As most of you might know by now, a tragic hit-and-run that resulted in the loss of the life of 24-year-old Singaporean Justinian Tan has turned into a scandal involving accusations that a large Johor Bahru hospital withheld treatment pending upfront cash payment by his family.
After various media reports from Singapore websites, led by The Independent Singapore, caused an online outrage across the Causeway and triggered a formal complaint submitted by Malaysian authorities to the Singapore embassy there, the website that started it all withdrew its article and replaced it with an apology on Sunday.
In place of the original article that carried accounts by Tan's friends, in particular one Joshua de Rozario, The Independent Singapore put as its headline "We're sorry!" and the following notice:
We unreservedly apologize to the parties concerned for the anguish and distress this incident has caused.
It stopped short, however, of acknowledging any missteps it took in failing to verify the claims made by De Rozario or his friend Ernest Lee — serious accusations that included:
- That the Sultanah Aminah Hospital took half an hour to deploy an ambulance to send the late Tan for treatment,
- That it refused to start initial scans on Tan until they made payment in cash,
- That it took four hours to perform these scans,
- And that it was not equipped to carry out the surgery, and it was going to be done by a medical officer instead of a surgeon or consultant.
One website claimed that The Independent Singapore's publisher, Kumaran Pillai, received death threats from Malaysians online after their article was targeted by Malaysia's Ministry of Health, whose director-general spoke out to debunk the claims made in a statement on Saturday.
Facebook page ambushed, inundated with messages
Speaking on the phone with Kumaran, Mothership learned that on Saturday night, The Independent Singapore's Facebook page was inundated with 443 negative reviews and hundreds of messages sent to their page inbox.
Kumaran said they then geo-blocked Malaysian visitors from their Facebook page, and also deactivated the page's review and messaging functions. Undaunted, though, commenters sent about 20 messages to him personally, which he would only describe as "nasty".
But he did say he plans to report these messages to the police.
Here's what Kumaran said about the apology they issued, though:
"As for the apology, we just wanted to defuse the situation as a lot of the comments were inappropriate, inflammatory, uncalled for and bordered on race relations.
Our apology stands, we do apologise for the situation that has arisen because of this. But we are not going to comment on whether we are retracting the original article.
This is beyond fact-checking and beyond whatever you want to call it, journalistic practices or ethical practices. I think we are just dealing with people's emotions here. And it's very important for us to de-escalate the matter rather than emphasise the integrity of our story."
More about this case:
Top photo: Google Street View, screenshots from The Independent Singapore