Oct 6, 2008

Singapore's Media Tied Up in Its Own Knots

Here is an extremely interesting article from the Straits Times. In a moment, I'll tell you why.

ST Oct 5, 2008
Students protest uni censorship

A GROUP of students staged a protest in Singapore on Sunday against their university's censorship of a campus newspaper article.

Fronted by a black banner with the slogan 'Responsible Press For Students,' the four protesters made speeches in front of about 40 students at a park designated for limited free speech and demonstrations.

The four were protesting against the decision by the Nanyang Technological University to pull the plug on a recent article about the visit in August of secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan, to the campus.

'Let us again be reminded that this incident is not about Dr Chee's visit but rather about the censorship of the news... We are proposing responsible editorial independence,' Scott Teng, one of the four, said in his speech.

Mr Teng said the article was initially given the go-ahead to be published in the campus newspaper last month before being axed suddenly.

It was about Mr Chee's visit to the school and carried nothing about his political views, he added. According to Mr Teng, the university's reason for axing the article was they did not want the campus newspaper 'to be used as a platform for unsolicited guests to air their views'. -- AFP
The article is very interesting because it is NOT really by the Straits Times. Instead it's an AFP story reproduced by the Straits Times. ("AFP" stands for Agence-France Press, a global news agency)

The ST does regularly use articles from international news agencies like Reuters, AFP, AP and Bloomberg. However, these articles are usually about foreign events happening in other countries. Typically, the ST would not rely on the foreign media for reports on events happening on our very own little island.

However, here we have a protest in Singapore, held at Hong Lim Park. The event is organised by students from a local university, and concerns an editorial decision about an article, which itself is about a very local event - Chee Soon Juan's speech at a local educational institution. It is a highly local story.

And yet the ST did not cover the story itself. It did not assign any reporter to interview the students or NTU or Chee Soon Juan. It did not even send a photographer to take any of its own photos of the event (the photo I reproduced above is an AFP photo).

Why? We can make a few guesses.

(1) The ST is incompetent at sniffing out newsworthy events. It found out about this particular event only after it had happened, and had to purchase the article from AFP, instead of sending its own journalist to cover the event.

(2) The ST knew about the event. However, in the same way that NTU had been nervous about publishing the article about Chee's speech, the Straits Times was nervous about doing its own report, about a protest concerning that matter.

In other words, the ST decided that it was too politically risky to report the event itself. If the ST published the "wrong" things in its article, it might attract a reprimand from the Singapore government, for crossing the line. It would be much safer to just reproduce a foreign agency's report.

(3) The ST had deliberately chosen not to report this event. It intentionally decided not to publicise this particular matter concerning a protest about censorship in Singapore. However, after AFP broke the story, the ST felt that for the sake of its credibility, it could not pretend that the event had not happened. Therefore the ST quickly purchased the article from AFP and published it here in Singapore.

Which theory do you prefer?


Anonymous said...

Theory No. 3 is the most logical and obvious. Seriously, I would consider that as a fact rather than a mere theory.

james said...

All of the above ;)
The genie is out of the bottle.
Evolution will be stumbling.

This is nothing compared to the lack of belief or ability in self-renewal at all levels from Cabinet down to Heartlander.

Boboshooter said...

Pity them

For they need to appear like they have the "meat" of real issues without actually biting the bloodied hands that feed them.

fighting fit said...

The real joke is with NTU. Read this part of the article on Today's newspaper, which had its own report.

"In this case, our student media may be inadvertently used by unsolicited visitors to advance their political agenda. The university is exercising its ownership rights to mitigate the risks that the university is seen as being used for the political agenda of the uninvited visitors," said the university.

Now why is NTU afraid of Chee Soon Juan advancing his political agenda? NTU and its student media have editors, right? Does the NTU not trust the editors there to have control over their publication or broadcast content?

The students are in school now, having hands-on experience running the shop. Teach them to run it responsibly. That is the learning opportunity the journalism educators should have seized--not shrugged by axing the article.

By not giving them the opportunity to cover and report the event, what have the students learnt?

Anonymous said...

