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Gutter journalism masquerading as citizen journalism: Racist rhetoric stoked over irresponsible reporting

Choo Zheng Xi
Editor-in-Chief
On behalf of TOC

“Ang moh and friend attack Star Blogger Michelle and friend” screamed the headline on STOMP, the Straits Times’ online media portal.

TOC would like to highlight the irresponsible and lopsided way this story was written.

One of the basic rules of journalism is to get both sides of the story before running a report. If you can’t get both sides, at least qualify the information received from the only source you have with the word ‘ALLEGED’.

In running the Michelle Quek’s story the way they did, STOMP failed to do any of the above, preferring rather to publish a highly sensational, lop-sided report that exploits the ugliest fears and prejudices of Singaporeans. Apart from the affront to citizen journalism, the piece they have negligently published has the unfortunate tendency to incite violence.

Background

One of STOMP’s celebrity bloggers Michelle Quek recently published an account on her blog of being assaulted by a foreigner and his girlfriend. It was prefaced by the following:

“First, we have 3 UK brits bullying our fellow Singaporean elderly, then now, some angmoh from unknown country starts bullying hitting students!”

In her account, she alleges the following:

1) She was hit, unprovoked, by the woman with an umbrella. (she initially claimed the blow hit her bag, but later she said she wasn’t sure if the umbrella hit her back instead. She also subsequently published a photo of a red mark on her back.)

2) The woman threatened to call the police.

3) The woman’s Caucasian boyfriend appeared at the scene, picked her friend up, and threw her to the floor.

4) He then proceeded to punch Michelle “slightly on the nose” but she managed to “block the other two punches from him” with both her arms.

The post was put up with an accompanying video of the aftermath of the incident. The video shows a crowd of onlookers surrounding the couple. One man in a chequered shirt loudly harangues the couple for the alleged ‘beating’ of the students. It is not known if the man in the chequered shirt was actually an eyewitness to the beating.

Inconsistent facts published with little qualification

Several inconsistencies in Michelle’s narrative were also not highlighted by STOMP, whose editor’s should have checked the basic reliability of their story before running it.

1) In a follow-up post on her blog, Michelle claims she was ‘attacked’ by the woman from behind. A picture on her blog shows a faint red mark on her back. However, in her initial post, she expressed relief that she was not hit: “So instead of my back, she got my schoolbag!”.

2) There is no photo of the punch Michelle is alleged to have received on her nose.

3) The pictures on STOMP are said to show “the scratch marks on her friend’s arms”, whereas the caption to her blog refers to ‘blood stains’.

Further, the following claims are made and seem improbable:

“He grabbed both my friend’s arms from the back, then lifted her up off the floor and threw her hard onto the floor!

“And that caused her arms to bleed! And before I could even react, I saw his fist flying towards my face!

“I moved back a little but I still got punched slightly in the nose and I managed to block the other two punches from him with both my arms.

“Next, he kicked my right leg and he attempted to run. Just when he was about to run, my friend tripped him and he fell straight onto the floor.”

These seem to have been copied wholesale off Michelle’s blog. This would imply no interview was done with Michelle to get the facts straight, or if there was, it was a grossly uncritical interview. All STOMP would say on its website was that Michelle had sent them an email relating the story.

Until we can speak to witnesses at the scene, or get a comment from the police, we will not know the veracity of these claims. And until then, they remain mere allegations.

Sensational angle encourages violent racist comments

Let’s do a little thought experiment: re-read the report on STOMP without any reference to the ‘ang moh’, or foreigners. I suspect you will think the writer of the piece is exaggerating at best, and feel slightly puzzled as to why any news site would put up such a one-sided account.

Therein lies the sad truth of the matter: many Singaporeans lap up this information uncritically because they want to believe it so badly. They want to believe that the “White Man” that has already taken their jobs is here to beat up their schoolgirls too. If the unfortunate, balding Caucasian man (described by Michelle as six feet tall) had been Chinese, I can bet my bottom dollar STOMP would not have run the piece.

Take the thought experiment one step further: what if the man had been Malay or Indian? And Michelle’s comments had been directed at Malays and Indians in general, the same way her blog post seems to tar all foreigners with the same brush. Take this a step further and imagine STOMP running the article ‘Ah Neh and friend attack Star blogger Michelle and friend”.

I suspect our STOMP editors would have been hauled up under the Sedition Act.

Although there’s no reason why they aren’t liable as things stand: Section 3 (1) (e) of the Sedition Act defines a seditious tendency as one that seeks to ‘promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore’.

If, indeed, this Caucasian man is a Singaporean, would the police consider pressing charges against STOMP? Do our Caucasian friends not deserve protection from racists and those who would encourage them simply because they are better off?

It is one thing to be critical of the government’s foreign talent policy, it is quite another to pin the personal blame for it on anyone who happens to be blond, brown, or speaks Chinese with a mainland Chinese accent.

Crass, blatant, repulsive racism needs to be called by its name regardless of who it is practised on. TOC decries the gutter journalism of STOMP, and calls upon it to stop giving citizen journalists a bad name.

The result of STOMP’s sloppy reporting? Here are some comments posted on STOMP’s website following the article (emphasis TOC’s):

air39 said on 17 Nov, 2007

It is getting very clear that the angmo whacked the girls and later tried to run away…. if he wasnt in the wrong, why bother to run? And they did not produce their IC when questioned by polis. Are they illegal? We will KILL any Angmos who try to create trouble in peaceful Singapore.


GaryNgSW said on
16 Nov, 2007

Oh a piece of WHITE TRASH creating trouble again in our homeland… Get lost WHITE TRASH~! GET A LIFE~!


keuriseudo said on
17 Nov, 2007

yup! this is Singapore. and as long as we Singaporeans are in Singapore, WE ARE KINGS AND MASTERS OVER FOREIGNERS!
THIS IS A WARNING TO ALL FOREIGNERS:
NO ONE… AND I MEAN NO ONE, WOULD EVER TRY TO BE FUNNY WITH THE LOCALS. OTHERWISE, YOU WILL ALL LOSE YOUR PATHETIC FOREIGN ASSESS.
THIS GOES OUT ESPECIALLY TO ALL WHITE TRASH.

http://singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg/viewPost6646.aspx