Opinion: Dear Singapore Media, It’s Not Okay To Shame Suspects Before The Courts Decide

Singapore Media Puts Out Suspect’s Name & Picture Before Court’s Verdict

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

Recently, a Singaporean doctor was accused of touching a female patient inappropriately, and the accuser has taken him up to court.

The court has neither reached a verdict, nor revealed compelling evidence from the either side. And yet, the doctor’s pictures and name have already been put up on the Internet.

No, they were not – as you might expect – put up by trigger-happy, sensation-tailing Internet users. They were put up by esteemed local media sites.



The problem is this. What if the doctor turns out to be innocent? He is acquitted of the charges, but the impression of him has already been ruined — at least in the minds of those people who had only read the article briefly, absorbing the details but not considering that he might be innocent after all.

We’ll say at the outset that we’re not trying to denigrate, but only to suggest that there is a better, more innocuous way of publicising such kinds of news.

The doctor accused of modesty outrage

A little more about the case.

It was reported by The Straits Times on 22 Aug 2019 that a Singaporean general practitioner had been accused of touching a female patient inappropriately. The story was headlined:

Doctor accused of molestation says woman’s boyfriend seemed to ‘hint’ he wants monetary compensation

The female patient had come into the clinic on 6 Nov 2017 to seek treatment for runny nose, sore throat and fever.

After the treatment, the patient’s boyfriend was angry that no chaperon was present during the medical consultation. He expressed this to the doctor later during the day, but made no mention of molestation, which he would later allege.

Doctor said he couldn’t even remember the patient

Fast forward to the trial on 22 Aug, the doctor told the court that he could not even remember that particular patient.

He recounted that when he received the call from the boyfriend, he immediately apologised. He didn’t apologise because he knew he had done something wrong, but did so out of professional habit — always apologise first over any unhappiness.

The doctor also denied molesting the patient, saying: “this is outrageous. I will never molest patients.” He denied asking her to lift her top and ever making skin contact with her. All he did was prescribe cough syrup and painkillers for – as recorded in the medical notes – low grade fever and a reddish throat.

A poorly chosen picture of the doctor

Apart from having both the doctor’s name and his clinic revealed, a picture of the doctor – likely taken as he was leaving the court – accompanied the article.

We all know how it is with Internet people. If you put up a picture of a person and accuse the person of something, and the person happens to look just a little guilty, the Internet will more easily believe the accusation.

This seems to be the case for the article with the doctor. The image of him taken was a very unflattering one.

Not surprisingly, the comments on the Facebook post featuring his photograph were sometimes nasty and unfounded.


The sensible and objective comments

Of course, not everyone on the Internet is so careless with their estimations and ruthless with their words. There were many who stood up for the doctor, or rather, the truth of the matter — that the charges could be completely untrue.


One netizen even suspected that the people who were accusing him of the wrongdoing are simply out to get money.

There were also those who pointed out what this article is suggesting — that, as the media, as agencies with propagative powers, we should not need to reveal the accused’s name or show his pictures when it is not necessary. What good will that do?

Until compelling evidence has been presented, until the court has reached a verdict, the man is innocent.


Long-time patients speak up for him

Apart from the users who spoke sensibly about the matter, there were also those who visited his clinic before, some of them being long-time patients. All of them had only good things to say about the doctor.

Let’s not reveal names & faces without good reason

It is true that you can simply sit in for the court proceeding and learn the name of the accused. But how often do people do that? Just because the information is available, should one pursue it, doesn’t mean it should be propagated. Because, like many have said, it can inadvertently destroy lives.

Even though the rate of false reports are low – estimated around 2-10% worldwide – there is still a chance the accused is innocent. And by putting his name and picture out there, as though is he already guilty, we may be affecting his life and career more adversely than we think.

There have been similar kinds of reports in the past, where someone was accused of a wrongdoing. But those, we found, were reported on much more fairly. There were no names, no pictures, just the story. So it’s a little perplexing why they decided to use a picture and name the accused this time.



So let’s all practise a little more prudence when it comes to reporting on matters where one person is accused of a wrongdoing and the court has yet to reach a verdict. The status quo is that he/she is innocent and should be accorded the privacy and protection an innocent person deserves.

Featured image from The Straits Times and CNA.

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