The political editor for The Straits Times (ST) Li Xueying has become the subject of a reassignment, allegedly as a result of government officials’ dissatisfaction towards some of the mainstream news publication’s political stories.
Ms Li’s current scope of work at the Enterprise desk primarily entails producing “original, unique and impactful content for Sunday Times and ST, across platforms,” according to an internal e-mail to ST staff dated 20 July.
Three ST staff members – two of them currently employed with the publication while one formerly worked with the news outlet – revealed to Yahoo News Singapore that Ms Li’s reassignment was announced by ST editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez directly to the political desk around mid-July, during which he cited unhappiness by government officials over certain political stories.
Such political stories include a series of interviews with 4G leaders, such as “A PM without a degree? Possible, says Ong Ye Kung” (6 May 2018), as illustrated by sources from Yahoo.
According to one cited source, Ms Li and other political reporters were told that the move was made in her best interests as well as that of ST.
The creation of a Singapore Desk, which encompasses all forms of local news, including political, business and lifestyle stories, was also announced in an internal email to ST staff to “allow for closer collaboration across beats, desks and platforms,” according to Mr Fernandez.
Fernandez said to media: “Our goal must be (to) produce reliable and credible political news as well as thoughtful and insightful commentaries on Singapore politics and policy affairs.”
Executive editor Sumiko Tan heads the Singapore Desk.
Separately, the appointment of veteran associate editor Paul Jacob as the deputy news editor at the Politics desk was announced via email on 29 Oct.
Mr Jacob’s role oversees ST’s political and foreign news coverage.
No Political editor has been appointed so far, while Mr Royston Sim is the existing Assistant Political Editor.
The role of the political editor is one of the most sensitive and high profile positions at ST, with only six individuals taking up the post since 2011.
Ms Li, with 16 years of experience under her belt at ST, was appointed as political editor in October last year.
Mr Fernandez was also quoted by Yahoo News Singapore, saying, “The moves you refer to happened several months ago, when we set up our Singapore Desk, bringing together our local news, business and political teams, to work more closely together on content related to Singapore. Editors and reporters were deployed to play to their respective strengths and to get the best from the team.”
However, as seen in Ms Li’s job history on Linkedin, it was not a matter of several months ago as Mr Fernandez claims.
Currently, Ms Li has yet to respond to queries from the press.
“Singapore journalists have no right to be members of the fourth estate” in the eyes of political leadership: Former ST editor-in-chief
Former ST editor-in-chief Cheong Yip Seng wrote in his book “OB Markers” that one of Singapore’s veteran journalists emphasised how Singapore’s rulers – starting with the nation’s founder and first Prime Minister the late Lee Kuan Yew – have consistently refused to recognise the media’s watchdog role.
“The political leadership holds fast to the principle that Singapore journalists have no right to be members of the fourth estate, a status enjoyed by the media in the West,” argued Mr Cheong.
He elaborated: “The PAP (People’s Action Party)’s case for this policy is simple: The media does not subject itself to popular will by contesting an election … Therefore, it cannot claim the mandate to speak on the public’s behalf.”
This has led to the Government’s apparent perception that the media is “deemed to have interfered in politics,” which translates into sanctions that brand even legitimate criticism levied against policies approved by Parliament as “unlawful”.
In a 1971 speech at the International Press Institute General Assembly in Finland, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was quoted as saying “Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore and to the primary purpose of an elected government.”
Currently, Singapore is ranked 151st in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.