Singapore Government Press Release

Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,

36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963.

Tel: 3757794/5





Commissioner of Police Khoo Boon Hui

Police Officers


Recent Kidnap Case: Media Co-operation


It is my pleasure to present the Minister for Home Affairs Award for Operational Efficiency. We honour the 147 Police officers who swiftly solved the kidnapping case that happened last month, the first kidnapping case in a decade. The Police took quick action, arresting the mastermind within an hour after the victim was safely released.

2 I want to share a little known fact about the case with all of you today. After the case was reported to the Police, some journalists from the Chinese press got wind of it and approached the Police for confirmation. They had a scoop in their bags, so to speak. The Police asked them to hold back the story for the time being. The victim was then still in the hands of the kidnappers. Any premature media report would have jeopardised Police investigations or worse, put the victim’s life at risk. These journalists understood the concerns and co-operated with the Police – the story broke only after the victim had reached home safely and the mastermind was caught.

3 I share the story with you to illustrate a fundamental point: the media have a tremendous impact and influence. A scoop may increase newspaper circulation. Wrongly timed, it can also put someone’s life at grave risk. Worse still, nuances in coverage or reports which do not have all the facts right, can inadvertently and adversely influence public perception of key institutions in our society.


The Media and the Home Team


4 The Home Team has a close and strong working relationship with the local media. The Home Team is mentioned in local media reports almost everyday. The strong relationship between the media and the Home Team is important. MHA earnestly wants to maintain this relationship. If this relationship breaks down, the impact can be immense and the consequences severe. I will illustrate with two examples.

5 The Business Times reported on 18 June 1997 how the Taiwan police was made a laughing stock in the local press. An example was how the Taiwan police allowed the press to stomp around a site where the body of a leading actress' 17-year-old daughter was found, even before any forensic evidence could be gathered. In this tragic case, the Taiwan public was reported to have pointed an accusing finger at the police and the media for contributing to her death. The police were portrayed as incompetent and the kidnappers became heroes. It led to the perverse situation where the execution of the ringleader early this month became a media circus in Taiwan.

6 On 20 November 1997, the Straits Times reported how the Taiwan media usurped the role of the police by playing the negotiator and interrogator in a hostage stand-off. A newspaper was tipped off by a source that a diplomat and his family had been taken hostage. An assigned reporter rang the diplomat's residence and was "rewarded" with an interview with the kidnapper. The police there was contacted only after the newspaper had its fill of the story.

7 One wonders what public purpose was served by sacrificing public safety and neglecting the well-being of the victims for the circulation dollar. Such real-life examples show the consequences of a breakdown in relationship between the Police and the media. Public confidence can be eroded and the sense of safety and security diminished. We must guard against trends of media reporting that could undermine public confidence in the Home Team and the public’s sense of safety and security. Let me cite three such examples.


Media Reports That Undermine Public Confidence


8 First, media reports that arouse public alarm. In May this year, extensive reports suggested that the problem of teen violence had gotten out of hand. There were two editorials, in the Straits Times and Sunday Times. within a short span of two weeks. On 16 May 1999, The Sunday Times urged the Police to beef up presence at shopping centres and food outlets frequented by teens. On 1 June, the Straits Times noted that "the Sunday Times warned (about the problem) last month in an editorial" and credited the Police for responding to public concerns. The media reports gave the impression that the problem of teen crime had worsened, when in fact the situation has improved. The number of juveniles arrested for crime fell to almost 1,200 in the first nine months of this year, compared to about 2,000 in the same period last year, a decline of almost 40 per cent. The media no doubt have a key role in shaping public perception. Hence, all the more they must be responsible, accurate and faithful to the facts. If they play up a few cases of teen violence and take the position that a single or few swallows make a summer, public concern and alarm would definitely whipped up even when in reality the problem was not as serious as made out by the media.

9 Sensational reporting is another example of media reports that unwittingly arouse public alarm. The death of a gangster in May 1999 is a good example. The media pursued the case for over a week, with bold headlines. Reporting on the funeral, one of the newspapers even observed that the funeral attracted more than 50 "stern-looking friends", several of whom wore black or had tattoos. These reports portrayed the dead gangster as a well-respected personality and had been killed over a gangland dispute. This was definitely not the case. He was not a hero; he was also killed over a personal dispute. Portraying a gangster in a heroic light undermines the work of the Home Team and other agencies in keeping the young away from gangsterism.

10 Second, media reports which paint an incomplete and biased picture. An example is the media report on the appeal case involving Saroop Singh on a drunken driving charge in May this year. The Straits Times report (21 May) stood out with its prominent headline "CJ raps police for 12-year lapse" highlighting that the Police did not act on a long outstanding warrant of arrest issued by the High Court. Compare this with the other factual headlines by the Chinese press, such as "CJ dismisses prosecution’s appeal in 13-year-old case." Although the Police was not the only party "rapped" by the Chief Justice, readers of headlines would have thought that it was the case. The Police took the case very seriously, conducted a thorough probe and established that there was no deliberate lapse on its part. The warrant of arrest was sent by ordinary mail from the High Court and there was no record of the Police having received it. The Police subsequently explained what happened. The Police had to explain so that readers understand that there was no deliberate lapse on its part.

