Transparency and trust: risk communications and the Singapore experience in managing SARS

K.U. Menon (Director of the National Resilience Division at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) in Singapore)
K.T. Goh (Senior Consultant with the Communicable Diseases Division of the Ministry of Health, Singapore)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Publication date: 1 December 2005


SARS was Singapore's worst experience of an infectious outbreak in its brief history as an independent nation. The key instruments in managing public fear and panic were transparency and trust. The highest levels of government were mobilised and every conceivable channel and medium utilised to educate the domestic populace and reassure the international community. Maintaining transparency and nurturing trust did not come easy. There was concern over public morale and resilience, the absence of an international level playing field and the difficulty in differentiating Singapore from countries which managed SARS badly. Achieving trust of the domestic populace was the more difficult task and the government and political leaders had to be seen doing and initiating a range of tangible actions and activities to reassure the public. Singapore also came in for much criticism from other countries for its ‘draconian’ measures to contain the disease through home quarantine orders and other stern measures on social discipline. Risk communications is an established methodology and lessons can be drawn from the experience of many countries in managing outbreaks touching on public health. While Singapore may be unique for its particular circumstances, its experience highlighted the critical importance of ensuring transparency and public trust in confronting the disease. This paper is based on a presentation to the plenary session at the first World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Consultation on Outbreak Communications held in Singapore from 21–23rd September, 2004.



Menon, K. and Goh, K. (2005), "Transparency and trust: risk communications and the Singapore experience in managing SARS", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 375-383.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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