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Warren Fernandez (image from AsiaOne)

ST Editor-in-Chief: No space to print Cherian George’s photo in papers

Yesterday (27 Oct), Ambassador-at-Large Prof Tommy Koh wrote a stinging Facebook post lambasting Straits Times (ST) for biased reporting of the IPS Forum which took place on Thu and Fri (25-26 Oct).

"I participated actively and happily in the 30th anniversary dinner and conference of IPS on Thursday and Friday. Both events were very successful. I salute IPS director Janadas Devan for having the courage to invite my good Friend, Professor Cherian George to speak in session 3 of the conference," he wrote.

The former NTU academic Cherian George often speaks out publicly against media control in Singapore and has also been critical of the ruling PAP government. He was twice denied tenure by NTU, which caused much international backlash against the institution in 2013. Eventually, he had no choice but to leave Singapore and took up a position at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s school of communication in 2014.

At the time, Prof George wrote on his blog with regard to his new position in Hong Kong, "It’s a move that will let me continue my journalism research, teaching and advocacy while remaining in Asia. That I can’t do so in my homeland is my loss, but I’m hopeful that this will be made up for by the stimulation of an invigorating new environment."

In fact, he further revealed the 'strange circumstances' under which his tenure was denied, “I will only say that I was assured categorically that this had nothing to do with my research and scholarship, teaching or service, and also not because I had conducted myself inappropriately in any way."

"Similarly, in 2010, no academic reasons were cited when the university leadership decided to turn down my school’s request to re-appoint me as head of journalism," he added. Obviously, someone at the top must have thought that as head of the school of journalism, Prof George would have tremendous influence on the thinking of Singapore's undergraduates, some who would eventually be working for ST.

Photo of Cherian George not printed by ST

In any case, Prof Tommy Koh further rebuked ST on his Facebook page, "I would like to ask the Straits Times why it had photos of the speakers and moderators of sessions 1,2 and 4 but not 3? is a photo of Janil Puthucheary and Cherian George against our national interest? I would also point out to my friends in the ST that their biased reporting on the conference brings discredit to our media."

Prof George spoke in session 3 at the forum.

Prof Tommy Koh also questioned why ST reported Minister Josephine Teo’s argument that minimum wage could cause unemployment and illegal employment but not his rebuttal that that the narrative is contradicted by the experience of Japan, South Koreas, Taiwan and Hong Kong which have adopted a minimum wage.

"I think the current income disruption of Singapore is a moral disgrace. Many of our working people do not earn a living wage and live in poverty," Prof Koh said.

"The Progressive Wage Model has improved wages in certain sectors of our economy but the workers in those sectors still do not earn a living wage. Mr Lee Kuan Yew envisaged an income distribution which resembles an olive. Today, our income distribution resembles a pear. Think about it."

ST Editor-in-Chief: No space

In response, ST Editor-in-Chief Warren Fernandez replied on ST today (28 Oct) that not all the pictures were published in ST papers "due to limited space on the page". However, he said Prof George's photo was published online.

Indeed, it has been observed that for controversial matters, ST usually avoids publishing them in its paper edition but would put them online instead, for fear that critics would accuse them of not reporting at all. Presumably, busy ministers who do not have time to surf but may have time to browse the printed papers would be pleased reading the "good news" on ST.

Fernandez also defended ST saying that Prof Koh's debate with Josephine Teo was indeed summarised in ST's report. He said, "Prof Koh is well known to and much respected by many of us in The Straits Times. Which is why his remarks seem all the more unfortunate."

He added, "Our online reports carried photos of the panel speakers. Our report in print on the panel with Prof George led off with his comments, not the minister's, with neither of their photos."

ST, he said, had never made any effort to suppress Prof Koh's views in the past. "We have also given over many pages to reflect the views of Prof Koh on all manner of subjects, from minimum wage to repeal of Section 377A to his thoughts on foreign policy," he said.