Acknowledging what the Government has done right does not preclude mainstream media platforms such as The Straits Times (ST) from dutifully scrutinising and questioning the establishment in the interest of citizens, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s Bryan Lim.
Mr Lim, who was fielded as a candidate in the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in this year’s general election, in a Facebook post on Thursday (1 October) reiterated his view that ST cannot continue to be the mouthpiece of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) if it wants to stay relevant in today’s world.
“I had mentioned previously that if the ST wants to continue to stay relevant in the 21st century after 175 years of existence, it cannot continue to be a back patter on the PAP’s handling of the whole pandemic episode.
“Give credit where it is due but dutifully scrutinize & question like how a proper Fourth Estate should function. The pen should be used to protect the citizens’ interests, not the PAP’s,” he said.
Mr Lim’s Facebook post was made in response to ST chief editor Warren Fernandez’s remarks on Monday in conjunction with World News Day.
Quoting Mr Fernandez’s statement on “quality journalism” — encompassing real news and elements such as objectivity, truthfulness, balance and fairness — Mr Lim said that ST’s extent of such values “remain in question till today”.
“And these words were actually said by someone who was considered by the PAP as a candidate for the 2006 elections. Yes, from the Chief Editor of the biggest mouthpiece of the PAP. Yes, from the top guy of a media outlet which had contributed to our 158th ranking on the World Press Freedom Index,” he said.
Mr Fernandez is the president of the World Editors Forum, a global network of editors set up by the World Association of News Publishers.
“Even Chua Chin Hon, then ST’s bureau chief for the United States, had admitted that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”,” Mr Lim added.
Earlier in July, Mr Lim opined that modernisation and adaptation go beyond digitalisation and rolling out online content — it entails “seriously considering to shed” the need to “always report the PAP favorably” and instead working towards “upholding the same high journalistic standards as the international ones”.
His remarks were made in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s call for ST to “continue to adapt and modernise itself, to remain relevant to readers who now have multiple sources of news, views and entertainment, online and offline” in a congratulatory message to the outlet on its 175th anniversary.
Former ST chief editor speaks about ST’s pro-establishment stance, “manipulating” public opinion
Even retired Editor-in-Chief Cheong Yip Seng acknowledged publicly that the PAP government has a habit of “manipulating” public opinions through ST in his own memoir, “OB Markers: My Straits Times Story”, published in 2012 (‘ST total circulation trending downwards in last 8 years‘).
In his book, Mr Cheong talked about how the PAP government would systematically control and meddle with the press.
One of the episodes was when Peter Lim, Mr Cheong’s predecessor, resisted then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s pressure to print the full ‘O’ level results of opposition politician Chiam See Tong during the 1984 election.
Mr Lee wanted to show to voters that Mr Chiam did not have the academic credentials to be a capable MP. Mr Lim resisted because he felt it would backfire on the newspaper.
Mr Cheong also related how Mr Lim, then his boss, had tried to run the newsroom with some form of independence and paid the price by having to resign in 1987.
Mr Cheong himself was careful to make sure that he was not going to face that kind of fate. He knew when to give in, when to remain stoic and when to argue — gently, that is — when the “notorious phone calls” came.
Among the many “notorious phone calls” Mr Cheong had to deal with, he revealed one call he got during the 1988 general election when former Solicitor-General Francis Seow was contesting as an opposition candidate under the Workers’ Party banner in Eunos GRC. With that one phone call, ST immediately stopped covering Mr Seow’s election campaign overnight.
Mr Cheong’s memoir also described the many interventions in Singapore’s media by the government – from appointments of editors to shaping coverage of political and foreign events and even to minor stories like stamp-collecting, carpet-buying and MSG, which the government deemed important for the citizens to know. These were matters Mr Cheong had to deal with regularly in his times as Editor-in-Chief in SPH.