A weakening of public trust in institutions is a worrying global phenomenon. It affects a range of crucial professions, agencies and organisations ranging from medicine, the law and education to the mainstream media and even governance. One often cited reason for this development is that patients, clients and the public in general have easy and ready access to much more information than was the case previously. And much of this advice, solutions and alternative viewpoints come from online sources. Many of those who turn to such sources may not only accept them wholesale, but also feel they are knowledgeable enough to challenge the professional advice and views of institutions or their leaders. This can be useful in overcoming anyone who tries to pull wool over their eyes. But it can also be dangerous especially if information is from unreliable or malicious sources.
Professionals and government leaders bring to their work a degree of expertise and experience that the layman can hardly expect to match. In today’s Internet and social media-dominated world, a key challenge for doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, civil servants and politicians alike is in assuring their audiences that the trust placed in their decision-making and counsel is not misplaced; and that when that trust is injured by an errant professional, the law will restore the balance. Singapore has been careful to ensure that this remains the case, as seen in examples of how professionals and others have been taken to task when they cross the line. That trust is a fundamental value in the operation of any society and country cannot be overstated because any breakdown will undermine the system and workings of that society and country. Professionals would do well to avoid the practice, for example, of defensive medicine that has emerged in some societies. Doctors’ fear of being sued by patients not only undermines the fundamental relationship between the two but also contributes to higher costs if they feel compelled to increase their insurance cover to protect against a more litigious society.