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Archive for the ‘News Reports’ Category

Open Letter to ST Readers Editor

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 21, 2014 at 12:42 am

I am writing to convey my great disappointment over ST’s reporting of the online protests against the holding of the Philippines Independence Day celebrations.

In your first report, you said:
The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately. Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.
The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

This is inaccurate. The 26,000 “likes’’ are for the page itself, which was set up a few years ago and has a wide variety of posts including those not associated with foreigners. The post calling for the protest amounted to some 300-plus “likes’’.

This mis-reporting has caused consternation as it implied that 26,000 citizens or so support the protests – which is not true. For a subject that is potentially explosive, I believe it behoved ST to be extra vigilant in the accuracy of the information it publishes.

There was no correction nor clarification, which would be important for readers who read only your august newspaper. Nor was there an attempt to set the record straight in your next article on the protest organisers receiving threats. Or in subsequent articles and in your editorial.

In your Sunday Times article, Filipino group heartened by support, you chose again not to correct the misimpression. You quoted selectively from Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s Facebook post, focusing only on his point that xenophobia should not be tolerated.

You ignored this point: “That there are xenophobes wasn’t the surprising part since there are these sad elements in any society. It was the reported 26,000 ‘likes’ for the page … that raised my brows. As it turned out, the reporting was inaccurate.”

Likewise, you quoted selectively from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook page on this issue, neglecting to incorporate this line: “Fortunately, it was the work of a few trolls.’’

It would seem that ST has gone to great lengths to sweep its mistake under the carpet, an ignominious thing to do for a newspaper which prides itself on accuracy. For ST-only readers, the 26,000 figure is what will stick in their minds, tarring the online community as a bunch of rabid xenophobes. Foreigners who read ST only would also come away with the impression that Singapore is on the verging of losing its sanity over the immigration issue.

In her column on April 19, your writer Ms Chua Mui Hoong used the online protests as a launch pad to discuss whether such online views are representative of Singapore society at large. She too made no mention of ST’s mistake of exaggerating the protest numbers although she did say this: From all acounts, that anger seems to be an over-reaction from a segment of Singaporeans against a perfectly pleasant, legitimate event. Many others spoke up against such anti-foreigner sentiments.

She also said: Unlike blogs in English which delight in ripping off mainstream media’s reports, Chinese language bloggers used mainstream media reports as sources of information, not as fodder for criticism.

I would like to point out that this is precisely why ST should be careful with its news reports – because the mainstream media is used as a source of information. This means that when it is inaccurate, it must brace itself for criticism, acknowledge its failings and not dismiss the comments of those, whom as Ms Chua put it, “delight in ripping off’’ its reports.

Ms Chua concluded: So it’s never a good idea to generalise from a group of angry netizens to Singapore society at large.

I agree. And it would help if ST was more careful in its reporting and upfront about its mistakes instead of adding to the misperception.

A mid-term report

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 19, 2014 at 3:55 am

ST pulled out its big guns to mull over a mid-term report on Singaporean’s satisfaction with the G. They dissected the views on health, transport and housing and expanded on what they saw as middle class angst over the state of affairs here.

The survey results were generally favourable to the G, noting higher levels of satisfaction over its attempts to fix the housing, healthcare needs of citizens and to alleviate the plight of the old and the poor. Post-2011 GE – and the G seems to have taken into account the woes of the populace. Yet as commentator after commentator pointed out, the disaffected will still say that the measures were too little, too late and the problems were wrought by bad policies, which behoved the G to rectify anyway. Some will point to the small sample size of 500. But students of statistics will allow that a sample, if scientifically picked and polled, would suffice as a more-or-less accurate gauge of sentiment. Far better than the usual street poll, at least…  

In any case, I’d wager anything for comments to surface that the survey was a white-wash, initiated by a pro-G media mouthpiece which sought to present the survey results as the voice of silent majority.

