By Carlton Tan
Tabloids are fascinating creatures of habit. They stalk, they harass and they gobble up almost anything you give them. Today, this was exactly what happened when Amos Yee alleged that he was molested by his bailor, Vincent Law—they gobbled it up, hook, line and sinker.
It is a sad state of affairs when reporters are willing to pick up almost any allegation, no matter how baseless, and no matter the context in which it is made. It does get you viewers, and you may arguably have a responsibility to report on things which are “newsy”, but is it right?
Is it right to spread a false allegation that impugns the integrity of a respected youth counsellor, not to mention the integrity of your own newspaper?
Is it right to make no distinction between allegations that come from reliable sources and are corroborated by evidence, and allegations that are made with the explicit intention of manipulating the mainstream media?
So what did Yee really say, and what was the context of his allegation?
Amos made this allegation in a Facebook post wherein he complained of reporters harassing him. They had “gathered at my doorstep, wanting some exclusive interviews and some photos,” leading Yee to tell them to “fuck off”.
Yee’s attitude then changed and the rest of his Facebook post is written in a sarcastic tone. He said, “But then after awhile, I started to contemplate, is this really…. The right approach in dealing with the mass media? And then I realized… no… it isn’t. It really isn’t.”
When Yee said that “it” wasn’t the right approach to dealing with the media, he didn’t mean that chasing them away was wrong per se. He meant that his strategy for chasing them away by telling them to “fuck off” wasn’t working and he needed to alter it a little.
He couldn’t possibly have wanted to reward the mainstream media, which he called, “tabloid creating cunts”, with an important piece of news.
When he said “you are diligent, and I have to say… I admire that,” it was with a strong sense of irony. After all, their diligence had consisted of chasing down his friends, family, and even the Catholic Church in the hopes that they might find something juicy to say about his personal life.
Is he antisocial and psychologically unsound? Is he on bad terms with his own mother? Did he get kicked out by his own Catholic Church? These were all allegations that the mainstream media made against him, and it was indeed diligent of them to have dug up so much.
Yee wasn’t endorsing any of this; it would take a lot of hubris to think he would endorse his own character assassination. He was playing on the mainstream media’s lack of respect for the truth.
Hence with the same irony that pervades his entire post, he wrote, “you have the responsibility towards the general public to provide news, you deserve information, and regardless of the risk that you guys will misquote me, you deserve the truth.”
On the face of things, this statement seems to indicate a high opinion of the media. But if we think about what he has gone through at their hands, and how he calls them “tabloid creating cunts”, I do not think things are as they seem. What this really means, I think, is that Yee is giving them the “news” they want, the “information” they deserve, and the “truth” that they have sought after so long and hard even if it meant misquoting his mother or various other parties.
So, with little of the sense of shame that molestation victims frequently experience, Yee boldly declared, “I’ll even reveal that little tidbit of information on how my ex-bailor, Vincent Law, molested me.” What? A “little tidbit of information”? Such a flippant attitude towards being molested is rarely exhibited by victims of sexual abuse. Surely this would have been a tell-tale sign that the allegation isn’t true.
Nonetheless, the mainstream media all ran stories repeating the allegation. Who cares if the mere fact of an allegation would impugn the reputation of a respected youth counsellor, and possibly threaten his livelihood, seeing as how he deals with teenagers frequently in personal settings? An irresponsible approach that ignores such questions is unethical.
Journalists have a duty to consider not just whether a piece of news is “newsy”, they must also consider whether their publicising of the allegation will hurt a person’s reputation, and whether they are attempting to satisfy a prurient interest or a legitimate public interest.
Till now, there has been no evidence that Yee was indeed molested apart from that lone statement made in the context of a Facebook post which sought to punish the media with a “little tidbit” of false information. Vincent Law, the youth counsellor, has flat-out denied this allegation. Yee’s own lawyers were taken by surprise
In the same way that The Real Singapore was held responsible for repeating false allegations, even if the allegations were made by their sources and not themselves, perhaps the mainstream media should bear some responsibility if this allegation does in fact turn out to be absolutely untrue.
Then again, it might be true that Yee was molested. That is the beauty of a false allegation right? It creates doubt; and no doubt many a parent will now have second thoughts about having their child continue to work with Mr Law.
If Yee made a false allegation, he is a 16-year-old who cried wolf. But if the media that we rely on for accurate news repeats that false allegation, we sow doubt in the minds of 5 million people and we tear the reputation of one youth counsellor to shreds. This, surely, cannot be right.
This post was first published on Asian Correspondent.