As the saga of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and an NTU student with COVID-19 continued, the public was previously updated with a response provided by the editor of NewsHub at SPH, Han Yong May on 13 May.
This incident began when an NTU student, Quah Zheng Jie, called out Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao in a Facebook post, for fabricating an interview based on his COVID-19 experience.
Yesterday (14 May), Quah Zheng Jie wrote a Facebook note in response to Ms Han’s open letter. Mr Quah revealed that apart from the apology coming from Ms Han, he had also received an e-mail response from SPH’s legal counsel.
Mr Quah expressed that he was disappointed that both responses did not fully address his points that he raised in his first write-up.
In his latest open letter, the NTU student wanted to point out that “James” – an acquaintance of his – did somehow fabricate his story, despite Ms Han claimed that “James'” story was based on extracts from Mr Quah’s Instagram Stories.
Debunking “James'” fake news
Considering how “James” framed the story in a way that Mr Quah contracted COVID-19 when he “stayed at home” during the Circuit Breaker (CB) period, the student decided to reveal the truth of his whereabouts and process, debunking “James'” story all at once.
Mr Quah described that a week before the commencement of CB, he did go out of his home for exercise, visit his friend, and attend medical appointments.
“James” claimed that during CB, Mr Quah stayed at home and did home-based learning. However, the latter revealed that he went to the doctor five days prior to his diagnosis and that he never did any home-based learning.
Mr Quah went on to admit that most symptoms “James” reported were accurate, however, the student questioned how the reporter managed to obtain the information – losing the sense of taste – since he never publicised this symptom onto social media.
Apart from the factual information above, he corrected “James” that he went for a swab test on the night of 13 May, instead of the morning of that very day.
In regards to reporting Mr Quah’s admission to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, he revealed that he told “James” via personal message before getting to know that the latter is a reporter.
After knowing that “James” is a reporter, the student told him not to publish this piece of information.
Even after denying permission to publish his location, the reporter deliberately ignored it and included the information in his story anyway.
Mr Quah proceeded to condemn how inaccurate the published story was when “James” decided to make up stories about his family as he never once publicised any updates regarding his family.
Seeing how “James'” story reported that Mr Quah’s family had undergone swab tests, the student clarified that none of his family screened for COVID-19. Instead, they were given Quarantine Orders, and a swab test would be required if symptoms appeared.
He had also clarified that his parents work in the essential services industry, thus, they had to travel to work every day during CB. They were in fact, not “staying at home” all the time during this period.
Mr Quah baffled at how the fake news managed to be approved
As Ms Han explained that “James” is a fairly new reporter at the organisation, Mr Quah wondered why his fake news could be approved by editors and typesetters.
Especially when this particular story made it onto the front page, the student assumed that this news must have been viewed as “important” and “exclusive”.
Mr Quah had also expressed that he and his family were psychologically affected by how easily identifiable he was in the fake news, even though his surname and family circumstances had been modified to cover up his identity.
Questioning the purpose of this fake news
As claimed by SPH, this particular story was published as a follow-up to the public’s concerns about the number of untraceable COVID-19 community cases.
However, Mr Quah noted that the entire fake news had created a certain level of paranoia among the public who had read it. He pointed out how SPH had “downplayed” his pre-CB routine, as well as making up how his parents “stayed at home” during CB and would still “risk” contracting the coronavirus.
He questioned the intention behind publishing this fake news, assuming that the organisation clearly knew that it is unproven and unconsented.
Publishing his story against his wishes
It was horrifying when Mr Quah found out that his personal story was being published onto Lianhe Wanbao without his consent. He was concerned that “James” published his story anyway even after rejecting the reporter.
The student was upset that SPH defended their actions “by implying that his social media was publicly available”, without acknowledging their fake story concocted based on his Instagram Stories.
Basically, he wanted to question if the media has the right to publish citizens’ personal information and experience even when he had already said “no”.
This entire “NTU student versus SPH” saga mainly stemmed from “James” using Mr Quah’s story without consent.
Not forgetting to acknowledge the importance of reporters’ role, Mr Quah hoped that fresh journalists like “James” can be supervised more.
“Therefore, I hope that fresh journalists (like James) can be supervised more, with additional layers of vetting of their publication drafts. This ensures accuracy of information, allowing the media to fulfil their sacred responsibilities.”
Regardless of what kind of disciplinary actions “James” would be facing, Mr Quah said that he would respect SPH’s decisions. He also thanked SPH for their swift response in setting up an independent committee to review this matter.
To disclaim the relationship between the student and “James”, he had also revealed that both of them only met once in the past, and “James” is merely an acquaintance. Mr Quah clarified that he and the reporter are in fact, not at all close.
Lastly, the student declared that this would be the last time he would address this issue against SPH and Lianhe Wanbao because he was physically and mentally drained.
He ended his Facebook note with a compilation of his Instagram Stories that showed his experience at EXPO.