August 17th, 2010
The controversial handcuffing of a press photographer who was shooting the recent floods was not intended to censor the media, the Government has said. “In this particular case, the issue was not about the photographer taking pictures of the flood, but about public safety,” Second Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam told Parliament on 16 August. The perceived heavy-handedness of the Police had sparked disquiet in the press. “Looking at this incident with the benefit of hindsight, I think both parties could have handled the situation better,” the minister acknowledged.
The full text from mha.gov.sg:
16 August 2010
Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on arrest and handcuffing of WB photographer & related guidelines for Police officers.
Dr Ong Seh Hong:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) what are the facts and circumstances of the arrest and handcuffing of the Lianhe Wanbao chief photographer over taking of photographs of the flood in Bukit Timah on 16 July 2010; (b) what are the guidelines for police officers when dealing with journalists and the general public taking photographs at public places where there are floods or other accidents; and (c) what are the guidelines for handcuffing them.
Minister for Law & Second Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam:
Mr Speaker, the case in question happened in the morning of 17 July 2010, along Bukit Timah road near Maplewoods Condominium. It was raining heavily and the rain had caused a road divider, which had been excavated, to be flooded. Ordinarily, the construction work would have been surrounded by safety barriers, but unfortunately in this case the safety barriers had been washed away due to the flood. Motorists driving along the road were not able to see the depression. As a result, three cars landed in the depression.
Under these difficult conditions, the Lianhe Wanbao photographer had stopped his car illegally along the road at about 7.40am to take the photographs, causing an obstruction to other motorists. There was clear danger not only to the photographer but to other motorists as well. A Police Officer at the scene therefore asked him to move away, which he did after he was told a second time.
However, the photographer returned shortly after and stood on the covered manhole within the flooded central divider to take photographs. This was dangerous as there was moving traffic on both sides of the divider. The Police Officer therefore advised him to move to the pavement where it was safer for him to take photographs.
According to the Police officer, the photographer moved off only after repeated advice. The photographer however recalled only being told to move off once before he complied. Be that as it may, when he moved off from the central divider, he did not go onto the pavement, but instead walked along the road next to the flooded divider and continued to take photographs. The Police Officer advised him against doing so again. He did not heed the advice. Up to this point, he did not have his media pass on, nor did he identify himself as a reporter. The officer decided that he had to intervene directly. The officer went up to him and held his arm with a view to stop him from continuing to walk along the central divider and to move him to the pavement. However, the photographer struggled free and the officer handcuffed him on one hand to restrain him and take him into custody. Upon reaching the pavement, the photographer had calmed down and he produced his media pass for verification and to identify himself as a photographer from the media. He was uncuffed after his identity was verified.
The Member asked about guidelines for Police Officers when dealing with journalists and the general public taking photographs at public places where there are floods or other accidents. The Police generally do not interfere with the media or members of the public taking photographs of floods so long as it does not obstruct Police operations and so long as this does not pose a danger to others or themselves. In this particular case, the issue was not about the photographer taking pictures of the flood, but about public safety. Police had taken action as, in its judgement, public safety was involved.
The Member also asked about the guidelines for the use of handcuffs. Police Officers are trained to assess the situation when exercising discretion in using handcuffs. Depending on the officer’s risk assessment, handcuffs may be used if a suspect is violent or if there is a flight risk, or if a serious offence had been committed. In this case, the Police Officer assessed that it was necessary to use handcuffs to restrain the photographer and stop him from continuing an action which the officer felt posed a danger to others and the photographer himself. The moment the need for such restraint had passed when the photographer had ceased such an action and had been moved to the safety of the pavement, the officer removed the handcuffs and decided not to arrest the photographer for obstructing a police officer in the course of performing his duty after it became clear that the photographer was from the media and was trying to do his job.
Both the Police and the media have important roles to play. While the Police respect and understand the role the media has to play, the Police have a duty to ensure public safety and security. We cannot allow our officers on the ground when performing their duty to ensure public safety and security to have their directions ignored. Anyone who disagrees with or feels aggrieved by any such directions by a public servant doing his job can make an official complaint later and it will be thoroughly looked into. But he must first comply with such directions or be liable to face arrest and prosecution.
Looking at this incident with the benefit of hindsight, I think both parties could have handled the situation better. Nevertheless, I am glad to know that the Police and the media have discussed the incident dispassionately and have amicably resolved it.