues more deeply and to seek rectification where necessary.
Surely, this is a good thing. Singaporeans have frequently been accused of being apathetic and “stone”. Lively debates and being engaged on issues that affect the country is surely a good way to counteract that accusation?
Most Singaporeans understand that mistakes will be made. No country is perfect and no one is perfect. I think the bigger issue is how the government deals with crises and mistakes as they arise. The issue that caused the biggest concern would appear to be the apparent silence that the government maintained in the face of a national tragedy.
Why is TOC being singled out for keeping the matter alive? Surely now that the government has broken its silence, the message should be reassurance to the public as to the government’s commitment to resolving the issue as opposed to taking TOC to task?
Now, I cannot establish whether or not TOC has reported falsehoods. Based on what I can see, I would think not and if it did, it was not deliberate. However, even if it did indeed report falsehoods, is now the right time to take it to task? Would the more pressing issue not be to reassure the public that such an incident will not be repeated?
Similarly, I cannot conclusively say that Lim had taken his life as a result of police actions. But based on the information released so far, he was a good student who was looking forward to a school outing. Nothing untoward was reported and the only thing out of the ordinary that happened to him was the police interrogation. To assume that his suicide may have had something to do with police interaction is then not beyond the pale? TOC is certainly not the only entity or person to have made that assumption.
I understand the Minister’s concerns to ensure that reports do not make matters worse but respectfully, I do not think that this is the right time to come across as more concerned about media wrongdoing over the resolution of what caused this boy’s suicide.
To tackle the alleged misbehavior of the press now dilutes the Minister’s concern and may at worst, come across as an attempt by the government to distract the public from potential police or education sector mismanagement.
The government has remained silent over this for over a month. Now that they are opening up, priority should be given to informing the public on what steps and measures have been taken to investigate the matter. Dealing with errant media can perhaps come after Benjamin Lim’s death and the cause of it have been conclusively resolved.
Shouldn't Minister Shanmugam be more focused on resolving cause of Benjamin's death than on dealing with errant media?