Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat wrote on his Facebook page saying that he visited SPH yesterday (11 Nov).
“It’s my first look at SPH since they completed their renovations this year,” Heng said.
“Saw the newly-built SPH studios and got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the various newsrooms operate.”
Heng said that although the media landscape has changed, the role of mainstream media remains the same, that is, to be a trusted and reliable news source for audiences.
He said, “Although the media landscape has been irrevocably changed with the advent of digital technology, the role of mainstream media remains the same – to be a trusted and reliable news source for audiences.”
He commented that he was glad to have met “many passionate staff” in SPH who are “committed to being accurate in their news reporting”. He said that this is a current challenge because fake news is proliferating globally and has been often used as a tool to divide rather than unite people.
Even though Heng said SPH is “committed to being accurate in their news reporting”, it made mistakes on Sunday (11 Nov) when it reported that under CECA, “intra-corporate transferees” in Indian companies need to be employed for at least a year before they can be transferred to work in Singapore (‘ST says sorry for publishing wrong info on how long Indian nationals can work in SG under CECA‘).
SPH also reported that they are allowed to work in Singapore for a total of 5 years. In actual fact, under CECA, “intra-corporate transferees” only need to be employed in a company for as little as 6 months before they become eligible for transfer. Also, they are permitted to work in Singapore for a total of 8 years, not 5.
Former ST Editor-in-Chief reveals non-independence of ST
Even as Heng wants mainstream media like those in SPH to be a trusted and reliable news sources, in his memoir published in 2012, retired former SPH Chief Editor Cheong Yip Seng had acknowledged publicly that the People’s Action Party government has the habit of “manipulating” public opinions through Straits Times.
In his book, Mr Cheong talked about how the PAP government would systematically controlled and meddled with the press.
One of the episodes was when Peter Lim, Mr Cheong’s predecessor, resisted then PM Lee Kuan Yew’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 newspaper.
Mr Cheong also related how Peter 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.
And among the many “notorious phone calls” Mr Cheong had to deal with, he revealed 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 words, SPH’s “reliable” reporting suddenly disappeared overnight after one “notorious phone call”. 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 mainstream media editors like Mr Cheong had to deal with regularly.
In any case, according to the latest World Press Freedom Index 2019, Singapore is currently ranked 151st out of 180 countries, behind Russia (149th) and Bangladesh (150th).
Perhaps Heng meant he wants the mainstream media to be “a trusted and reliable news source” for his government?