Police’s criticism of Reuters’ report misguided

Police’s criticism of Reuters’ report misguided
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Police’s criticism of Reuters’ report misguided

The Singapore Police Force (SPF), in a statement on 12 March, took umbrage at a report by news wire agency, Reuters.

The report was on the protest over the weekend at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park. Protesters had gathered to register their unhappiness over the recent hike in water prices in Singapore.

The event at Singapore’s only free-speech zone reportedly drew some 100 people.

In particular, the SPF took issue with these paragraphs in the Reuters’ report:

“The organisers of Saturday’s protest said more people would have turned up if they had not feared a police crackdown.

“In 2014, six people were charged with creating a public nuisance while protesting against a compulsory tax savings scheme.”

The SPF statement said that the report was “an attempt to stoke fears about the use of the Speakers’ Corner and sow distrust of the Police”.

The SPF said:

“A more objective reporting would have shown that the Speakers’ Corner has been and remains an avenue for Singaporeans to participate freely and responsibly in public speeches and demonstrations.”

It added:

“Many large scale events involving thousands of participants have since been held at the Speakers’ Corner.”

Referring to the second point, of the 6 people who were arrested and charged in 2014, the SPF said they had “deliberately marched through and disrupted an event by special needs children who were performing on stage”.

It added:

“It is regrettable that Reuters had decided to carry unsubstantiated allegations from the organisers, and cited an unrelated case from 2014 in its reporting on the Speakers’ Corner. This was clearly an attempt to stoke fears about the use of the Speakers’ Corner and sow distrust from the Police.”

In response to the SPF’s allegations, Reuters said, “We stand by our story.”

The updated Reuters report in question

The SPF’s accusations are misguided for the following reasons:

On the first point, Reuters was reporting what the protest organisers had said when asked, apparently, about the crowd size – that “more people would have turned up if they had not feared a police crackdown.”

If the organisers had indeed said that, and there is no reason to believe that they did not, then there is nothing wrong in Reuters reporting their views or opinions, even if the organisers are wrong in their views.

The SPF’s statement then should be directed at the organisers, not at the reporters who were just doing their job of reporting what the organisers had said.

The media is not a public relations arm of the government or the Police.

On the second point, with regard to the report of the 6 people arrested and charged in 2014, Reuters was reporting a fact.

It is not the SPF’s business to tell reporters what to report and what not to report, or how to report.

And to accuse a news report as “clearly an attempt to stoke fears about the use of the Speakers’ Corner and sow distrust from the Police” without any other substantive evidence is highly suspect.

Ironically, the SPF itself, it seems, is guilty of the same thing it accuses Reuters of – making “unsubstantiated allegations” – based on nothing more than its own opinion.

The SPF needs to provide more proof before the public should accept its allegations – that Reuters, a news agency, is out “to stoke fears” and “sow distrust” of the Police. Mere allegations do not suffice, especially when the accusations are serious ones.

Until then, the SPF should refrain from telling the news media what to report, or how to do their job.

The SPF’s business is law enforcement, not news reporting.