"However, after AFP broke the story, the ST felt that for the sake of its credibility, it could not pretend that the event had not happened. Therefore the ST quickly purchased the article from AFP and published it here in Singapore."

credibility? you've gotta be kidding me. for a local newspaper to get scooped on their own turf is the journalistic equivalent to getting their collective asses handed to them on a plate. they are so totally pwned.

seriously, i would think that the straits times would have maintained greater credibility if it had NOT published the article at all. at least they could then pretend an aura that such "parochial" campus news is beneath their notice. no such luck now. just belated embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

I was the organizer of the event, unfortunately Mr. Wang the theories was wrong, which is even more disturbing.

There was indeed an ST reporter and camera man on the scene, we were briefly interviewed. ST knew the reporter went down and we also informed ST about the event. Ironically AFP and Reuters were not directly informed about this event.

So its anyone's guess why ST did not run any article when their own reporter and photographer was down. They did however ran a very small story today which was NOT written by the said reporter.

Enquirer.sg counted and about 100 people turned up.


Mr Wang Says So said...

Aha ... Well, that tends to suggest that Theory 2 is right. That is to say, the ST felt afraid to publish its own story, and therefore relied on the reproduction of a foreign press report.

That way, if any Higher Power calls up the ST to express its displeasure, the ST can say:

"But sir, we were not reporting on our own. We just reported an article which was already circulating in the international press. Surely you can't blame us for that."

Anonymous said...

i think ST did do a report, but they sold it to AFP under the table and bought it from them in daylight.

anon October 6, 2008 5:00 PM:
well, i guess the students have learnt that the ST isnt as credible as they might have thought it would be, the realities of the singaporean paper.

auntie lucia said...

Think u r forever suspecting a snake in the grass when it's merely the wind...

Look at the profile of Dr Tony Tan which the ST carried. It's written by ThomsonReuters. Surely it's something ST could have written. Y didn't it? Tony Tan an untouchable meh?

Surely NOT when he's the hands on honcho at GIC..

There cld be all sorts of real life, operational reasons y ST didn't have it's own write-ups and nothing of them to do with political correctness...

Mr Wang Says So said...

No, Lucia. Opinion pieces, analyses, feature articles etc are treated differently from hard news.

Anonymous said...

George says:

This is not the first time. This had happened before, not too long ago, although I cannot recollect that news item.

I have a fourth theory - there are some true journalists in the ST who tipped off the foreign news reporters so that they would cover such events. The rest is roughly like what you said in the 3rd theory.

Don't forget, the St can blithely refuse to carry it, as it had done so on many other occasions.

Onlooker said...

While they are introducing yet another "Free" Newspaper targetted at the group of new imports.
The price of newspaper have silently raised to $1 for the Saturday edition(as realted by a friend).
No more reason to read Straits times but thanks for pointing out a replicated (from AFP) News on it.

Because ST is still loopsided and the report it carries are still a organic part of What D'elites wanted us to perceive.

Anonymous said...

Only a country with government who engaged in self preservation over all other matters will produce such a ridiculous situation whereby the main local paper has to purchase from an international news service regarding a local event. A stupid policy leads to a "ingenius" bypass which make a laughing stock out of the government and the ST.

Anonymous said...

hmmm then why is Chee's visit considered as hard news?

moomooman said...

I think they aren't interested about the event at NTU, nor students protesting...

They just happened to have some space they need to fill up under that section, and this article fit the size nicely.

It's that simple. No one is afraid of no one.

Declaration: I own SPH shares.

Pkchukiss said...

I don't doubt the efficiency of the Straits Times. They've got reporters on the Internet to check out local blogs all the time.

Kaffein said...

Once bitten, twice shy. Think NKF and won't be far off.

Anonymous said...

Theory 1 is highly unlikely, if you use some common sense. These are journalism students and they most certainly have contacts with seniors/alumni who are in the ST. ST obviously knew about it (of course Scott above has clarified this).

I think ST was wary of how people might draw links about the lack of media freedom on campus to the lack of media freedom in ST itself. It might well have been the NTU alumni journalists who insisted that it at least deserved that tiny bit of coverage.


fighting fit said...

If I run a paper, I have every right not to publish something, if I think it isn't newsworthy. It's all a matter of judgment. If CSJ doesn't say anything new from all the usual spiel, then why should I give him coverage.

