The Public Good vs Individual Freedom

Most aspects of Singapore usually challenge for world dominance or recognition, to say the least, save for a few. While most of us would have guessed football where we are currently ranked 173rd in the world, today we choose to talk about our press.

 The 2017 World Press Freedom Index places Singapore at 151. In any coffeeshop discussion on the Mainstream media, its commonplace to find allegations of state control, biases, lack of independence, giving too much coverage to one side. 

Being in the industry of publishing, I most certainly do appreciate the challenge of making content attractive, but where do we draw the line? At what point do we make the transition from press to paparazzi? 

For the past few years, I absolutely abhorred the way our press deals with any crime-related news. Every time a person gets arrested for a crime, he makes the headlines. His face gets plastered all over the front page. In the eventuality of the trial, it is no longer newsworthy unless there is some controversy.  Even if the accused gets acquitted of the crime, he would probably never recover from the PR nightmare from the time he got arrested. 

At this point in time, I would like to point to a relevant section in our Constitution, which speaks about the liberty of a person, where it goes on to state that, No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty unless he has broken the law. 

Yes, reporting about an allegation against a person is hardly the same as a deprivation of one's liberty, would you permit to being dragged around like a circus animal with cameras all over on you. Another aspect of our criminal legal system which is peculiar is the access to legal counsel upon arrest. While our constitution clearly states that when a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the reason for his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice, this has been interpreted to mean that a defendant does not get access to a lawyer until the initial investigations ( up to 48 hours) has been concluded.

So let's focus on the issue at hand. According to a Channel News Asia Report, the accused  had allegedly helped  Chew Eng Han, the former City Harvest Church fund manager  who was due to surrender himself the next day to start serving a jail term of three years and four months for his role in the misappropriation of S$50 million of church funds, to flee the Country.

The man was arrested in Malaysia on Monday and handed over to the Singapore Police Force and had yet to be charged in Court.

Let's be clear about this. This man has not been convicted of a crime yet. As of now, he is still an innocent man. The media can do all they want when a Court of Law has found him guilty of the crime. But until then, I believe that the man needs to be treated as an innocent man.
Credits: CNA FB PAGE

Another thing that needs to be sorted out is the privacy of Police investigations. Should they not be carried out in a confidential manner? Do they actually inform the Mainstream Media about the time and location of investigations? I am not suggesting that there is a leak within the investigations department though that seems like the most plausible reason, but this needs to be addressed immediately. 

These are my recommendations, where crime reporting by any media is concerned.
  1. No names and photos of accused to be published until a conviction is reached.
  2. All Police investigations should be kept confidential until a conviction is reached.
  3. Should there be a need to inform the public of the occurrence of a certain crime, that can be done without revealing names. 
  4. A person who is arrested should be afforded the same treatment and respect as a person who is assisting in investigations.
  5. In the event, the accused is arrested for committing a serious crime, I am sure the Judge has the power to deny him bail with proper justifications.

For those reading this, may feel that I am naive and do not understand the reality on the ground. All I am asking for is to take our constitution and our system seriously. In the past few years, we have seen our Government making changes efficiently where it matters. 

I hope someone sees some sense in this as well. If my point of view is myopic, I do hope to be clarified and seek to be enlightened.

Thinesh Kurunathan

cc: MHA  / MCI 

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