Original Shin Min article (right) and clarification

Shin Min newspaper report on suspicious activity in red light district turns out to be sexual health outreach program

Just recently the Shin Min Daily News, which is a Chinese-language afternoon newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings, published a rather inflammatory article about “suspicious activity” in a red light district area involving two “scantily dressed women” who were allegedly selling condoms from a table there on a regular basis. The journalist who penned the article then interviewed a passerby who speculated on the situation.

What the reporter didn’t know was that these “scantily dressed women” were Project X volunteers carrying out a sexual health outreach program that they support. Project X is a community based organisation with a team of committed volunteers who regularly speak to sex workers in an effort to close the gap between sex workers and non-sex workers. They challenge the stigma and discrimination that this group of people receive which often results in physical, verbal, emotional and financial abuse.

In their newsletter, Project X emphasised their shock at seeing the report:

“We, to this day, are utterly astounded by the ignorance of the journalist, whose article was based on pure speculation and unbridled, inaccurate assumptions. To think that the journalist did not have the initiative to interview the women directly, but instead took the word of a random passerby, just demonstrates poor journalistic ethics. The publication of this article not only jeopardised the safety of our volunteers, but also posed as a threat to the success of our sexual heath program.”

Project X says they’ve reached out to Shin Min for a retraction and a public apology. The newspaper has since published a separate article in hopes to remedy the situation but apparently fell short of an actual retraction and official apology.

This really is a blow to journalistic ethics in Singapore when articles are published with little to no effort of verifying information or even exploring all sides of a story before publication. The media play an integral role in communities and words really are more powerful than the sword in this age. Which is why it is essential for journalists to give voice to the voiceless and not just hurl around accusations with zero facts. This can greatly jeapordise marginalised communities and the NGOs that work to support them.

Relating especially to this incident, it’s about time everyone stop regarding sex, sex workers and sexual health as just sensationalist issues that fuel gossip. As Project X noted in their newsletter, “we hope journalists will not keep failing to consider the voices of all relevant stakeholders when reporting such stories”.

Of course, the call of integrity goes out to the public as well. Readers have a right to demand ethical journalism and for ALL voices to be given an equal chance of being heard. After all, like any business, media is driven by supply and demand.