On 24 Nov 2010, Singapore’s The Straits Times reported the senseless slashing of a MacPherson Secondary School student in Jul 10 by a schoolmate after an accidental bumping incident. The mainstream newspaper concluded its article by stating that the school’s principal “declined to comment” when asked about the incidence of fights amongst students in her school, and whether students can come to the school armed.
Once again, we see the use of “no comments” as a knee-jerk reaction to media queries. Unfortunately, the use of “no comment”, while convenient, implies that the school has something to hide. As a person unfamiliar with MacPherson Secondary School, my instinctive reaction to the newspaper report and the principal’s decision not to comment gives me the perception that (a) fights occur frequently in MacPherson Secondary School; and (b) the school is a breeding ground for gangsters.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately in this case, a quick research on the school shows the incident to be an isolated one. And contrary to my perceptions, MacPherson Secondary School is a good neighbourhood school that has commendable achievements like winning the Ministry of Education’s Achievement Award (Academic Value-Added) 2009.
From this case, the main take-away for PR Professionals is that saying or declining comment is a comment in itself. Thus, instead of “making a negative comment”, the school’s principal should have capitalised on the opportunity to “set the record straight” and correct the mis-perception of MacPherson Secondary School as being a breeding ground for gangsters.