11 Another example of unbalanced reporting is some of the reports on errant Police officers. There were, unfortunately, a number of recent cases of errant police officers on trial for corruption and other criminal offences. When the CPIB probe on the Ah Long San case was in progress, some journalists in the various media got to know of it. The Straits Times broke the story on 13 March, reporting that more than 20 officers had been called up. This was before the case went to court. In contrast, although the other newspapers knew of the case earlier, they held back the story as none of them, including the Straits Times, had obtained any official confirmation. Straits Times nevertheless ran the story and left an impression in the readers’ mind that more than 20 officers were under suspicion when in fact the majority of them were witnesses. The other newspapers did not carry the story as the investigations were in progress.

12 There are black sheep in all organisations, including the Police. Corruption and crime cases in the Police Force have to be seen in perspective. The number of errant officers represents only a small proportion of the officers in the Police Force. In the meantime the Police have been taking action to systematically weed out errant officers. These enhanced measures were already in the pipeline as early as last year, and they took on greater urgency, when the recent cases were detected by the Force.

13 In one of its reports, the Straits Times, mischievously and unfairly, juxtaposed 2 separate reports with bold headlines such as "Crooked Cop 1: Accepted $10,900", "Crooked Cop 2: Failed to report den" on 17 September, tarring both cases with the same brush. The two cases were different: the first involved an officer who had not yet been tried and the other an officer who had been convicted. None of the other papers put the two cases side by side, ascribing guilt to one through association with the other. Someone who has not been convicted yet should not be implied to be guilty. It is unfair to the accused person.

14 Thirdly, crusading journalism which goes beyond impartial and objective reporting. The 10 October Sunday Times’ coverage of the case of Ms Soh Gek Kim comes to mind. The prominent two-page report in the flagship newspaper The Sunday Times was unfairly critical of the police. The Commissioner of Police told me that the article had brought discomfort to his officers. While the officers knew that proper procedures had been followed, some wondered whether they should just stand by and wait, doing nothing, in similar situations in future, lest they risk unwarranted allegations and criticisms. I am glad that the Commissioner told me that even before MHA’s rebuttal letter had been published on 18 October, most of the officers expressed that they had a job to do and affirmed that they would continue to do so professionally.

15 Soh was convicted by the court for assaulting Police officers. She did not appeal against her conviction. The Sunday Times article sent the unmistakable signal that it was crusading for Soh’s case, for example, by asking whether her basic rights were violated by the Police and quoting unnamed lawyers saying how the case could have been better handled. If these were also the views of the Sunday Times, then it clearly goes beyond impartial and objective reporting of news and events of public interest, or even highlighting human interest stories to sell the newspaper. It would seem to be an insidious report to mobilise public opinion and to conscribe the powers of the Police. It is not the business of newspapers to do that.

16 The three trends of media reports – arousing public alarm, unbalanced reporting and crusading journalism – must not go unchecked, or they would, over time, erode public confidence in the Home Team law enforcement agencies.


Shaping Public Opinion of Institutional Pillars


17 The pivotal role of the local media in shaping public opinion and in nation-building remains even as the media compete for readership. The public institutions and pillars of society must be upheld. Wittingly or unwittingly undermining of these pillars and key institutions on a continued basis will weaken the pillars. This can breed a deep cynicism, leading eventually to a weakening of society itself, as law enforcement cannot be done effectively with public outcry over every move in an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust of the Police.


Preserving Public Confidence and Community Participation


18 The Police have painstakingly built up their reputation over the years. They have done well consistently in polls conducted by global assessors such as the World Economic Forum and the Political Economic Risk Consultancy. Hence, we have to vigorously respond to media reports that undermine public confidence in the Police. The Police have a good working relationship with the public. The public come forward to help arrest suspects. For instance, in the first half of this year, 44 per cent of arrests of criminals involved in various major offences were made with the assistance of public-spirited people. The public have also worked together with the Police to solve safety and security issues in their neighbourhoods through the Community Safety and Security Programme and the Neighbourhood Watch Zone scheme.


Home Team will continue to Serve with Integrity


19 The Home Team will continue to do its part to help keep Singapore a safe and secure Best Home. As we have stated in the Addendum to the President’s Address, a key area that we will focus on is working with the community on safety and security issues. We have a head start with CSSP. We will forge ahead. Internally within the Home Team, we will continue to maintain discipline and serve the public professionally and integrity. Any black sheep will be drummed out of the Force or Home Team agency.

20 I congratulate the award recipients today. Singaporeans appreciate your good work as they do the work of your colleagues in the other Home Team agencies. Most importantly, thank you for helping to keep Singapore safe, and upholding the highest standards of integrity and professionalism in the service of the nation.


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