Cabby’s actions now not "illegal". He only "flouted rules"

Last night (this morning actually), I wrote a post commenting about the article, Discount ads on taxis illegal: LTA, which appeared in the late Monday night (7 Jan) edition of the Straits Times. The sub-header was, “Marketing tactics and soliciting are against company rules and the law“. The ST usually publishes a teaser of a breaking story for the next day’s print edition.


In my blog post, I had questioned how the actions of the taxi driver could have been illegal. He had simply placed a handwritten cardboard sign at his windscreen offering to waive the new peak hour surcharge.

Surprise, surprise….In today’s ST, the headline changed. It now reads Cabby who advertised discounts flouted rules“. The sub-header is now, “LTA backs cab firm and says such tactics may lead to soliciting, which is illegal” (emphasis mine).


There are two possibilities:

Either:

(a) LTA ordered the ST to make those changes after realising that there was no basis for pronouncing the cabby’s actions illegal, or that the taxi driver was conclusively “soliciting”; or

(b) the ST was irresponsible and untruthful in using the word “illegal” twice when LTA never used it, and implying that the cabby was “soliciting”.

No responsible media or government agency should use the word “illegal” lightly. If what the cabby did was really illegal, then that means he had broken the law and the police should have taken action against him to enforce our much vaunted “rule of law”.

The change should have been marked as a correction with apologies, as is the usual practice with credible newspapers.

In any case, there doesn’t appear to be a hint of contrition for the error on either LTA’s or ST’s part. In today’s article, they were still trying to justify why the cabby’s actions could be illegal, because it “may lead to soliciting”.

In Singapore Law, soliciting usually refers to either unauthorised fundraising by charities, selling sex in a public place or unauthorised street collections. Could some legal eagle please explain to me how placing a sign on your own cab window can be deemed “soliciting”? The taxi driver wasn’t asking for donations, prostituting himself (yucks!!!), or busking with a guitar along the street, was he?

The bottom line is that LTA really had no business pronouncing judgment on this minor infringement of a private company’s rules (if at all). It only serves to confirm in many Singaporeans’ minds that the Government is firmly on the side of taxi companies and not consumers or taxi drivers.

Update:

A friend from SPH sent me this clarification:

STI works independently of the newsroom in that the reporter writes for the print version of the paper. STI takes the draft of the story and puts it up online when it is done. It writes the headline and the summary. Because of the demands of instant news that needs to go out, sometimes the copy may not be perfect and the headline written hastily.

If you read the story, it is exactly the same. In the story, there is no mention of LTA saying that the action was illegal. So the “official and correct” headline is the one you spotted after the fact.

You are right about writing a correction. I have no idea what the policy is for online news. If that had been written in the print headline, for sure ST would have to run a correction. But I suppose they have different rules online.

ST is still trying to converge its newsroom with its online site, so mistakes will be made. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “give them a break”. I think its great that people like you point out the mistakes. Hopefully this will get the attention of the editors and tighten rules around the editorial process.

I have forwarded your blog post to the guy in charge of STI fyi.

About the Legal Service Commission changes

“Under the existing Constitution, the LSC comprises of the Chief Justice as President, the Attorney-General, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, a High Court Judge nominated by the CJ and up to 2 members of the PSC.

Under Cl 8 of the Bill, the composition of the LSC is to be changed to include up to 2 nominees of the Prime Minister.

If the Bill is passed, the LSC still retains its role of deciding on dismissal and disciplinary action of legal officers. For officers above a certain threshold grade, the LSC will also make career decisions such as promotions and transfers.

Could the Minister clarify further the rationale for having a new category of LSC members who are the PM’s nominees?”

– Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim in Parliament, July 17, 2007. Read her whole speech here.

Sylvia Lim raised a very valid point. Will not the Attorney General, Chairman of the PSC and the two PSC nominees be enough to reflect the Government’s view on key decisions by the Legal Service Commission (LSC)? The Govt already has a de facto “majority” with them on the LSC. Why is there a need to pack the LSC with even more Government nominees?

Most Singaporeans have already made up their mind whether our courts are independent or not. Contrary to what Ms Lim says, this tweaking is not going to affect their perceptions much. But I hope it does not affect the way the Subordinate court judges (whose career progression is determined by the LSC) mete out their judgments, particularly for politically charged cases like defamation cases.