Since Singaporean BBC reporter Sharanjit Leyl shared her experience as a minority in the country and the challenges she has had to face in the media industry here, several others have reached out to share similar accounts, she said.
In a Facebook post on Friday (13 August), Ms Leyl expressed her thanks for the outpouring of support she has received since the story was published on the BBC series From Our Own Correspondent which was aired on BBC World Series on 7 August.
Ms Leyl noted that she has received an “endless stream of messages” from people within the industry about similar challenges they have faced within organisations in Singapore as minorities.
In the post, Ms Leyl shared a screenshot of one of the messages she received from someone who works in CNA, corroborating that Ms Leyl’s story “doesn’t surprise [them] at all”.
The message read: “I am sure that Walter did say what he denies saying because it really does sound like him.”
In her post, Ms Leyl went on to explain that the reason she chose to speak out about racism in Singapore now is due to the rise of racists incidents in the country that have made the news. This includes the incident of a polytechnic teacher making racists remarks at an interracial couple, accusing an Indian-Filipino man of “preying” on Chinese girls while on a night out with his girlfriend.
Ms Leyl explained: “the news show that contacted me wanted a perspective of my own lived experience of what it’s been like for me – a Singaporean minority.”
“So I simply related what I went through, truthfully,” she said, adding that she did not have any “ulterior motive or agenda”.
She went on to note the importance of talking about such issues now in order to make it better by calling out discrimination.
“We simply have to if we want to become the vision of Singapore sun about in those National Day songs,” she concluded.
Ms Leyl continued to receive many messages of support and praise for speaking out against racism on her post.
One person also highlighted the irony of Ms Leyl’s being passed over for a job in her home country of Singapore due to racial prejudice which turned out to be a “blessing in disguise” as she eventually became an internationally recognised journalist who has done multiple high profile interviews and isn’t “muzzled” by the “PAP regime’s propaganda machine”.
Censorship of Singapore media, according to CNA journalists
The netizen also shared a video snippet from a Censorship in Media debate with Mediacorp from back in 2016 at the Singapore University of Technology & Design where CNA’s Steven Chia admitted to censorship in local media.
Mr Chia, a senior editor at CNA, said in the video: “Do we do propaganda? We do.”
Noting that Singapore is unique in this respect, he added: “We are not, the media is not the third, you know is not the watchdog there to pounce on politicians and not to hold people accountable. That’s not our role here.”
“Actually, for me, in my opinion, a lot of the things that happen are fine because within the things that Singapore bans and doesn’t allow are things which generally most of us don’t want. We have this white picket fence, yeah, but generally what’s outside is what most of us don’t want anyway.”
In the almost 3-minute video, Mr Chia asserted: “Sometimes you may not see, but what’s happened in the country, the national agenda also plays a part in what is coming out. Is that censorship? Yeah, it is.”
Another panellist, then-senior executive producer of current affairs Jacylyn Low chimed in with her own experiences, expressing stating that there is “definitely” censorship in Singapore media.
Ms Low, who is now CNA’s Correspondent in Shanghai said: “I had many experiences with censorship and I would say there is definitely censorship in our media and I went through in a way a long struggle with it before I came to terms with the way things are run.”
“After a while, I kind of got tired of fighting with my bosses about what should go in and what shouldn’t,” she added.
Ms Low explained, “It was very, very tiring and I didn’t, after a while, I really didn’t want to do any story that I felt would not be covered well because of censorship. And I avoided those topics if I knew they were going to be problematic.
Ms Leyl’s experience and Mediacorp’s response
In the BBC series, Ms Leyl recounted her experience of struggling to get through the door of a local news broadcaster in Singapore after returning from North America with a master’s degree and broadcast journalism experience.
She also detailed her experience of working with an American financial news agency later where she had to provide currency updates to local channels.
“They told my bosses they didn’t want me doing TV updates for them.
“I now know the man who runs that same TV channel who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean and I confronted him about why there were still so few Indian or Malay anchors presenting their programs. His response was that viewers didn’t like watching darker-skinned presenters,” she recounted.
Ms Leyl’s story sparked a response from Mediacorp in which the company said her comments appeared to be in reference to its news channel, Channel NewsAsia, and its editor-in-chief, Walter Fernandez.
In its statement, Mediacorp noted that these comments are seemingly in reference to the company and its editor-in-chief, Walter Fernandez.
“We would like to clarify that Mr Fernandez did not make such a statement,” it stated.
The company went on to assert that it practices merit-based hiring and highlighted that around 30 per cent of its presenters are from minority groups.
Author Sudhir Vadaketh challenges Mediacorp claim of merit-based hiring
Following Mediacorp’s statement in response to Ms Leyl’s story, Singaporean author Sudhir Vadaketh challenged the company’s assertion that it hires based on merit, saying that “like with media outfits in other illiberal democracies, public allegiance to the party line is a prerequisite”.
Calling CNA “Singapore’s equivalent of Russia Today”, Mr Vadaketh noted that many of its journalists know that they aren’t allowed to cover a whole range of topics and that they must closely follow the PAP’s script on various issues.
“In fact, the clearest evidence that Mediacorp does NOT hire purely on merit is in its very snub of Sharanjit Leyl, who subsequently joined the BBC and won numerous plaudits for her work,” the author asserted.
Mr Vadaketh also characterised the argument that Singaporean viewers do not fancy watching darker-skinned presenters as “classic Singaporean doublespeak” that relies on “supposed market preferences” to mask inherent bias and justify discrimination.
The frequent social commentator further questioned whether a national broadcaster should “validate prejudice” even if the argument is true, asking, “If viewers didn’t want to watch women, should Mediacorp field an all-male cast?”
Expanding on Mediacorp’s “terrible, evasive” response, Mr Vadaketh also highlighted how the statement turned a question about colourism into one about minorities.
“Sharanjit’s complaint was about the number of Malays and Indians and about ‘darker-skinned presenters’. Mediacorp didn’t bother responding to that, but instead said that ‘Some 30 per cent of CNA news presenters are from minority groups’. Well, guess what? The minorities are almost all Eurasians and others with light skin,” he explained.
He also pointed out that the new outlet’s current line-up of over 30 presenters only includes one Malay person. The rest are either Chinese or Eurasian.