The fact that someone organized it, 100 people showed up, and opposition politician CSJ spoke, doesn't mean it automatically deserves news coverage in the papers or on TV. If he spills the same old stuff, I'll tell him, "Tell me something I don't know."

Mr Wang Says So said...

I agree with you, Fighting Fit.

Firstly the newspaper must decide whether the event is newsworthy. If it is not, it should not be reported at all. If it is, it should be.

Do you think that the Straits Times regards the event as newsworthy?

Remember - it needs to pay AFP, for using the story.

Would you pay to use a story, if you did not think it was newsworthy?

You tell me, lah.

(Nowadays, I must encourage people to think more for themselves, heheh).

Mr Wang Says So said...

"hmmm then why is Chee's visit considered as hard news?"

Chee's visit is not the hard news.

The hard news is a demonstration in Hong Lim Park, by NTU students.

The demonstration is about the censorship of an article.

The article happens to be about Chee's visit. Note: the demonstration (or the AFP report of it) does not even discuss WHAT Chee said. The censorship of the article is the focus.

Anonymous said...

Dun see why pple bother to find excuses for the ST. This incident reminds me of the ST belatedly printing a photo of the huge turnout at a WP election rally only after it appeared on the internet.

I doubt the editors of ST would ever deny or have ever denied that they stand by the PAP.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang, why do you think some people purposely misread your points or are here to spill for ST?

It seems like they come in all shapes, an auntie, shareholder and whoknowswhat characters.

Is it really pleasurable fun to spill for the BIG 'evils'?

Anonymous said...

or it could be option 4)

some self-righteous reporter decided to go against ST to go to the event, and sold the news to AFP?


ErniesUrn said...

Dear Mr. Wang,

I've got a friend who was an intern in ST until she realised being a journalist in Singapore wasn't really what she had in mind.

The rumours are true that there is a tatical move by ST not to cover articles that negatively represents the govt or put them in bad light. Nothing is spared. As for the journalist covering or "sniffing" out events, they are actually pretty good at it. To ask if why certain articles never make print, is a very good question for the editor. "wink wink" :)

My friend now writes for a magazine.

Anonymous said...

Fact 2 and 3. They are facts, not theories.

fighting fit said...

I would add a few more points.

I don't think ST pays AFP to use a story--in other words, I don't think it's a per-use basis. It is a subscription service. ST pays the wire agency a fee for the feed. ST can use any story it wants. That's how I think it works.

Like earlier said, NTU was wrong to choose an iron-fisted approach of shutting out coverage. Opportunity to learn wiped out.

It could have allowed the coverage and used it as a lesson for the students to practise responsible news coverage. Let them write the story first. Then go through the story with them and critique it well. Ask them incisive questions like Has Dr. Chee said anything new? Look at his past statements (covered by western media esp.) for your reference. If he has anything new, what is his basis for saying it? Anyone can make claims--including the loonie ones. Get him to back it up. Does he have alternatives? Suggestions? Ideas? Is what he's saying useful for the society?

Of course, if we use this critical yardstick, some of the better known officials could likely fall by the wayside too into the news rubbish bin.

Mr Wang Says So said...

True. If you go by this critical yardstick, you might also theorise that while the ST did send their own journalist & photographer to report the event and interview the students (as confirmed by Scott the organiser),

the ST nevertheless found the standard of coverage by its own staff so poor that the ST decided not to use their own staff's work, but instead to use the AFP article.

However, I don't find this theory particularly compelling. For one thing, I don't think that this story's facts are very hard to put together. It seems more plausible to me that there is some other explanation why ST sent its own staff, yet did not do its own report.

fighting fit said...

Ok, I don't know who was there and if that person is a seasoned reporter. But I think it's entirely possible a rookie got assigned to cover that though.

And so maybe the junior ST reporter that was there got a "no-shit-Sherlock" story. It got thrashed. News editor finally decides, crap, I don't have anything to use except that AFP version. Entirely possible.

Come on, it's CSJ. Even the wise Western reporters give him a pass--as in, "thanks, but no thanks."
Honestly lah, has he impressed you?

