The Straits Times (ST) has been regularly accused of recontextualising letters in its forum section. People in the realms of alternative opinion have shown as to how letters of a critical yet constructive nature (particularly at the establishment) have been edited to a point where the intended meaning is either blunted or removed.
Critics of ST and the PAP would have scoffed at Mr Samuel Wee’s letter published in ST.
The letter tells of Mr Wee’s emphatic approval of Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Han’s comments on Singapore’s education system.
However, Mr Wee’s original letter has now been circulating around the web.
A quick read would reveal the most obvious of ST’s biased editing and fabrication.
The original article had Mr Wee describing the misleading presentation of statistics made by the ST report on social mobility.
Here are some excerpts:
Original Letter - It is indeed heartwarming to learn that only 90% of children from one-to-three-room flats do not make it to university.
ST-edited Letter - It is indeed heartwarming to learn that almost 50 per cent of children from one- to three-room flats make it to university and polytechnics.
Original Letter - His statement is backed up with the statistic that 50% of children from the bottom third of the socio-economic ladder score in the bottom third of the Primary School Leaving Examination.
ST-edited Letter - His statement is backed by the statistic that about 50 per cent of children from the bottom third of the socio-economic bracket score within the top two-thirds of their Primary School Leaving Examination cohort.
There’s even a paragraph that didn’t exist in the original letter.
Original Letter - Therefore, it was greatly reassuring to read about Dr Ng’s great faith in our “unique, meritocratic Singapore system”, which ensures that good, able students from the middle-and-high income groups are not circumscribed or restricted in any way in the name of helping financially disadvantaged students.
ST-edited Letter - Therefore, it was reassuring to read about Dr Ng’s own experience of the ‘unique, meritocratic Singapore system’: he grew up in a three-room flat with five other siblings, and his medical studies at the National University of Singapore were heavily subsidised; later, he trained as a cancer surgeon in the United States using a government scholarship.
The original letter is satirical. Obviously, it is atypical in terms of ST’s writing style. This begs the question as to why the letter was published on paper and screen and with such a extreme make-over.
Knowing ST’s tendency to ‘change’ letters, the original letter should have been written in a unambiguous and clear manner. This would leave little room for the forum editors to wriggle out and ‘interpret’ the letter to the establishment’s liking.
Nevertheless, it still doesn’t excuse the hack job the letter received.
Any counter-argument of ST’s forum editors not understanding the satirical nature of the letter is ludicrous seeing that, as editors of the country’s award-winning and highest-selling newspaper, they should clearly recognize and understand satire.
With such prestigious industrial standing, the editors should know not to drastically edit, fabricate and completely change the meaning of the letter.
If the letter is too satirical for ST or that the editors are doubtful (highly improbable), then it shouldn’t be published. It’s simple as that.
The late author and New York Times columnist, William Safire, defined spin as “deliberate shading of news perception; attempted control of political reaction.”
Is ST's editing of Mr Wee's letter an example of journalistic spin?
Well yes, a close one. It’s no secret that our education system favours students of a upper socio-economic status. Often, we are thrown statistics to demonstrate otherwise. Mr Wee’s original letter challenged ST’s framing of such statistics.
Is ST’s editing of Mr Wee’s letter an example of bad journalism?
Yes, in every sense of the word. In this case, any journalism student would know that it’s a fundamental no-no to alter the entire meaning of a reader’s letter.
This raises more questions. How many of ST’s forum letters have received such manufactured make-overs? Why was Mr Wee’s edited letter published when it is significantly different from the original?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “If you read something in the Straits Times or on CNA, you must know that it's real”.
Well sir, I have read Mr Wee’s letter in ST and I know for a fact that it is not real nor is it the truth.