LTA’s “palpable panic” over news leak

Andrew Loh

Straits Times (ST) journalist, Mr Christopher Tan, wrote on his blog in the STonline website:

“NEWS of the enhanced off-peak car (OPC) scheme is probably talk of the motoring town now.

But an unfortunate incident leading up to the announcement of the new and improved scheme – designed to persuade car owners to convert their rides to red-plates – proved to be far more exciting to the newsroom last Friday night.”

That “unfortunate incident” Mr Tan referred to was the news that there were going to be changes to the OPC scheme. The Minister for Transport, Mr Raymond Lim (picture above) , was to make the announcement of the changes at an event on Sunday. Reporters who were invited to the LTA’s briefing on Friday about the changes were told that the news of the changes was to be embargoed till after the Minister had spoken and announced them. It was to be so secret that “no one was supposed to call motor industry players for comments, in case they inadvertently informed them of the changes,” Mr Tan explained in his blog entry.

But the news was posted on the Land Transport Authority’s website on the same Friday. And by the evening, it was all over the Internet.

This meant that the “thunder”, as Mr Tan put it, was stolen from the Minister’s speech which was planned for Sunday. And it seemed all hell broke loose in the newsroom of the Straits Times. “The Straits Times newsroom was shocked,” Mr Tan wrote, “and everyone scrambled to find out what had happened and whether the news should then be run the next day (Saturday) as the leak had already spread far and wide.”

The LTA, naturally, too was shocked and started an investigation into the leak. Eventually, the embargo was lifted and the news of the OPC changes was reported on Sunday.

What is interesting to note is one, Mr Tan described that “the authority’s [LTA] panic was palpable” when it learned of the leak. Panic? Palpable? One wonders why the news leak of changes to a car scheme would incite such a reaction from the LTA. Disappointed would be a more appropriate reaction, I feel.

Second, it is interesting to note that the LTA first rejected the Straits Times’ request to publish the news, since it’s now been leaked. The LTA later relented. But this was because the Minister himself, as Mr Tan said, “was gracious enough to agree to the embargo lift.”

Lastly, when the incident happened “it caused real tension on Friday”, according to Mr Tan. The paper was uncertain if it could publish the news of the changes as the deadline to print was approaching. Real tension? For news of changes to a car scheme?

Or was the LTA more concerned that the Minister’s thunder had been stolen and that he would have nothing “new” to announce on Sunday? That is, was the LTA’s concern more about the Minister for Transport now looking bad or that its own embargo had been breached, by its own people?

But why would such news be embargoed in the first place? The only reason would be so that the minister has something to announce to the public and thus, look good, isn’t it?

Either way, it doesn’t look too good on the LTA for having its own embargo breached, by its own people.


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