We stand with Wake Up, Singapore
A solidarity statement by civil society groups, activists, workers and others who have found a voice on their platform
Independent media site Wake Up Singapore (WUSG) has recently come under fire after a story they published about a woman’s alleged traumatic pregnancy loss at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) was discovered to contain falsehoods.
When a police report was filed, they realised the story might be false and took down their posts related to the story immediately. Within minutes of confirming with the person who submitted the story that she had misled them, WUSG published an unreserved apology. They also went on to provide a full public accounting of their process in deciding to publish the story, the fact-checking process they went through, their communications with KKH, and why they were moved to share the story.
WUSG has since been issued a POFMA directive from the Ministry of Health to publish a correction notice, which they have complied with. WUSG has also received intense public backlash and condemnation since the falsehoods in the story came to light.
As peers in civil society, as marginalised groups, as the working class, and as readers who value and desire a vibrant media environment, we write this statement in solidarity with WUSG. We admire the honesty, accountability and humility they showed once they realised mistakes had been made. We agree with them that they can do better, and are committed to supporting them in learning from these experiences (as we all are).
While WUSG has become a popular media platform with a significant reach, they are still a small, volunteer-run group led by young people whose big dreams and fierce spirits need to be handled with care. They are coming of age in a rapidly changing media environment where social media pages run by individuals in their free time sometimes gain more traction than well-resourced, professional media outlets, and are then, quite unrealistically, held to the same standards of journalism.
As an amateur platform, while WUSG may have much to learn, so do the rest of us. We hope that our society can grow to be one which is kind to young people when they fumble, and gracious when they apologise. When we walk less trodden paths, we tend to fall more often, and if our communities don’t reach out their hands to pick us up, we will never discover the places where these roads may take all of us. As a society, we would gain so much if we were less punitive, and more nurturing of each other.
In a media climate as hostile as Singapore’s is to independent, critical voices, WUSG has been brave in its commitment to airing alternative narratives, telling stories that would otherwise never be heard, and bearing witness to injustices that are often swept under the carpet. When nurses started speaking up during the pandemic, WUSG played a big part in drawing attention to their plight. When food delivery riders wanted to air their grievances about mandatory CPF, WUSG gave them a platform. WUSG has drawn much-needed attention to issues like racism, the death penalty, workers’ rights and more. Many of us are still grieving the loss of The Online Citizen, and if WUSG doesn’t survive this incident, there are few platforms left in Singapore that will amplify marginalised voices.
WUSG is a platform of the people. It is not profit-driven (or even profit-making), or state-controlled. It has always been on the side of ordinary people who want to speak truth to power, and it has always, without compromise, protected those who have asked for anonymity. This has made so many people feel able to entrust them with sharing their stories. While this one story may have been false, the stories that WUSG has told over these past months and years have made Singapore more honest. Even when their trust was betrayed by the person who told them the false story, they did not reveal her identity to the public. In return, will we, the people, stand with WUSG?
To stand with WUSG is not to excuse or gloss over their mistakes, it is not to refrain from criticism or support every choice they make. There may be things that we disagree with about WUSG’s approach - that is true even for some of us signing this letter. Rather, to stand with someone means that we are not opportunistic in our relationship with them, that we don’t benefit from their labour and solidarity but then disavow them when the tides turn against their favour. It means we don’t make heroes out of them when they are soaring and villify them when they trip up. It means we don’t expect them to be perfect, we expect them to be reflexive and willing to listen.
We stand with WUSG because we believe wholeheartedly that the platform acted in good faith - their actions throughout this process demonstrates that. The young people who run WUSG don’t deserve the mockery, vitriol and personal attacks they have been withstanding. Instead, give them your sincere feedback. Tell them what kind of platform you want them to be. Tell them how they can do better. If you have time and ideas, volunteer with them. If you have journalistic skills or experience, offer them training or advice. If you have funds, help them hire someone (or someones) who can work full-time, and therefore have more capacity to detect errors or put in place more rigorous checks.
Even then, despite making every effort, WUSG may find themselves on the bad end of a situation. Telling a story you believe is true, and then finding out that there were errors in it or that you were misled - it happens to the best of media outlets. What matters is how they respond - whether they take responsibility for the harm or confusion their actions have led to, and we’ve seen that WUSG has fared better than most in this area.
Our ability to be discerning, to accept fallibility and to tell malicious actions apart from unfortunate events will ultimately determine our resilience as readers/audiences in a media environment distorted by powerful actors with wealth and influence, where we are at once confronted with propaganda, sponsored fabrications, sloppy journalism and honest, courageous efforts at truth-telling.
We get the media we demand, and therefore deserve. Media outlets are shaped by their audiences. We have power. Let’s use it well. When a bright spark flickers, let’s cup our hands around it, not snuff it out. In solidarity.
Zee Hsin Min (Founder and Director of Women Unbounded)
Anna Mohan (Deputy Director of Women Unbounded)
For a non-exhaustive list of examples of how WUSG has contributed to progressive movement building in Singapore, see here: tinyurl.com/wusgcontributes