Frankly, I’m not too surprised at the results. Bread-and-butter issues have always been foremost in the Singaporean mindset. People are happy that the problem of affordable housing seems to have been fixed and moves are being made to provide for universal healthcare. Social policies in recent years have been geared towards alleviating the plight of the poor, aided by the G’s constant reminders of the amount of money, subsidies and benefits that go to the group. The Pioneer Generation Package is appreciated. The need to provide medical cover for those who pre-date the CPF scheme and Medisave has been thoroughly welcomed, although experts have noted that the devil is in the details.  

Give us the good life – that’s what we want.

We also want lower COE prices and a train system that doesn’t break down. That’s the biggest bugbear of those surveyed. The G is having difficulty on this front, and no wonder. In housing, it has the levers of HDB and land sales as well as the power to restrict or expand lending through MAS regulations. Its network of polyclinics and public hospitals as well as controls over CPF and Medisave also work as healthcare financing instruments. In transport, besides the Land Transport Authority,road-building and infrastructure, public transport is really in private hands and private enterprises are wily enough to get round private transport curbs. Hence the luckless Mr Lui Tuck Yew.

When it comes to conceptualising policies, this really is a good government, aided by a very able civil service (MDA excepted). Increasingly, a soft touch is being applied to them, which we will probably see more of when Parliament re-opens.

As for the not-as-satisfied middle class and mid-age group, their sentiments have been variously described as conforming to a traditional U-shape for happiness (because this is the segment everywhere which has to deal with the bread and butter issues with car, house, children to support). Or explained as high expectations of an even better life than what they now have.

Now, the G can fix policies to give more people a fair shake, but raising the tide to lift all boats will be a far tougher issue at a time when people are unhappy about life’s stresses and the influx of foreigners needed to fuel the economy.   

How will this translate into votes come election time? There is a chart in the bowels of ST which could shed light. It does not refer to policy issues, but how survey respondents pick their MPs .

Of six factors, national policies and their impact on the individual were rated as “important’’ or “very important’’ for 86 per cent of them; or a mean of 4.1 on a scale of 1 to 5. This bodes well for the G, except that other contrary factors are also at work, such as how about 80 per cent think it “important’’ or “very important” to have checks and balances on the G, especially among the vast swathe of 21 to 54 year olds, and the higher-income. Indeed, a high 35 per cent viewed this as “very important’’. Expressed in terms of averages, this factor scored 4.11.  

There is another statistic: 29 per cent viewed the need for alternative views in Parliament as “very important’’; the same proportion as those who placed such a premium on local constituency issues. The score for alternative views is 4.05. For local issues, 4.02.  

The other two factors are the candidate’s attributes (4.11) and party (4.09).

I wish the survey had ranked the factors as well, so that we know which the people placed the greatest weight on.

Statistics can of course be interpreted any which way. But it is absolutely clear that the People’s Action Party will never go back to the days of a one-party Parliament however it satisfies the people policy-wise. Despite innovations like the Nominated MP scheme, the people’s aspirations for a more diverse Parliament have not been assuaged. In fact, it might have raised expectations instead. You can also expect that some will attribute the G’s performance to the presence of more opposition MPs and the rude awakening call it was administered at the last GE. In fact, it might lead some to think that more opposition would bring about better government.

Of course, the reverse could happen. Those who voted against the current G might feel that it has seen the “error of its ways’’ or the benefits of social policy are felt widely enough for more people to feel that the G has done right – and will continue to do right – by them.  

How the G does in the rest of parliamentary term will be critical. Can it consolidate its gains and ride the 50th anniversary feel-good tide?  Can it “fix’’ the current pre-occupation of residents – rising cost of living?

Truth be told, I am a little uncomfortable with its shift towards more “social’’ governance. Methinks it would lead to greater expectations on the part of the people and invite a greater role for the G in the people’s lives.

But it is so very important to satisfy the people, isn’t it?

