Instead of asking “more probing questions”, reporters in the mainstream media seem to offer “flattering coverage and take whatever these people say at face value”, said former senior Straits Times (ST) correspondent Goh Eng Yeow on Monday (7 Sept) as he referred to ST’s article related to Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman, Liew Mun Leong.
Mr Liew – then chief executive of CapitaLand – came under the spotlight when his former Indonesian domestic worker’s, Parti Liyani’s, conviction was overturned by the High Court on last Friday (4 Sept).
In 2016, he accused Ms Parti of stealing S$34,000 worth of items from him and his family, two days after abruptly terminating her employment and sent her back to Indonesia. Ms Parti was sentenced to 26 months’ jail in March 2019 after she was found guilty in a district court.
The sentence was then overturned by Justice Chan Seng Onn on last Friday, who ruled that the district court had failed to consider several points including the credibility of the testimony of Mr Liew’s son, Karl Liew.
Justice Chan finds the convictions against Ms Parti are “unsafe” and thus acquitted her of all the charges, adding that the Liew had an “improper motive” in accusing her of theft back in 2016.
Referring to the news, Mr Goh took to Facebook earlier today posting a screenshot of ST’s article titled, “It Changed My Life: I always hire people who are better than me, says Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong” which was published last year.
He indicated it “understandable” that his former supervisor, Alan John – who is now retired – questioned why ST didn’t even bother to ask Mr Liew “why?”, following his involvements in the unjust convictions of Ms Parti who had worked for him for nine years.
“One question to ask of reporters in the mainstream media from the recent sagas whether they involve former CapitaLand boss Liew Mun Leong or the Loh cousins is why they seems to offer flattering coverage and take whatever these people say at face value, until, of course, there is a sudden turn of events.
“Shouldn’t they be a tad less gullible and more street-smart? Ask more probing questions perhaps?” Mr Goh wrote.
Being a former reporter himself, he can relate to the difficulties involved “especially when one paints a less than flattering picture of the rich and powerful” individuals.
“Just over 10 years ago, while I was still a reporter, I put out a blog quite innocuously highlighting my colleagues’ writings one decade apart on the sweet-heart deals which Mr Liew’s family might be getting on their property purchases,” said Mr Goh.
Citing his report which was published in 2010, Mr Goh wrote that Mr Liew had paid S$3.74 million for a penthouse at The Interlace, as highlighted by his colleague. While Mr Karl Liew and wife Heather Lim bought a four-bedroom apartment on the 16th level of the condo for S$2.47 million.
According to Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Nicholas Mak, directors and their immediate family members will be placed on the “VVIP list” and are able to choose the units “when the market is hot”.
Though Mr Mak added that in a slow property, some directors might buy units – which sometimes at a bullish price – just to give confidence to buyers and investors.
Additionally, Mr Goh in his report cited an article written by his colleague Collin Tan which was published in December 2001 that states CapitaLand provided “some early-bird buyers a goodwill rebate of 5 per cent” on the purchase price as a compensation of the falling prices of the condos they bought.
“The statement said that among The Levelz buyers who will get a rebate are: CapitaLand president and chief executive Liew Mun Leong’s daughter, Ms Liew Cheng May…”
Though Mr Goh opined that his report would only draw “mildly negative” comments from the readers, the person who edited the article was concerned that it might cause negative feedback from the parties concerned.
“Ultimately, the article saw the light of day because the facts spoke for themselves and were already out in the public domain. And to my knowledge, no complaint was received.
But the episode speaks volume of the self-censorship that prevails here,” he added.