Source: Warren Fernandez Twitter account.

Warren Fernandez: Journalists have to navigate difficult terrain with a wide sweeping law such as Official Secret Act

Mr Warren Fernandez, Straits Times (ST) editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/Malay/Tamil Media Group has commented on the case of ST journalist Janice Tai Jia Ling who was provided with confidential information by a Housing Board (HDB) officer between 31 May and 16 July.

Ng Han Yuan, 25, a Housing Board officer who works as an estate manager in the resale operations section, had told Tai about a project involving a new HDB project titled, “Streamlining of Resale Transactions”, a new HDB portal which was being worked on and had not been made public at the time of the offence.

Tai using information provided by Ng in an informal conversation, wrote to HDB for clarification on the project. The media query resulted in HDB filing a police report on the leaked information and forced HDB to push forward the announcement of the project ahead of the scheduled timeline.

When Tai was picked up by the police for investigation, she was placed in a single cell overnight and was made to reveal her source by the police. While Tai refused to reveal the identify of her source in the police’s initial two attempts, she eventually gave up the name when she being placed side by side with Ng, who gave her permission to reveal that it was him who gave her the information.

Those convicted of an offence under the OSA can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $2,000.

Ng was fined $2,000 on 20 December for breaching the Official Secrets Act and was suspended by HDB after his identity was revealed. The statutory board noted that it takes a serious view of any unauthorised disclosure of information and would take appropriate disciplinary action against him. Ng is currently still under suspension.

Tai was issued a stern warning by the police for approaching several parties with inquiries relating to the confidential information that she received.

Mr Warren in his comments published on Yahoo, stated that this is a difficult day for all of those in the media industry.

“The OSA is a wide, sweeping law, covering all manner of government information. Like it or not, our journalists have had to navigate this difficult terrain, and we give our full support to all of them in doing their jobs on behalf of the paper,” he said.

The senior journalist the said, “In the same way, we stand by our colleague, Janice Tai, who was pursuing information for a story with the knowledge and backing of her supervisors. So, we take collective responsibility. As journalists, we understand the laws of the land, and strive to work within them.

“We will, of course, take some time to review what happened in this case and draw lessons on how best to ensure we continue to play our role, while safeguarding both our journalists and sources. Thankfully, we have done this for years without any major issues.”

“We remain committed to delivering good journalism that meets our readers’ needs,” said the ST head.