Legal protection available for minors affected by media coverage that identifies them

Ms Rahayu Mahzam stressed that safeguarding the well-being of the affected must be prioritised.
Ms Rahayu Mahzam stressed that safeguarding the well-being of the affected must be prioritised.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) offers legal recourse to minors 18 and under who may be affected by media coverage of events involving them, such as the publishing of information that reveals their identity.

Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam told the House this on Tuesday (Aug 3) in response to questions from Workers' Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) on media guidelines for approaching minors in the wake of traumatic incidents.

Most recently, media coverage of a July tragedy at River Valley High School - where a Secondary 1 student was allegedly killed by a Sec 4 student on campus - drew criticism in some quarters, including from the school's students themselves who shared accounts of journalists being intrusive.

Ms Rahayu noted that the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) has reminded mainstream media about legal protections accorded to minors, as part of the CYPA.

Under the Act, no one is allowed to publish or broadcast information that identifies - even inadvertently - any person below 18 years old who is involved in any court proceedings, including as a witness.

"If any mainstream or online media, or for that matter anyone in his or her own capacity, ends up publishing any information that identifies the minor, there is legal recourse to take that offender to task," said Ms Rahayu.

"We understand, of course, that this is after the fact and students and parents would rather not be put through this situation in the first place. So, we therefore appeal to the media and all members of the public to exercise empathy and good judgement."

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) also asked if the Ministry of Communications and Information could have done more to prevent students from feeling harassed by media on the actual day of the incident at River Valley High.

Ms Rahayu said the media's understanding was sought not to approach students and school staff outside the premises. They were also not given access to the school compound.

"We are fully aware of the anguish felt by the students and parents," she added. "However, as reporters and media crew are in public areas… they were entitled to be there as long as they wanted, because they were not breaking any public safety laws. So there was only so much the authorities could do to actually disperse them.

"I understand this is something that was causing pain to the staff and students. But we hope this is something we can continue to manage," said Ms Rahayu.

"We must understand that it was not just the media - both mainstream as well as online - but also members of the public who gathered outside the school once the news broke, to offer their condolences and support, and expressions of sympathy.

"So we continue to appeal to both media and well-intentioned members of the public to give the much needed space to affected students and staff in such situations."


Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) also asked if the Ministry of Communications and Information could have done more to prevent students from feeling harassed by media on the actual day of the incident at River Valley High. PHOTO: ST FILE

Earlier, she stressed that safeguarding the well-being of the affected must be prioritised.

"At the same time, we understand the high level of public interest and concern, and appreciate that the media have the important responsibility of accurate news reporting, which can help prevent public panic, rumours, or fake news from spreading," said Ms Rahayu.

"I echo (Education) Minister Chan Chun Sing's sentiments during his ministerial statement on July 27, that the media has shown sensitivity and restraint in reporting the River Valley High School incident.

"We will continue to engage and work closely with the media to enable them to do their job even amidst such tragedies, while prioritising the well-being of those involved," she added.