Throw a few grocery items on the ground and protest on inflation. Does Dr. Chee know how inflation comes about? Does he know the tools for fighting inflation? Which one works under what conditions?

utopia said...

tsktsk propaganda works are getting more difficult for the Straits Times in these days of well-reasoned internet bloggers.

no wonder they justify a 10 cents increase in newspaper.

Mr Wang Says So said...

In fact, CSJ does not impress me at all. If you type "Chee Soon Juan" into my blog search engine, you will see what I think of him.

However, that is not relevant.

Unfortunately, your problem, Fighting Fit, is that you do not see WHY it is not relevant.

Mr Wang Says So said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

NTU students holding a protest about ANYTHING at Hong Lim Park is already a newsworthy event. Considering that Hong Lim demonstrations are still a very novel thing, and Singaporean students protesting about anything in public is also quite a rare occurrence.

Anonymous said...

Shitty Times not worth the salt. Just look at their growth and revenue it is dropping. The share price is getting cheap. They are so pathetic to even increase subscription fees and that will reduce readership even more. The point is Internet has very much replaced news worthy contents of shitty times. People knows that is is a propaganda paper. Buying less reading less means less brainwash.


Anonymous said...

Aiyo use backside think also will know its either theory 2 or 3 or a blend of both lah.

I gotta hand it to u, mr wang, for even suggesting theory 1, in my opinion for show only hehehe.

Daniel said...

It's a little ironic that, from what i understand, NTU has some leading academics on freedom of expression and media law...

wayangparty said...

Hi Scott,

When I last checked, the NTU enquirer at www.enquirer.sg has been taken down, what happened ?

wayangparty said...

Hi Scott,

When I last checked, the NTU enquirer at www.enquirer.sg has been taken down, what happened ?

Anonymous said...

>Does Dr. Chee know how inflation comes about? Does he know the tools for fighting inflation? Which one works under what conditions?

He does. But you - fighting fit - do not know he knows, because you refuse to read his latest book A Nation Cheated wherein he described: how inflation comes about, the tools for fighting inflation, which one works under what conditions...

Yet, you see it fit to accuse him just like that i.e. empty accusations against all evidence (i.e. his 8 books and numerous speeches) indicating that he has provided solutions for the problems he highlight.

I am no SDP member and if you had disagreed with the *solutions* that he proposed, I would have kept quiet. But for you to say that he has offered no solution, and in fact, does not know any solution, that's just too much - too much lies from you! Go read his book first. It will make you a better liar :)

Anonymous said...

> Throw a few grocery items on the ground and protest on inflation

Anything wrong with that? It is not the job of a politician to be an economist. The job of a politician is to galvanise the people, - in this case to get the people aware and interested in the inflation issue. Putting some grocery items on the ground and protesting on inflation is a good way to achieve this.

Another job of a politician is to advocate for the people - in this case, to pressure the govt to reduce inflation via not increasing bus fare, not increasing electric bill etc. Again, putting some grocery items on the ground and pretesting on inflation is a good way to achieve this.

That's what they did in Hong Kong, and with thousands of people protesting, the govt relented and swallowed back its proposed GST hike. It's effective!

In fact, precisely because it is effective, that's why you are leaving comments after comments here denouncing the "ineffectiveness" of CSJ's method. ha!

(By the way, it is the job of an economist to be an economist! A politician's job, AFTER forming the govt, is to employ an economist. It is not necessary, or expected for a politician to be an economist. Is LHL an economist? Is Lim Hng Kiang? Is Khaw?)

Anonymous said...

>the wise Western reporters give him a pass--as in, "thanks, but no thanks."

In the propaganda you cooked up? The last I heard, both western AND eastern reporters held him in high regard. In fact, YOU regard him as a very important person too. If not, you won't have to keep commenting here in the way you have. ha!

Anonymous said...

fighting fit wrote: Let them write the story first. [NTU should] Then go through the story with them and critique it well. Ask them incisive questions like Has Dr. Chee said anything new?....

Yeah, that' right! NTU students have no right to free speech and free media UNLESS they agree to be treated like kindergartens students, allowing their professors to go through the story
with them and critique it well...

> Anyone can make claims--including the loonie ones. Get him to back it up.

He did back THEM up. All of them. In his books. Do yourself a favour. Get his latest book and see how he quoted all his references. It will help you do better at your "job". Ha!

