Straits Times – “accurate, timely and balanced”?

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Andrew Loh

On 10 July 2010, the Straits Times published a report - “Law Ministry rebuts lawyer’s claim”, by Zakir Hussain.

The report is essentially a regurgitation of the Law Ministry’s statement in response to earlier remarks made by Mr M Ravi, lawyer for death row inmate, Malaysian Yong Vui Kong.  Mr Ravi had raised questions about the clemency process in Singapore.  He had also voiced concern about Law Minister K Shanmugam’s comments about Yong, which were made while the Court of Appeal was still deliberating Yong’s case.

Say what?

The sub-heading in Mr Hussain report reads, “Convicted drug trafficker’s lawyer attributed comments to Law Minister he didn’t make”.

What comments were these?  The report doesn’t say. But it does say that Mr Shanmugam made the following statements at a public forum on the 9th of May:

“Yong Vui Kong  is young. But if we say, ‘We let you go’, what is the signal we are sending?”

“We are sending a signal to all the drug barons out there: Just make sure you choose a victim who is young, or a mother of a young child, and use them as the people who carry the drugs into Singapore.”

“You will get 10 more. You will get a whole unstoppable stream of people coming through as long as we say we will not enforce our laws.”

When the Online Citizen contacted Mr Ravi, he said these were precisely the statements he had attributed to the Law Minister. So did Mr Shanmugam make or not make them? And if not, why did the Straits Times attribute them to him, not once, but twice?

A Deafening Silence

Mr Hussain called Mr Ravi at 10pm on the 9th of July, presumably to solicit his views about the Law Ministry’s statement. Mr Ravi returned the call at 11.  He was later told that the Straits Times would run another story incorporating his comments the following week. Mr Hussain sent Mr Ravi a list of questions on Sunday.

By then, Mr Ravi had decided to put out a press statement. A copy was sent to the Straits Times.

On Tuesday, we had confirmation from Mr Hussain that the Straits Times would neither run Mr Ravi’s statement, nor write an article about his response to the Law Ministry’s comments.

The Online Citizen sent Mr Hussain the following questions:

1. On 10 July, your report titled "Law Ministry rebuts lawyer's claim" was published in the Straits Times on page A6. I would like to ask if you'd check the facts of what the Law Ministry said before you wrote/published the report.

2. Was the report entirely the one you submitted to your editor?

3. May I know who your editor is?

4. I notice that the ST has not carried or reported on M Ravi's subsequent response - in a press statement - to the Law Ministry's remarks carried in the abovementioned report on 10 July. May I know why the ST is not carrying or reporting on M Ravi's press statement so far (this email is sent to you on 14 July 2010)?

When contacted, Mr Hussain declined to answer any of our questions.

A question of facts

In his report, Mr Hussain quoted the Law Ministry thus:

“Further, Yong had also trafficked in other drugs such as Ketamine, Ecstasy, Ice and Erim 5 when he was arrested.”

Yong was never charged for any of these offences. He was never tried and thus, never had the opportunity to defend himself.  The Law Ministry however, has clearly decided that he is guilty.  It has tainted public perception of Yong by including such allegations in its statement.

What was Mr Hussain’s purpose in parroting the Ministry’s stance?  Did he check the facts?  Ascribing guilt to Yong, and embellishing the facts, in such a manner is not only inaccurate, but also downright shoddy and unprofessional.

Mr Hussain’s report also says:

“Yesterday, the ministry also pointed out that evidence in court showed that Yong had trafficked in heroin on other occasions before he was arrested in June 2007.”

This is a curious statement for several reasons:

  1. The only charge brought against Yong was for trafficking in 47.27g of heroin in June 2007.
  2. As far as we know, the so-called “evidence” is the testimony of Yong’s accomplice, Chai, who was arrested together with Yong in June of 2007.  According to Mr Hussain, Chai ‘was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal’. Under Singapore’s law, the testimony of a co-accused can be used as evidence for conviction in Singapore’s courts.
  3. One would ask: If Yong had indeed ‘trafficked in heroin on other occasions’, why was he not stopped and arrested by the police or the CNB on any of these occasions? Why was he allowed to traffic in heroin ‘on other occasions’?

The question then is: Why did Mr Hussain not delve deeper into these issues instead of just parroting what he has apparently been fed by the Law Ministry?

What is news?

On 5 July 2010, Mr Ravi made a trip to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and held a press conference there.  He urged the Malaysian government to intervene and help save Yong from the gallows. (See TOC’s report here.)

Virtually every single Malaysian newspaper carried the news the following day.  The Straits Times only got its act together two days later - on the 7th of June - with an AFP report buried in its World/Regional news section.  The report did not mention Mr Ravi, neither did it include the basis on which Mr Ravi urged the Malaysian government to intervene.

Clearly, editors at the Straits Times did not think the news worthy of too much space.  So it is puzzling that it would subsequently devote a half-page spread in its “Prime News” section to the Law Ministry’s rebuttal.  Has the story become more important simply because the Law Minister is now scrambling to defend himself?  And if so, shouldn’t both sides of the argument be heard? Why the refusal to publish Mr Ravi’s response?

A Singapore minister recently praised the mainstream media for being “accurate, timely and balanced in its reporting”.

This latest episode, however, shows the Straits Times is nothing of the sort. Instead of checking its facts and reporting them fairly, the Straits Times has instead help propagate inaccuracies.

Which master, and what purpose, does the Straits Times serve?

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Read M Ravi's press statement in response to the Law Ministry's comments, which the Straits Times has refused to carry or report on, here.

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Here are the Straits Times reports mentioned in the article above:

Straits Times, 7 July, AFP report on M Ravi's KL press conference:

Straits Times, 10 July, Law Ministry’s response to M Ravi's remarks made in KL: