By Jewel Philemon
Days of Rage, or days of one-sided propaganda?
It is difficult to disagree with historian Dr Loh Kah Seng when he described the Days of Rage documentary on Channel Newsasia (CNA) as a “sorry excuse [for] a documentary”.
Dr Loh, whose remarks were made on his Facebook page, was referring to the second episode of ‘Days of Rage’ – a documentary mini-series which is part of CNA’s ongoing programming project on Singapore history, aimed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the nation’s independence.
Bankrolled by a Media Development Authority grant of SGD13 million, the project (which began broadcasting in 2012) aims to produce programmes that “retell history, but in a more modern, engaging way; making use of the archival footage that we have; recreating it; and finding new formats,” especially for the younger generation who have not lived through the historical events that the project covers.
I was first directed to Days of Rage by Dr Loh’s comment which I’d stumbled upon online. Curious to find out what exactly he meant, I watched the episode, featuring the 1955 Hock Lee bus riots, on Channel News Asia’s website.
The bias in this “documentary” is even more glaring than the expression I wore while watching this latest 45-minute exercise in the perennial partiality we’ve come to expect and almost accept from the mainstream media. This conspicuously suggestive documentary is so fastidious in its concern with propagating the story of one party as the whole truth, that it neglects basic journalistic tenets like fairness, accuracy, objectivity, or proportionality – becoming, in the process, a sad piece of substandard journalism that ignores relevant, critical information through omission, conveniently forgetting to ask “why” questions, engaging in false-balancing, and utilizing regressive, misleading, fear-mongering narrative techniques that seem to be employed just to distract audiences into believing the specious theses that are rampant in the film.
What is perhaps most distressing is CNA’s audacity to produce such a slanted documentary and position it as indisputable history. This is why it is important for us to not only repudiate such media but also rebut such work with logical, concrete, legitimate arguments. We need to, as a collective society, take action to critique what we take as truth, unearth the real, often multi-layered, facts, and commit ourselves to spreading this to others – especially the young who will lead us one day.
The Online Citizen will be featuring a critique of this episode of “Days Of Rage” which was focused on the Hock Lee bus riots of 1955. We interviewed 2 historians, Dr Loh and Dr Thum Ping Tjin, for their opinion on the CNA documentary, and Otto Fong, the son of one of the protagonists, Fong Swee Suan.
Dr Loh and Mr Fong were interviewed by CNA for the documentary too.
Here is an excerpt from TOC’s upcoming report. It is a comment from Mr Otto Fong in an interview with us:
“A fair and balanced documentary should provide views from all sides. The government’s view was of course well-represented, the bus company’s view was too. But the unionists’ views were cut out. My father and Lim are not the villains that the official story wants them to be, so where were those views on this documentary?
“The few of my interview that made it on the documentary were more neutral descriptions, which meant views contrary to the official old story were cut out. The representative from Hock Lee was able to present his side of the story: that Hock Lee’s employers would not make profits had they agreed with union demands. So why is my father’s side of the story taken out?”
And in perhaps a sign of the sloppy work by CNA, its promotional blurb on its website said:
“12 May 1955 is also known as ‘Black Friday’ in Singapore’s history.”