Singapore yesterday night (9 Apr) recorded its highest daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the majority of the 287 cases traced to clusters at migrant worker dormitories and Mustafa Centre.
Prior to that, local media on Wed reported an alarming spike of 142 cases, with 20 cases traced to the S11 Dormitory @ Punggol, one of the migrant workers’ dorms gazetted as isolation areas under the Infectious Diseases Act.
A former editor and journalist for The Straits Times, in a blog entry, however, pointed out that ST had instead decided to feature–on its print edition’s front page the same day–an article on how the Government’s “circuit breaker” measures have enabled “better connectivity” to ease the process working and studying from home.
Tan Tarn How, who worked at ST for 16 years, said that he finds the news outlet’s decision to “downplay this frightening news” rather “befuddling” and “disturbing”.
“One would have thought that for Singaporeans the most important news of the last 24 hours is the country breaking another record of new coronavirus cases (142),” he wrote.
“Instead the editors chose as the lead article the good news of “Better connectivity to make work, study from home easier.”
“Not only was the bad news not the lead article, it was not even mentioned of it all in any of the “blurbs” on the front page meant to alert readers to what the newspaper considered the other key news inside the newspaper,” said Mr Tan.
The playwright also highlighted that ST had “buried the news” of what was observed as the largest spike in cases since Jan.
“It was not on its Global page (which is the landing page for most people when the visit the website), and only the second item on its Singapore page,” said Mr Tan.
The decision to feature another story instead of that of the spike in cases, he wrote, could not have stemmed from “poor” news judgement of the ST editors.
Mr Tan, who is also an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore, posited that “the decision to play down this news could” instead “be political rather journalistic”.
Exploring two possibilities as to why such an editorial choice was made, Mr Tan said that the decision could either have been carried out “on instructions direct or otherwise from the government” — which was unlikely — or that the ST editors had chosen “on their own accord” to “protect” the government by “hiding as much as they could bad news from readers”.
“We can tell this by comparing The Straits Times coverage with that of Channel News Asia, which put the news as its top item.
“It wouldn’t have if it had also have received the same instructions. I also believe that the government has decided that as far as the coronavirus is concerned it should be open and transparent,” he wrote.
“Perhaps the editors have the impending general election at the back of their minds. Perhaps they were second-guessing what would please the government,” said Mr Tan.
“A famous example of The Straits Times trying to “help” its political masters (but embarrassing them instead) is editing out in its first report of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s famous words about “fixing the opposition” in a 2008 2006 election rally,” he wrote.
Explaining why he thinks that ST’s decision not to report the sharp spike is “disturbing”, Mr Tan said that such news is “critical to reminding Singaporeans of the dire and probably deteriorating state of the epidemic”.
Further, such news serves as “a further wake-up call” for everyone in Singapore to abide by the new “circuit breaker” measures.
“Hiding the news, whether intentional or not, performs no national service but does the very exact opposite,” warned Mr Tan.
Mr Tan also questioned the Government’s hesitation to call the new measures a “lockdown”.
“The latter communicates the seriousness of the measures more powerfully then than the former term,” he said.