ST Editor: We report news fairly and objectively without bias – but publishes poll to influence election results

During a parliamentary select committee’s hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods yesterday (23 Mar), Editor-in-Chief of Straits Times (ST), Warren Fernandez, assured the committee that ST reports news fairly and objectively without bias.

“Over the last five, 10 years we’ve tried extremely hard to be fair, balanced and objective because we see our role as not trying to play up one party or the other, but to give our readers as much information as they can to make decisions for themselves,” he said.

“If we were biased, we would be clearly called out on social media. It would backfire and affect our credibility, so we wouldn’t be inclined to do that. I don’t think it does anybody any service if we tried to … it would be a disservice to our readers, a disservice to our journalists, and ultimately I think a disservice to Singapore.”

He added, “Before we publish anything, we would want to assure ourselves that the content we are putting out is not libelous, unfair or biased … it’s us exercising responsibility.”

He said that ST recognizes it’s a duty, and makes judgment calls. He explained that ST takes constant feedback from many sources – news makers, readers and organisations.

“If you’re going to have a meaningful exchange and debate, you need informed decisions,” he said.

“The trust earned from the public is precious, and not to be taken lightly at all.”

ST publishes biased poll right before Punggol East By-Election

It’s strange that Warren Fernandez has claimed that ST reports news fairly and objectively without bias so that readers can make informed decisions themselves, when during the Punggol East By-Election in Jan 2013, ST decided to publish a poll showing that PAP would win before the actual polling.

In fact, as ST Editor-in-Chief, Warren Fernandez was issued a stern warning by the Police later, in lieu of prosecution for the offence of publishing a poll after the writ of election had been issued.

The article, headlined “ST Poll: more rooting for PAP” presented the views of 50 Punggol East residents that ST had interviewed. Clearly, ST was trying to influence the choice of Punggol East residents during the By-Election.

Warren Fernandez should have known better that the publication of polls from the day the writ of election is issued until the close of polling stations on Polling Day is prohibited by the Parliamentary Elections Act, precisely to prevent any undue influence on election results.

With regard to the incident, Warren Fernandez only said, “It has always been our approach that when we get something wrong, we acknowledge it, put it right, and strive to do better.” In other words, let’s move on.

As it turned out, ST’s attempt to influence the results of Punggol East By-Election failed. Workers’ Party Lee Li Lian went on to beat PAP Koh Poh Koon to become MP of Punggol East. She won by 54.5% (16,045 vs 12,875 votes) in the 2013 By-Election.

So, do you still think ST reports news fairly and objectively without any bias?