A 19-year-old student, Keng Xin Yi, who has just finished his A-level, wrote to Straits Times Forum in support of the recently announced restructuring of SPH by CEO Ng Yat Chung. His letter was published on the Straits Times (ST) today.
“I am 19 years old. The Straits Times and the Chinese papers have been an important part of my life and my family’s life,” Keng disclosed.
He further revealed that his school would force students to listen to ST readings once a week during the school assembly.
“I vividly remember how my school had ST subscriptions for students and one day every week was dedicated to reading ST’s magazine for pupils, Little Red Dot, during assembly,” he said.
“Going home after school, I bought Shin Min Daily News for my parents every day.”
With regard to last week’s announcement by Ng Yat Chung to spin-off SPH’s media business into a not-for-profit entity, Keng said that he supports this decision.
“It is important for all Singaporeans to rise to the occasion to protect and nurture ST for our next generations,” he extolled. “ST is more than the bowl of china as described by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. ST is the newspaper of record of the story of Singapore and Singaporeans.”
So, it’s important to keep SPH Media alive so as to “produce quality newspapers every day”.
“ST has been serving Singaporeans with diligence and high standards, educating us from the time when we knew little about the world,” he added. “I hope we can express our gratitude by supporting and respecting these dedicated journalists. Together we can keep our source of knowledge going, keep our ST alive.”
“I want ST to be a part of the lives of my future children and grandchildren too.”
PAP government has history of “manipulating opinions” through mainstream media
Unfortunately, Keng’s school didn’t expose its students to more information outside ST in order to enable them to make a more informed decision for themselves with regard to the independence of ST.
In the famous Wikileak information on SPH and the PAP government some ten years ago, then Straits Times U.S. Bureau Chief Chua Chin Hon told a US embassy official some of the inside stories of SPH. The information together with many others from the US government was eventually leaked out and published on Wikileak.
Mr Chua had told the US official that the Singapore media would tread carefully as the government has an established track record of using the press, the ST in particular, to “shape public opinion”.
He also noted that how the PAP intended to push a certain policy was often foreshadowed by extensive media coverage. This would be done before the official government policy announcements. As an example, Mr Chua pointed to the government’s decision to assist retirees who lost investments in “mini-bonds” following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. That decision followed a spate of media coverage casting the retirees, plight in sympathetic terms.
Mr Chua of course, is no longer with ST after the publication of the damaging Wikileak article.
Former ST Editor-in-Chief Cheong reveals direct government meddling in media
Retired ST Editor-in-Chief Cheong Yip Seng who published his memoir, “OB Markers: My Straits Times Story” in 2012 had also written about PAP government having the habit of “meddling” with the press.
In his book, Mr Cheong talked about how PM Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, systematically controlled and meddled with ST. He would routinely pressured ST editors to publish what he wanted to see.
One of the episodes was when Peter Lim, Mr Cheong’s predecessor, resisted Lee’s pressure to print the full ‘O’ level results of opposition politician Chiam See Tong during the 1984 election. Lee wanted to show to voters that Chiam did not have the academic credentials to be a capable MP. Lim resisted because he felt it would backfire on the ruling party and the newspaper.
Mr Cheong also related how his boss, Peter Lim, had tried to run the newsroom with some form of independence and paid the price for it 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.
And among the many “notorious phone calls” Mr Cheong had to deal with was one call he got during the 1988 GE, when former Solicitor General Francis Seow was contesting as an opposition candidate under Workers’ Party banner in Eunos GRC. With that one phone call, ST immediately stopped covering the election campaign of Francis Seow overnight.
In other first world countries, the newspaper editors, of course, do not have to “take orders” from their government.
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.
Mr Cheong’s memoir is a laudable effort to put on record the astonishing government meddling that editors like Mr Cheong had to deal with regularly.
Perhaps Keng should try to read Mr Cheong’s memoir first before he decides if ST is going to be part of the lives of himself, his future children and grandchildren.