> Does he have alternatives? Suggestions? Ideas?

Then what do you think he wrote in all his books? While we may not agree with his alternatives, suggestions, ideas, as espoused in pages after pages of books after books, but for you to say that he did not come up with any alternatives, suggestions, ideas, geez, you are not doing a very good "job"! ha!

Anonymous said...

Mr wang wrote: "Unfortunately, your problem, Fighting Fit, is that you do not see WHY [CSJ] is not relevant."

Of course Fighting Fit sees why CSJ is not relevant to this issue. But he chose to ignore it. 'Cos his "job" is about CSJ. That's what he was tasked to do. He should thank you, Mr. Wang, for giving him the opportunity to do his "job".

Sorry if anybody find my use of the word "job" offensive. But what else can you call it - I mean, CSJ wrote bookSSSSSS, each of numerous pageSSSSS on his ideas, suggestions, alternatives, and when along come someone who say csj can only criticise but offer no ideas/suggestions/alternatives, I don't think it is far-fetch for me to say that such a person is saying such rubbish because he has a "job" to do! Ha!

Anonymous said...

Man, how i wish ST uses that critical yardstick of not printing anything that is not newsworthy ...

I dun have to read those ministers' rubbish day in and day out. Then they dun have to increase the price of the papers too.

Nowadays, ST more like a Marvel comic strip featuring PAP characters fighting the world bent on doing us in.

fighting fit said...

I wonder who made the decision to can the news at NTU. Was it reported?

just noticed that Ang Peng Hwa is no longer the chair at NTU School of communications. Has he left NTU?

fighting fit said...

So many "anonymous"--dunno who is who, or if they are all the same person.

Ok, I may not be as well read you'd like me to be--I find no impulse to buy his book. If he really has great water-tight ideas in his book, then he needs to do a better job of getting them out into the open, rather than just peddle them in public.

I have not read one interview or report in the Western media, which you say holds him in high regard, telling readers of CSJ's great ideas. IHT and Reuters article all just reported that he got arrested. If he had said anything worth reporting, why didn't they quote him? You mean CSJ never talks about his great economic solutions except in this books?

> It is not the job of a politician to be an economist.

Any politician who cannot grasp at least the basics of economics -- or for that matter, show that he has a good grasp -- won't get me galvanised.

> NTU students have no right to free speech and free media UNLESS they agree to be treated like kindergartens students, allowing their professors to go through the story with them and critique it well...

I guess you think NTU students are all competent and experienced people. In that case, why torture yourselves through NTU? After all, you get no free speech there. Just go out and work. Apply to work for news organizations now.

Mr Wang said...

Boy, you ARE ... a bit slow.

Look, try this question. WHY did the Straits Times publish this AFP article, if CSJ's speech is no good?

(By the way, before you misunderstand, the above question is NOT intended to imply whether his speech is good or no good).

Mr Wang said...

"I have not read one interview or report in the Western media, which you say holds him in high regard, telling readers of CSJ's great ideas."


LOL, yes, there are some risks to doing things like that.

fighting fit said...

The AFP article is about students protesting the univ censorship of the article. Dunno why you all automatically link that to whether Dr. Chee's speech is good or not?
Like I told you, I don't agree with the censorship either, but it has nothing to do with whether CSJ's speech is good or not. Yes, he appeared on campus and that is news. Big news or small news? It depends on what else happened that day, on campus and outside. It also depends on what he said or do while there. If all he said is, stop million dollar salaries, get involved you youngsters, then we have heard all those. If he has great ideas from his books in solving economic woes, he should have said so publicly. Why limit communicating those ideas through his books only? Politicians who want to lead should sell books only after having lead.

Mr Wang Says So said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Wang Says So said...

You could ask Chee.

Now please stick to the topic. If you don't know what it is, try reading the main post again.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Yes, he appeared on campus and that is news. Big news or small news?"

DUH .... No, that is not news.

Things which happened in August is no longer news, by 5 October.

But things which happened on 3rd or 4th October can still be news, by 5 October.

Now, try this. Read my post again, and see what happened in August, and next try to see what happened in early October.

Now, try this. Read the article again, and try to see what

Anonymous said...

