~ By Cheong Yaoming ~
Barely a year after the General Elections 2011, the ripple effects of events which captured the imagination, set historical precedents, polarised and gripped the nation. Nobody could have predicted this domino effect or scripted such a dramatic sequence of events. Fact, as they say, is often stranger than fiction.
Having taken up the role of Interim Executive Editor for the Hougang by-election (HBE). I was filled with excitement (I’ve got a front seat to all the action!) and dread (What if I mess things up?) but nonetheless looking forward to this incredible opportunity.
Cometh the hour, cometh the men & women
I had barely a week to assemble the team, it was miraculous that so many volunteers answered the call for help. We had a good pool of photographers but were severely short on reporters and writers.
The core team was very supportive and was always on hand to guide me and clarify my doubts. I was hoping that Nomination Day would give me an easy start. Not a chance.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
The first controversy crashed down on me without warning. Temasek Review had used one of our photos without accreditation and worse, falsely tried to paint Desmond Choo as a villain. Thus ‘Handshake-gate’ started and took on a life of its own.
Fortunately Lee Kin Mun AKA Mr Brown exposed the lie and summed it up perfectly “Come on, lah. Want to whack ruling party also whack correctly lah.”
There were also a slew of comments from our readers bemoaning the lack of PAP coverage and accused us of being a biased, polar opposite of The Straits Times. It was not as though TOC made no effort to engage the PAP. Despite numerous emails I only received one reply in response to our requests. “Why are we practically begging them to allow us media access?” I wondered in frustration.
From these two incidents I learned that the more I tried to wrestle with the problem, the problem just grew bigger and got worse. When I focused on the things that I could control (i.e. not repeating those mistakes), a Zen like calm gave me peace and the solutions to move on.
The Boy Scout’s motto has served me well during my schooling days and is even more relevant in my life today. Had I not been receptive to opportunities when they knocked on the door, the coverage might have been less interesting and neutral.
During the hustings on 18 May, we were invited by the Workers’ Party (WP) to cover their walkabout and door-stop interview with Png Eng Huat. We had good shots and sound bites from the WP team but I was afraid of TOC being seen as heavily favouring WP.
However as previously mentioned, I had not received any positive response from the PAP. As we wandered around Hougang for scenic shots, one of our photographers spotted the PAP Hougang Branch Office and Desmond Choo was inside – eureka!
Gaining access was the other half of the battle as the PAP had a reputation for avoiding new media like the plague. I was pleasantly surprised that Gerald Woon, Desmond’s PR and campaign manager, was civil and welcoming.
The PAP supporters inside were just as friendly and all my fears were proved wrong. I was glad that our photos that day had a good balance.
Then came, what I believe was, the turning point of the whole campaign – 22 May 2012, the 2nd WP rally. The speakers were fired up and raring to go after PAP held their rally 2 days earlier. The coincidences seemeed too uncanny and God does not play dice, Einstein famously declared.
As Low Thia Kiang made his speech, the heavens opened up and a torrent of rain fell on the rally. As the audience and the media scrambled to find shelter, the WP speakers stayed resolutely on the stage. Being the seasoned politician, Mr Low seized the moment and declared “WP will always be here with you rain or shine!”
Lee Lilian echoed Mr Low’s sentiment and claimed it was a good omen as rain represented wealth in Chinese mythology, referencing their candidate Png Eng Huat. The heavens seemed to take that as a challenge and poured even more rain down.
Our volunteer photographers were kindly loaned umbrellas by the WP team and our shutterbugs occasionally came out into the rain to capture this momentous occasion. Some people might not understand the pains taken and the sacrifices made to bring the stories and photos. I hope next time when they whinge about a typo or demand for faster upload of photos, they will stop to think about how this was all made possible.
With great power comes great responsibility
While the TOC core team believes in being transparent and impartial when reporting the news, there were many challenging situations which tested these core beliefs.
One such situation was ‘NCMP-gate’. The anonymous sender known as Secret Squirrel had leaked what was apparently minutes of the WP Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting.
The initial instinct of any news outlet is to get out exclusive scoops in the shortest amount of time. However, after the TOC core team took a step back and analysed the situation, it became clear that publishing information from anonymous sources goes against the core belief of being neutral and transparent. Yes it was potentially game changing news but news that TOC could not report in good conscience.
Once more unto the breach
The HBE was a whirlwind 6 days which could not have been made possible without the help of the TOC Core team and the volunteers. I would like to give special mention and thanks to:
TOC Core Team
– Choo Zhengxi – Terry Xu
– Kumaran Pillai – Joshua Chiang
– Siew Kum Hong
– Pauline Tan – Chan Zhijian, Jeremy
– Kelvin Tan – Tan Buan Sen
– Chan Fook Sheng – Abdul Rahman Bin Salim
– Benjamin Cheah
In recognition of their efforts, TOC held a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner on 9 June 2012.