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Law Minister apologises to Bertha Henson for wrong attribution

On Monday (1 April), Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam delivered his ministerial statement on hate speech in Parliament where he talked about a variety of issues including the last minute cancellation of the Swedish metal band Watain’s concert.

In his statement, he quoted a number of individuals while presenting his arguments, including former Straits Times editor and author Bertha Henson.

However, Ms Henson said that she was wrongly attributed by Mr Shanmugam in his statement on two different instances.

Mentioning this error in her blog Bertha Harian, the former editor said that as an individual who reads everything carefully – including the footnotes – she made sure she went through the Minister’s statement “with a fine tooth comb” before spotting his wrong attributions.

It seemed that in Mr Shanmugam’s statement, he quoted the former editor based on an article that she published in her blog on 13 March titled “Watain: Do Unto Others?”, which was also re-produced in Yahoo News.

She spotted the first error when her article was made as a reference when Mr Shanmugam highlighted that he recognises that some Singaporeans disagree with the Government’s decision to stop Watain from performing in Singapore.

The Minister said,

For example, Ms Chew Wei Shan, a former teacher, has set out her views articulately in a post. There were also others. They say the Government is “self-righteously” trying to govern other people’s lives and decisions. They say the audience can listen to metal music without being influenced by a band’s beliefs. NCCS and churches can advise their members not to go to the concert, so no need for a ban.

Ms Henson said that the footnote for this paragraph was her article, and although her blog name was wrongly mentioned, she said she couldn’t find anywhere in her article that said that the Government was being “self-righteous” about the band.

However, the reference that got her really annoyed was this particular paragraph that Mr Shanmugam said:

Now, some commentators online have also made dark suggestions of a Christian conspiracy. “They have a hold on the Government, the Government bows to their power, and there is an over-representation of Christians in institutions of power”. They tried to turn it into a “Christians versus Others” debate. These people are nasty, opportunistic, and dangerous. 

As someone who dislikes being called nasty things, she said she scrutinised her blog post to see if she had at all made any “dark suggestions of a Christian conspiracy”. However, the closest that she could find is only this particular paragraph:

Online, the reaction is mainly negative. The prevailing view is that the G had succumbed to hysterical moral panic from conservative Christians. The band, after all, would be playing to a small crowd of 150 people, aged 18 and above, and it had agreed to strictures set by the IMDA. You can be sure the lyrics would have been sanitised to be inoffensive and the performance would be sans carcasses and blood.

Although she said she might be wrong to report the prevailing view, but she don’t think she should be described as “nasty, opportunistic and dangerous”.

“I am not someone who takes such comments lying down, even if they are opinions. Opinions must be based on the facts or an ordinary man’s reading of the article in question,” she wrote.

As such, she questioned Mr Shanmugam on why was there a reference of her in his statement.

After looking through at his speech, the Minister admitted his mistake and apologised to her, and said that none of his comments were intended to refer to her.

He explained to her and said, “It was an error to have referred to me. He had originally, in his speech had referred to something I had said in my blog, and responded to it. But then in the final speech, he decided that it was not necessary to do so. He thus took out his response to me from the text of the speech. But the footnote referring to me was (erroneously) not taken out. So I was unfortunately lumped with others whom he specifically responded to.”

After hearing Mr Shanmugam’s apology, the author and former editor said she wants this post “to be shared liberally to clarify the matter”.