This is journalism gone to the dogs. As usual, we have to depend on Foreign Talents (AFP in this case)to write a news report and purchased it from them at a price. No wonder the price of Shitty Times has increased.

Anonymous said...

Fighting Fit is not answering to the blog's thesis. I would have fail him in any examinations. Keep to the topic.

As for what Mr Wang wrote, I am still not satisfied with the theories.

Theory 1
ST incompetency in sniffing out local news
- I think someone mentioned above about the presence of ST reporter and photographer at the Speaker's Corner. So that's out.

Theory 2
ST afraid of offending the higher up
- Fair enough. In that case, why bother sending a reporter AND a photographer there? Beside, they should be very experienced at spinning a negative story into one that's positive i.e. poor attendance, repeating the stance of NTU in not publishing Chee's visit and so on and so forth.

Theory 3
Because AFP has already published it
- Entirely in ST's perogative not to publish any local news not deemed as 'news'. Don't have any hard facts to back me up here but I'll go out on a limb and said that there's many more local news reported by external agencies not published in the ST. So don't think its credibility is as risk here - we are all conditioned to think that foreign press have a hidden agenda.
Secondly, even if AFT had published it and they want to maintain credibility, they can STILL USE the report filed by the ST reporter, there's no need to 'pay' for the news right?

So what is the reason for ST using AFT?
- Better quality because the ST reporter is a rookie? I don't buy that. What's so difficult about writing a nondescript event (no offense to the organizers) in 200 words?

- Between the ST report and the AFP, the AFP is of a better quality. BUT, this is not an op-ed piece, what's SO DIFFICULT about reporting an event?

I am still not satisfied with the opinions thrown in but I can't really think of why ST would take the AFT report. Who knows, it might be as mundance as the ST editor losing his subordinate's report and due to a pressing deadline so no choice but to take the 'nearest' one avaliable.

Any insiders to clear up this mystery? Heh ;)

Jon said...

The Semblence of Consensus will be one of the last sacred cows to fall in SG.

This is by far the weakest link in SG, but works well if you've a star hitter running the show.

Ramesh said...

Hi Mr Wang

Is it possible that someone lower down the pecking order at the newsroom decided to run this story without bothering about his ST bosses, or maybe just to spite them?

Fighting fit said...

You all think just cos ST used AFP instead of local reporter writeup for something that happened here, something must be "up". There must be something "interesting" about the whole deal eh.

Newspapers very often don't have enough reporters to cover the local events. They count on wires, freelancers and stringers. ST is no exception. In this case, the protest itself is newsworthy.

I ain't pro-PAP nor am I defending ST. But looking at the scenario here objectively, I'd say either the ST reporter sent to the protest event completely screwed up the story and therefore they chose the AFP story or they reassigned the reporter later to another story for the day.

Years ago, a reporter approached me at a bus stop to ask a few questions for a story. She had a sense of urgency and desperation about her. It was late in the afternoon, so I asked her why she was doing the interview so late if it was for the next day. She said she had forgotten to ask the people she interviewed for their age. Her boss made her redo it.

They don't have to pay for the AFP story. They pay subscription fee to news agencies and can use any amount of stories they want, merge them, rewrite them. They just have to remember to give credit where it is due.

Terence said...

Good write-up.
The most interested person/party in question themselves should rightfully be answering the queries posted here, and its rather a bit unfortunate bystanders like us engaged in a guessing game of trying to read whats the Shit Times up to.
Of course the Shit Times is a spent force already as far as credibility is concerned, or was there an iota of credibility left for us to expend our breath to talk about something useless.
I am quite sure (meaning 99%) they are fully aware here of what is written by us.
Throw them a challenge - asked them to select the answeres themselves, Mr Wang (said so).

Recruit Ong said...

In fact, CSJ does not impress me at all. If you type "Chee Soon Juan" into my blog search engine, you will see what I think of him.

However, that is not relevant.

this is not relevant too, but I just wondering.. any PAP minister or MP impress you?

Mr Wang Says So said...

I felt that Tharman did a good job during his time as Education Minister. Khaw strikes me as sincere and down-to-earth.

Norman said...

I prefer the theory that the ST is hiding behind the AFP's articles.

Very often, I sense hidden messages in ST's articles above the apparently positive spin of the article.