  

 

The flip side of the Filipino Day

In News Reports, Society, Writing on April 16, 2014 at 2:34 am

We all know that there are racists and xenophobes in Singapore, as there are in any society. The sane among us know not to add fuel to their fire. We do not encourage their sentiments – because we do not share them. Sometimes we ignore them because there is no way to change how they feel. And, of course, no one would acknowledge to being racist or xenophobic.

So when does racism and xenophobia become news?

I ask this because I was aghast to read the article, Filipino group gets online flak over event, published in The Straits Times today.

It said: Organisers of a plan to celebrate Philippine Independence Day here had to remove a Facebook post about the event, after it drew a storm of vitriol and protests from netizens.
The online response came as a shock, they said, though they still intend to proceed with the celebration on June 8 at Ngee Ann City’s Civic Plaza, pending approval of permits from the authorities.

A lot of things get “online flak’’, so when is “flak’’ so heavy that it deserves further magnification in The Straits Times? Well, it seems that the removal of a FB post about the event by the hapless organisers was enough to merit a piece of real estate in ST. It was prime estate as well, on page A8, not in the bowels of its Home section.

Note: The organisers weren’t compelled to stop the June event. They are still proceeding with it as soon as they get the licences. If they were bullied into stopping altogether, methinks it would be worth some newsprint space.
So perhaps the online flak itself is enough to merit a story?

The article continued:
The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately.
Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.

The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

It was the 26,000 “likes’’ that prompted me to check the particular page. I couldn’t believe that 26,000 would say no to the community holding an event here. We have that many xenophobes? If so, it is something worth reporting because there is something seriously wrong with Singapore society.
It turned out that the FB page has been set up way back when the White Paper on Population was still a hot issue. The page has all sorts of posts, including on the death of a wrestling star, the haze and the predictable pillorying of G leaders. It wasn’t a page that was dedicated to the event.

The post which called for the protest drew 300-plus likes – a more “respectable’’ number. In fact, it is a number which should not even bother any journalist. It is inconsequential in the scheme of “likes’’ in the internet space. So why does it even deserve newsprint space in the august ST?

Now, I am firmly against the protest. I think the arguments against the Filipinos holding its own day at Ngee Ann City in Orchard Road are narrow-minded.

The protesters said on the FB page that they are against three things:
a. We are against them using the Singapore skyline in their logo for their Philippine Independence Day logo & posters, Facebook page, websites, etc.

Why? They live and work here presumably, and we are the host country. Perhaps some people think it looks as though the Filipinos have taken over the country? And Singapore is the Philippines? Why such insecurity? I happen to think it’s a nice gesture to the host country. It should be the Filipinos back home who are aghast that their own national symbols aren’t used. Not us.

b. We are against them in using the terms “Two Nations” and “Inter-dependence” in their Philippine Independence Day celebration posters. Singapore only observe and celebrate our own National Day on the 9th of August and we DO NOT and WILL NOT have a joint-celebration of “Inter-dependence” with another sovereign state. Their event is insinuating a very serious and misleading assumption; which we Singaporeans have never endorsed.

Hmm….is there a communication problem here? Something lost in translation? Isn’t it good that the community recognises the inter-dependence of nations? I don’t think the Filipinos are calling for a joint celebration! Rather, more an invitation to Singaporeans to join them in their celebrations.

Its organiser was reported as saying in ST: “We are not saying that we are trying to take over. Our drive is to be part of the community and try to open up to other nationalities. Interdependence doesn’t mean Singaporeans depend on us, but that we all help each other.”

I agree. It seems to me that the protesters have misled themselves

c. We are against them in celebrating their country’s Independence on Singapore soil. We urge them, however, to do so in their own Embassy compound.

For crying out loud…By the way, the community has held similar celebrations in the past, in Hong Lim Park and Suntec City. Is Orchard Road so sacred? And what does it say about the country’s own celebration of Singapore Day around the world; we took a public garden in Sydney and more recently, spent $4m or so in London. So Singapore should stop its own celebrations on foreign soil and confine the activities only in the embassy compound? If the other countries reacted like these “protesters’’ did, then perhaps we should.

