Media must perform its role as a watchdog and not divert attention away

by Han Lang

It pains me to write this but I am very disturbed by how the mainstream media always praises the character of victims who had died because of what seemed to be lapses in our system. This seems to be a smart way of diverting attention to the main issue: the root of the problem.

"SCDF NSF who died would 'always help people, never complain, and never give up', the headline in the national newspaper read on Tuesday - in reference to a full-time national serviceman (NSF) from Singapore Civil Defence Force who had died after being found unconscious at the bottom of a fire station pump well.

Another recent headline said: "A respectful boy who tried his best at any task: Mother of NSF who died after heatstroke" - in reference to another NSF who lost his life while serving the country.

Away from National Service, another headline screamed: "Victim in Bukit Timah collision was cheerful and loved life: Friends", referring to a 23-year-old female who lost her life after a car that she was travelling in collided with a bus at a traffic junction in Bukit Timah sometime in April.

First, with all due respect to the victims and their loved ones, how would such headlines help the families at a time of grief?

Second, from a layman's perspective, would a character of the extreme – say a much-disliked snob– who had died in similar circumstances be deemed as having "deserved" his fate– unlike those who were well-liked? So, is the media trying to present a picture such that it's a pity that a 'well-liked' victim passed on, but it's ok if the victim is not well-liked?

Third and most importantly, why is the mainstream media not focusing on the core, on the root, of the issue? In the recent SCDF case, it's clear that there are guilty parties and they are not only the two officers who have since been arrested.

The ST itself published a piece headlined "Ragging outlawed but still practised in SCDF: Former servicemen" and that should send a message to its investigative journalists to do the necessary work – to probe and uncover who had been guilty in condoning such a culture all these years. Surely, someone at the top must have been sleeping if he or she is not aware of such sadistic and barbarian practices?

Our Law Minister said: "I’ve also asked SCDF to do an audit. Any other evidence of such conduct, take action, because we have to send a clear message."

My question to him: Must we wait for a fatality before conducting such an audit?

The Ministry of Home Affairs has since confirmed that there were at least 5 cases of ragging since 2010. While our local media was "quick" to play ball with the Ministry and state that these officers were dealt with, no one seemed keen to ask the Ministry: Was the Home Affairs Minister aware of these cases, and if so, what was his response?

Surely, the fact that no one died in these 5 accidents cannot be the reason why an "audit" was not carried out? Did the Minister deem it necessary to review the existing laws with the intent of raising the penalties or punishments so as to serve as a stronger deterrent? What about the so-called Government Parliamentary Committees for Home Affairs and Law? Were they aware of such cases, and even if they were not, did they attempt to look into the welfare of our NSFs?

Mind you – it's 5 cases provided by the MHA but how many other cases were there, which the victims did not raise the matter or never reported to the superiors.

What about the SCDF Commissioner? What did he do to  send a strong message that such activities are illegal and perhaps criminal in nature?

The SCDF deputy commissioner (DC) Chong Hoi Hung was quick to state that SCDF does not condone unauthorised activities and will "take the officers to task" if they are found to have broken the rules. But have such measures been effective?

In another case which seriously calls into question the committment and efficiency of certain public officer: Following two accidents in April, the Land Transport Authority says it is doing away with "discretionary" right turns at traffic junctions where feasible and that in five years, most junctions will allow motorists to make right turns only when the green arrow signal appears.

If Singapore was a top-class city, why can't such measures be implemented earlier? Where is the spirit of journalism in questioning the public agencies and politicians? Opps, political leaders, I mean.

The media needs to do its role, and that is to inform, educate and question wisely. Play the role of a proper watchdog, instead of claiming at a Select Committee meeting that "It does us no justice to be pro-Government".

Instead of catchy and touching tribute-paying headlines which seem nice on the surface, our editors and reporters would do much better by investigating the lapses and raising questions which our political leaders must answer. Otherwise, we will simply forget about such sad cases after a while - at least until the next casualty emerges.
Is it any wonder why our mainstream media are losing eyeballs to the online platforms which have done a far more wonderful job in informing readers and through their hard-style of questioning?

Also, let's not be hypocritical and always claim that "one life lost is one too many". Action speaks, words deceive.

Responsibility must be taken - not only be those errant ones who were directly involved in the lapses or crimes, but also at the leadership levels - especially if it has been a repeated issue. Ignorance is no excuse.

On a separate note, is it appropriate for the Law Minister to state the following when investigations are still ongoing - "It’s likely that there will be charges pressed in court"?