Towards the end of last year, The Health Promotion Board (HPB) published a FAQ about sexuality on its website. The online portal addressed questions on sexuality and provided support for those in the LGBT community.
The portal soon became a point of heated debate from the local public, with some supporting the move and others slamming the HPB for it.
HPB in the face of criticism it seems, removed links to various lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender organisations and counseling hotlines, in what was seen as it taking steps backwards on its stand. It also took steps to alter some of the responses on the site.
Just recently, Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stepped out to say that the FAQ on the website was neither celebrating nor supporting same sex relationships.
In a statement to Marketing, HPB said: “HPB has received valuable feedback with diverse views from members of the public. We will take into consideration relevant inputs to see how we could further improve in our communications as well as better reach out to Singaporeans in our health promotion educational materials.”
The spokesperson also added that ultimately HPB aims to “promote healthy living for all Singaporeans” and has identified “Young Men Who have Sex with Men (YMSM) as one target group for STI and HIV education.”
Hence, the FAQ on sexuality and sexual health provides a resource of “factual information from a public health perspective on sexuality” and also provides advice to young persons and their parents on mental and physical health issues from a public health perspective.
Mixed signals to the public?
From a communications perspective however, PR experts are saying the HPB is sending out mixed signals on its stand, and could be diluting the effect of its courageous move.
Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and managing director of PRecious Communications said: “From a communications point of view, I would think that a statutory board like the HPB would know about the sensitiveness of certain issues in the general population.”
Hence, one approach might have been to test some of the messages or communications with smaller target groups before launching them widely.
Voedisch added that while it is understandable that HPB has to work around sensitivities, it is simply the government body’s job to provide services to all Singaporeans independent of their beliefs, orientation or way of life and not just follow majorities.
He added that the move made HPB to alter its posts might however, hamper its credibility and be “seen to be rowing backwards from what might have been seen as a slightly more courageous move.”
The sudden move to delete certain parts of its online FAQ without any comment would only drive speculation and encourage people in the future to “shout loud enough” to drive action from government bodies.
Another PR professional who agreed to speak on the basis of anonymity said that the changes HPB has made to its site following the criticisms make it look as though the HPB’s policy on providing health advice to minority groups is unclear.
“HPB’s position is inconsistent and it is unclear what their intention is. If HPB’s position is that minority groups should have their health issues provided for through its online health platform then they should not bow to irrational hysteria,” he said.
He added that if HPB’s policy supports the need for specific health services to be provided to minority groups, then they need to decide if that information should be made available on a government website or through an alternative platform.
Mylinh Cheung, CEO of Epic Public Relations, who supported the initiative, however thought that the board sent a clear signal to the nation and the world of Singapore’s stance in promoting factual and balanced information on sexuality.
Removing the links, she added, “is not as important as the act of releasing the FAQ in the first place.”