The so-called protest leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But then again, it’s a SMALL group, not some 26,000 or so as ST seemed to have implied.

Which brings me back to the question: What is the duty of care that MSM should exercise when publishing or broadcasting what goes on on the Internet? There will always be vitriol, even in pre-Internet days. But to have the MSM further magnify this (based on 300, not 26,000 likes) is downright bad reporting and bad judgment. If it was a question of numbers only – that is, so many thousands of people protesting – then it should take a look at the anti-STOMP petition and publish a story. The same rules must apply, even to itself.

What I cannot abide is how the article has given the impression to its much touted 1million readers or so that the entire Internet community is a bunch of rabid, raving xenophobes. I wouldn’t put it past some politician to refer to this as an example of the terrible nature of the community.

Now I certainly hope the authorities aren’t going to get cold feet and deny the licences to the organisers because of this and cite “security and law and order considerations ’’. I hope the Filipinos go ahead and organise the celebration. Just make sure you don’t riot or consume too much alcohol or litter or pee in the plaza.

This Singaporean wishes you a good Independence Day.

Before we stomp on STOMP

In News Reports on April 10, 2014 at 3:45 am

So, it’s 20,000 signatures and counting…That’s for the online petition to close down STOMP started by a Mr Robin Li.

The reason, according to the petition: STOMP publishes fabricated stories that promote cyber-bullying and unrest in the name of “citizen journalism’’. It doesn’t acknowledge mistakes and seems to lack guidelines that would screen out fabrications by contributors.

It is a worthy enough reason and one which would probably apply to countless of sites that unabashedly fabricate stuff under the guise of free speech and discussion. (What has happened to that petition to close down The Real Singapore?)

I suppose what grates on people is that STOMP is part of the Singapore Press Holdings stable using the brand name of The Straits Times. BTW, I declare my interest. I was party to the setting-up of STOMP all those years ago. It was meant to capture the young people on the Internet and get them to engage with the fuddy-duddy ST. There was some original content, giving different insights into the news of the day and I remember an extremely successful MMS talent quest and a successful “getai’’ series. It was an experiment to catch young eyeballs with a down-to-earth, life-stylish, grassroots approach that was accessible. (I admit to not being comfortable with the experiment as it seemed so at odds with the august and conservative tone of ST. But then again, I’m a fuddy duddy and who can object to an experiment to capture a slice of the online pie?)

Celebrating “citizen journalism’’ was part of its core mission. The idea was to give netizens a platform to post stuff which would be curated, edited and then published. For journalists, such user-generated content was a great source of news tip-offs, especially in its early years. STOMPers acted as eyes and ears on the ground. In the era before Facebook, it collected views. Both functions are less well-used now that social media is so wide-spread and news tip offs and opinions can come from anywhere.

(By the way, I object to the phrase citizen journalism – and have always done so. It cannot be that anyone with a camera phone can be considered a journalist. The right term is “eye-witness’’. A journalist asks questions about the picture and gets the full facts. Most “citizen journalists’’ simply capture a moment in time – and believe it to be newsworthy because he likes it or hates it – and then he opines.)

That STOMP has been successful is in no doubt. It has become part of the vocabulary, even a verb. You STOMP something or you are afraid of being STOMPed. It can even be used a threat…I’ll put it up on STOMP. STOMP has been lauded by its peers in the industry. Its list of accolades is long, including Best in Online media (Gold) last year from the World Association of Newspapers. The accolades must count for something.

Question: After so long in operation and the praise of its peers, why the sudden move to petition for its closure?

