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关于“南大生不解为何染疾”的报道 ——致读者的公开信

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《联合晚报》在5月7日刊登一则新闻“阻断措施期间足不出户 南大生不解为何染疫”,被当事人柯政杰在网络上指责,引起关注。因为华文媒体集团三合一网站zaobao.sg上也节录了这篇报道的一则文,一些读者和公众以为《联合早报》也刊登了这则新闻,实际上《联合早报》并没有刊登。

首先,我们要回到报道这则新闻的初衷。

这个新闻发生在4月中旬,是病毒阻断期。那段期间,社区里还是出现一些零星的无法追踪病例,让人担忧。所以,当柯先生在社交媒体Instagram上,公开自己得病的消息(public post),我们的记者因为之前已认识柯先生,因此就注意到了他的贴文。当时柯先生以英文写道:我一直留在家,仍然感染了冠病。

柯先生和记者是旧相识,他们通过IG沟通。当记者表明自己的记者身份,要求访问时,柯先生拒绝了。

记者在尝试说服柯先生接受访问不果后,仍然选择了错误的方式根据柯先生当时公开的贴文以及对他的认识,当成对方受访写了新闻。然而,记者这么做时,并没有告诉他的直属上司,柯先生其实并不愿意接受访问。

新闻室有一套记者应该遵守的工作守则。我们承认在这个采访环节上,记者确实违反了我们的工作守则,柯先生既然已明确拒绝接受访问,我们可以根据已在社交媒体上公开的信息写报道,但是绝对不能说他接受访问。

另外,记者在报道中把柯先生的姓氏改为“许”,把他的家庭成员组成做了一些修改,是因为记者以为这样可以让他的朋友柯先生,避免被人对号入座。但记者这么做并没有得到柯先生的同意,也没有在新闻中明确指出这是化名,因此同样的,没有遵守我们的工作守则。

柯先生在5月7日晚上,在社交媒体指责记者“不道德”。8日下午,他发电邮到新闻室。我们严肃对待柯先生的指控,我们跟记者确认柯先生并没有答应受访的真相。当晚,我给他发了电邮,通知他经过内部调查,我们确定报道错误地指他接受我们的访问,实际上记者是根据他的社交媒体贴文写的新闻。我们已经从zaobao.sg上把文章撤下。

星期天(10日)傍晚,柯先生在面簿上发表文章“National Newspaper fabricates interview based on my COVID-19 experience”,指责《联合早报》刊登了虚构他得病过程的新闻。他说:This is misleading because it suggests and perpetuates the idea that people can get COVID-19 even if they stay home.

我们必须郑重纠正这点,《联合早报》完全没有刊登这则新闻。我们的报道更不是虚构的,而是根据柯先生的社交媒体贴文写的。

ig_post_on_stayhome.jpg
柯先生IG story截图。

回到我们的记者,他刚刚加入新闻工作,至今不到八周,他已知道自己的过失造成的影响。柯先生在5月11日的第二次来函中(之前误植为10日),要求我们考虑立即开除记者。尽管这是一个沉重也严重的错误,记者坦诚地承认了自己的错误。我们必须承担这个责任,并接受和处理它,从中检讨以避免重犯。

我们郑重向柯政杰先生道歉,我们不应该在柯先生拒绝受访的情况下说他接受访问。这件事提醒我们,必须不停地审视我们的作业,贯彻我们做新闻的原则与程序。

华文媒体集团新闻中心
总编辑
韩咏梅
2020年5月13日


Open letter to readers concerning news article "NTU Student perplexed at how he contracted COVID virus"

Lianhe Wanbao published an article on 7 May, titled "NTU Student perplexed at how he contracted COVID virus despite not having left the house during circuit breaker period". The content of the article was later refuted by Mr Quah Zheng Jie, the subject of the article, in his social media post.

As zaobao.sg carries the content of SPH's three Chinese news dailies, readers and the public alike assumed that the article was carried in Lianhe Zaobao, which was not the case.

Firstly, let me explain the rationale for reporting this story.

Our reporter had worked on this story since mid-April, during the circuit breaker period. At that time, there remained a number of COVID cases in the community that could not be traced. This was a concern to our readers, and therefore became a focus of our reporting. Our reporter, who is acquainted with Mr Quah, saw his Instagram post which read: "If by the end of the few stories and you still don't get it I got the covid even though I stayed home". 

Our reporter contacted Mr Quah via IG and struck up a conversation. When our reporter made it clear that he was a journalist and requested  an interview with Mr Quah, Mr Quah turned down the request.

Notwithstanding the unwillingness of Mr Quah to be interviewed, our reporter used the wrong method to report on the story, by framing the article as an interview when it was actually written based on Mr Quah's IG posts and his personal understanding of Mr Quah. He did not inform his immediate supervisor that he had not obtained Mr Quah's consent for the interview.

The newsroom has in place strict protocols and procedures to ensure that our news reporting standards are upheld. In this instance, the reporter had not followed the procedures and protocols expected of all our journalists. As Mr Quah had declined to be interviewed, the reporter could still have written the article, making reference to the facts publicly available, e.g. public social media posts, but should not portray it as an interview piece.

In addition, Mr Quah's family circumstances and surname were changed in an attempt to obscure the real identity of Mr Quah.  No permission was granted to do so and the reporter also did not indicate, as our protocol requires, that an alias was used to protect the identity of the newsmaker. These actions also constituted a deviation from our protocols.

On 7 May 2020, Mr Quah took to social media accusing our reporter for behaving unethically. He followed up with an email to our newsroom on 8 May 2020. The newsroom management took his accusations seriously, and after confirming that the reporter in question did not interview Mr Quah, we replied to Mr Quah saying  that "we have taken down the report from our website and social media after an internal investigation".

We further explained to Mr Quah that the reporter had written the story based on Mr Quah's social media posts, and that the reporter "had made a mistake and a wrong judgement to mention in the article that you were interviewed despite the fact that you said you were not willing to. We apologise for the wrong attribution and the inconvenience caused".

On Sunday 10 May, Mr Quah posted an article on his facebook page: "National Newspaper fabricates interview based on my COVID-19 experience".

The article accused Lianhe Zaobao of fabricating his experience and alleged that, "This is misleading because it suggests and perpetuates the idea that people can get COVID-19 even if they stay home."

This news in fact ran on Lianhe Wanbao and not Lianhe Zaobao. In addition, the story was not fabricated. The details were based on extracts from Mr Quah's social media posts.

ig_post_on_stayhome.jpg
Screenshot from Mr Quah's IG Story.

The reporter is relatively new to the job, having just joined the newsroom two months ago. In his second email to the newsroom on 11 May, Mr Quah urged the newsroom to consider dismissing the reporter. Although the reporter has indeed made a mistake, the reporter has been truthful in admitting his mistake and expressing his remorse for misleading readers and impacting the newspaper's reputation. We need to carefully consider if there are mitigating factors for someone who is just starting off his career.

The company has a disciplinary system in place, and if a reporter or staff is alleged to have violated any protocols or code of conduct, he or she has the right to a proper investigation  process and hearing. We have set up an independent disciplinary committee to review the case, and will decide on the penalties to be imposed. SPH, as the employer of the reporter, will take responsibility by addressing the mistake, and take measures to avoid further recurrences.

We sincerely apologise to Mr Quah, as we should not have attributed the story we ran to an interview with him when he expressly declined the interview request. This incident serves as a timely reminder to us, that we should constantly review our working procedures and reiterate to our colleagues the importance of adhering to journalistic principles and processes. 

Han Yong May
Editor, NewsHub
SPH Chinese Media Group
13-05-2020

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