TOC website editor grilled over teen suicide reports

Select Committee member Edwin Tong highlighted TOC's 2016 articles on the suicide of a 14-year-old amid a discussion of content producers' responsibility.
Select Committee member Edwin Tong highlighted TOC's 2016 articles on the suicide of a 14-year-old amid a discussion of content producers' responsibility.PHOTO: GOV.SG

The chief editor of a sociopolitical site was grilled over articles it carried two years ago about the suicide of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, as a discussion about the responsibility of content producers surfaced at yesterday's hearing.

Select Committee member Edwin Tong highlighted a February 2016 article by The Online Citizen, with a headline about police officers dressed in shirts with the word "Police" showing up at the teen's school. Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his block hours after he was questioned by the police over an alleged molestation case.

Yesterday, Mr Tong pointed out that the police had said in a statement days before the article was published that officers had gone in plainclothes and an unmarked car.

The Online Citizen's (TOC) Mr Terry Xu defended the site's decision to keep the headline and said the information about the policemen's clothes had come from the mother of a schoolmate of Benjamin.

Despite the police statement, and the issue having been debated in Parliament, Mr Xu said he would only be completely convinced of the police's account if he could see a CCTV recording showing officers at the school in plainclothes.

Mr Tong persisted with the line of questioning for almost 20 minutes, noting that as a content provider, Mr Xu was a key player. "And I think you agreed that as a content provider, you have a duty to ensure that the facts are checked and accurate," he said. Mr Xu agreed.

Mr Tong earlier asked Mr Xu if it was his journalistic duty to ensure he verified his information. "I always tell my friend, I don't call myself a journalist," said Mr Xu. But he agreed that as a content provider, he had to ensure what he published "is correct as to what I know".

Mr Tong also asked about a statement by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) carried by the site on Benjamin's death, and asked if Mr Xu would continue to carry it even if it was an inaccurate account. "Unless SDP retracts the statement, why should I remove the article?" asked Mr Xu. "This is a report on a political party's statement, so I don't see a reason why a publisher has to be taken accountable for something that others have published."

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'TOC website editor grilled over teen suicide reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe