'Fake news' report: Author says that he did not make up controversial comments

The writer of an article containing statements labelled as "fake news" by the Ministry of Education has maintained that he did not make the statements up, but acknowledged that he may have attributed them wrongly.
The writer of an article containing statements labelled as "fake news" by the Ministry of Education has maintained that he did not make the statements up, but acknowledged that he may have attributed them wrongly.PHOTO: AU.EDUCATIONHQ.COM

SINGAPORE - The author of an article containing statements that Ministry of Education (MOE) has branded as "fake news" maintains that they had not been made up, while acknowledging that he might have attributed them to the wrong person.

In a statement on Wednesday (Aug 30) published on the website of EducationHQ Australia, Mr Walter Barbieri, a freelance contributor to the site, apologised but stood by the remarks reported in his article: "I wrote the article in good faith and did not intend to cause any offence. I maintain that the words quoted were delivered at the conference, and convey my genuine apologies if I have attributed them to the wrong speaker."

Mr Barbieri's widely-shared article, published in the August issue of Australian Teacher Magazine, which comes under EducationHQ, had quoted MOE director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong as telling an international conference here in May that Singapore is "building compliant students just as the jobs that value compliance are beginning to disappear".

On Tuesday, MOE said that the statements in an article were false and Mr Wong had not delivered those comments. The conference organiser - the National Institute of Education (NIE) - had said that no other speakers had made comments similar to what was purported in the article.

Mr Barbieri on Wednesday did not say who might have made the statements at the conference.

He also did not provide further evidence indicating that the statements had indeed been made by Mr Wong or other speakers at the conference. Attempts by The Straits Times to reach the author, the director of eLearning at St Peter's College in Adelaide, were unsuccessful..

He had first attributed them to Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng in the article's print edition before attributing them to Mr Wong in the online version of the article.

In its statement, EducationHQ said that it acknowledges that "quotes were wrongly attributed to Director General of the Ministry of Education, Mr Wong Siew Hoong."

It apologised "without reservation" for any offence the article may have caused. It added that "every effort is made on all occasions in our publications to ensure information presented is factually accurate, however in this instance we have fallen short of our lofty standards. Naturally we will be making every effort to ensure this does not happen again."

Australian Teacher Magazine said that it will be publishing a correction in its next edition in reference to the printed version of the article in question.

The Straits Times has reached out to MOE and NIE for comment.

Additional reporting by Daniel Ong