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Online and mainstream media should show care in reports: former school principal

Photo: Mr Chia's Facebook page
Photo: Mr Chia's Facebook page

The former principal of Shuqun Secondary School, where a "bullying incident" had taken place in September, has penned an online Facebook post urging the online and mainstream media to show greater care in their reports.

Mr Chia Hai Siang, who was the principal of the school then, castigated the "deliberate and irresponsible decisions made by the media" in how it reported the incident.

"Many ppl who know the truth of the events in my school have asked me why I did not respond more actively to the various reports on the Internet when the incident happened," Mr Chia said in a sometimes hardhitting post. "My answer - I did not want to feed the ongoing media frenzy and help viral irresponsible articles that were being put out by my comments. Sadly, this included supposedly "balanced" online and mainstream media who felt right to reproduce the articles choosing to feature sensationalised headlines that gave a wrong impression of the facts."

In September, a video of the incident, which had taken place in one of the school's classrooms, showed a student physically abusing two of his fellow students, while an adjunct teacher was present. The video went viral and many commenters posted their views, including on the Ministry of Education Facebook page, asking the Ministry to look into the incident.

The school eventually issued a statement, saying it had taken disciplinary action against the boy concerned, and had spoken to the parents of all three boys.

In his post on Wednesday, Mr Chia included a photo of the three boys sitting together.

Mr Chia wrote:

"To assure those of you who are still curious about the follow up to the incident, I thought I would share a picture of the 3 boys involved. The circle time in the picture was taken on the FIRST DAY after all of them returned to school. The "bully" apologised in person and in writing to both victims and to the class. Both victims forgave him and they were friends again within 2 hours. Consequences were meted out to the boy according to our school rules in private and ALL THE PARENTS INVOLVED were satisfied with the actions of the school. The boy will have to face more serious punishment under the law."

He added that the 3 boys, together with their classmates, had initiated and planned their own service learning project during the school's open house in November.

"They baked brownies and made drinks for visitors to showcase the work of our student-run Hideout Cafe. They told me they wanted to make restoration for the bad reputation they had brought to the school.

"I am very proud of them."

Mr Chia, referring to online and mainstream media reports, said it was not difficult to "see how these biased reports might have fed some of the extreme online vitriol" when the incident first came to light.

"These included many threats by netizens such as "if i see the boy, I will bash his skull in", "let me give him a taste of his own medicine." Instead of trusting the school and the police to investigate and take the right actions, many suggested taking things into their own hands. There were false accusations of gang connections and that the boy was a compulsive bully. Unhappily, there were also derisory comments about the school by people who did not know the first thing about Shuqun Secondary. This was unfair to the 1200 other students, their parents, the committed staff, and the alumni and stakeholders of the school."

In his parting words, Mr Chia urged the media here "to take greater care in your reporting."

"For each irresponsible journalist and dubious media website, I have met many more considered and enlightened ones, some of whom reported on the many achievements and good stories from my students and staff in the past. While I understand the pressure to attract more views and comments in this age of social media through increasingly sensational reporting, you too have a DUTY OF CARE to your subjects, especially children. You have the power to report the full truth and shape opinion, not just pander to the lowest denominator in the hopes of representing yourself as the mouthpiece of the public. Be mindful of the innocent parties that you might be unintentionally hurting, and the feelings of hatred you might be stoking online."

Mr Chia also asked the public to be mindful of what they "liked" online.

"Be aware that what u see or read online often does not constitute the whole truth, and choosing even to click on links (without needing to share) can help to viral these falsehoods," he said.

Mr Chia said he is leaving the education service on 1 January 2016, to pursue further studies.

"Yes, I am doing well," he said. "And no, before you ask, I made this decision some time before the "bullying incident" in my school. MOE and the public service is more reasonable and far kinder than most give them credit for."