The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest public health threat in recent times and as such, information about its impact on our community is crucial to fight it effectively. Based on accounts we have received from those in the media, we are concerned that journalists in Singapore have been hindered from performing their roles to disseminate information, tell stories from the front lines and hold the government accountable for how it is handling the crisis.
We are concerned that even journalists from the State media have been barred from access to the 43 dormitories and the over 7000 workers on lock down. On 9 April, a reporter from Today mentioned in her article 21 HDB blocks in Redhill Close to house healthy essential foreign workers relocated from dorms that she was not able to conduct proper interviews with migrant workers who had been re-housed because barricades had been erected around it and she was prohibited from entering. She could only shout her questions across the barricades to the foreign workers who were standing around. This prohibition means that many journalists can only rely on their own contacts and second hand information from NGOs to understand what is happening on the ground.
Writing the news based on government press releases only gives the impression that the government is hiding information which it does not want the public to know. The free flow of news is vital in this unprecedented crisis. Given that most of the infections are coming from foreign worker dormitories, the public needs to be informed on measures being taken to contain the virus and how the wellbeing of the workers is affected, so that the public can respond effectively. Maintaining an open dialogue and debate on the adequacy of those measures, and its impact is essential for winning public trust. This cannot be achieved when access to the communities most affected are blocked.
We urge the government to ensure fair and equal access to journalists to all information related to Covid-19. Journalists should have the right to scrutinise and report on what’s happening without fear. Citizens have the right to access to information and this means that the government should be protecting and promoting the work of journalists, instead of preventing them from doing their job.