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Quah Zheng Jie, a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student has accused Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao for fabricating an interview about his experience with contracting COVID-19. The student had previously declined Zaobao’s offer for an interview but the newspaper published a featured article anyway.
The article’s headline read “阻断措施期间足不出户 南大生不解为何染疫”, roughly translated to “NTU Student Gets COVID-19 even though he stayed home during the CB Period”.
The headline suggested that people can get COVID-19 even if they stay home. Quah added that the “clickbait nature” of the headline could unsettle the public at a time when reassurance is most needed.
Chain of events
On May 1 2020, a Zaobao journalist approached Quah on Instagram and requested for an interview.
The journalist wanted to use Quah’s Instagram stories as part of the article documenting his experience with COVID-19. Quah did not consent.
The journalist acknowledged Quah’s refusal for consent but went ahead to use his personal content and information for the Zaobao article.
Quah only later discovered that the journalist had fabricated the story when his friend informed him about the article. The article was published on Lianhe Wanbao’s print edition as well as multiple online platforms and social media.
Not only did the journalist publish Quah’s personal content without consent, the article made several allegations and painted an entirely false picture of Quah’s experience.
At this point, I am certain that (The journalist) has crossed the lines of Ethical Journalism. His conduct is a gross and serious violation of fundamental journalistic ethics.
Outraged by the blatant violation of privacy, Quah took to his Instagram to voice his concerns about the newspaper’s conduct. The journalist contacted Quah and insisted it was a “midunderstanding”.
Zaobao also quietly changed the article’s image to a generic picture of D’Resort in Pasir Ris. The fictional story, however, remained accessible to the public.
Quah reached out to the newspaper’s editors. The newspaper subsequently issued a response acknowledging that they “made a wrong judgment to mention that I (Quah) was interviewed although I had refused to”.
Article caused unnecessary panic
The Zaobao and Wanbao article was shared on social media by multiple users.
In addition, multiple foreign news sites have also picked up the story, adding fuel to speculation about the ease of COVID-19 transmission in the home.