I venture to say this: There is so much rubbish online these days that we would like to see a marker of standards, especially from a media company. There must have been plenty of gaffes in the past, but it seems only more recently that people are complaining about the mis-steps of STOMP. Of course, STOMP didn’t help its case when one of its own was found fabricating material. And we still do not know how the offending picture of the NSman who did not give up his seat on the train to an old lady was cropped to leave out the vacant seat in front of her.

Because STOMP is part of a media company, people expect that some amount of scrutiny and editing should take place before inflicting content on the public. This expectation is even greater now given, well, the escalating amount of rubbish online. The flip side, of course, will be charges of censorship and how STOMP refuses to publish because of so-and-so reasons which have nothing to do with journalistic merit.

What rules should be in place then to guard against insane rants and fabrications? How to draw the line between trivial stuff that would divide people and cause “social unrest’’ and trivial stuff that are, well, trivial and may be good for a laugh? Should trivial stuff even make it on STOMP or should  they be considered as “slice of life’’ pieces or a collection of the diversity of Singapore, in all its groaning glory?

And how to screen out online trolls who are out to do in someone or up to plain mischief? Can STOMP do an ST Forum Page and contact contributors who must leave behind their full names and addresses? That would go against the nature of online contributions.

Maybe, we should look at it this way. Best to give the kooks and nutters a platform so that we know where they are. And not to take STOMP seriously at all. This, of course, won’t be good for its image and the image of the media company. It will be open to accusations of sensationalism and in the business of capturing as many eyeballs as it can by catering to the lowest common denominator. Drivel, unfortunately, attracts eyeballs.

Perhaps, it is good if STOMP makes a re-statement on what it is about and what it hopes to achieve. This is what it says now about itself:

Award-winning STOMP, or Straits Times Online Mobile Print, is Asia’s leading citizen-journalism website with user-generated material fuelling its success.

We’re also big on social networking, enabling millions to come together to interact and bond both online and offline in Singapore Seen and Club Stomp.

STOMP connects, engages and interacts with Singaporeans in a style and approach that is different from conventional news websites. Its strong growth reflects not only its popularity but its resonance with Singaporeans.

This is pretty old hat and can be applied to any website that has a social networking function and ah,,,,parodies the news! SGAG? New Nation?

Maybe it should also say what it is NOT. Right now, it is not about generating deep discussions on policy or starting useful debates. It isn’t geared towards doing so. For that, you have The Straits Times. (Don’t laff)

Then again, what it has been doing so successfully for years is causing a backlash (although it can argue that its fans outnumber its detractors) I say it was an interesting experiment in a time when there weren’t so many alternative platforms for the trivial or slice of life stuff. It acquired first-mover status and a market. Now, it has to find something new to distinguish itself from the rest of the hoi polloi.

Any media must move with the times, the demands of its ever-changing audience and in the case of Singapore and its media duopoly, show how responsible online journalism should be conducted.

STOMP should take a step back and re-consider its content if it wants to continue to stomp ahead.

 

 

More than grade expectations

In News Reports on April 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

Every time anything goes wrong, it’s de rigueur to blame the education system. My class of undergraduates, too, are prone to laying the blame on the system which has allowed them to get this far. And I would have thought they would be appreciative of how, rightly or wrongly, they were beneficiaries of the system.

Is this why some people are sniffing at the results of the PISA test on problem-solving? Singapore is No. 1 but not many people are cheering the accolade despite the best attempts of MSM to rah-rah Singapore’s pole position. The Prime Minister and Education minister have weighed in too, pointing out that the scores debunk the stereotype that the education system is based on rote-learning.

Still, many people are asking questions of PISA, including Western academics who decry the poor positions of the teens of the West. (Predictable, you say?) Even over here, people including me, wonder if those rose-tinted glasses are firmly on the nose of those who blow the trumpet.

So what’s the beef?

A lot is about the “so what’’? So what if our 15 years old are better at problem solving than other teens their age in the rest of the world? They can’t string a sentence together to save their lives, so detractors say. I agree somewhat. Articulation is not the best trait in our young people. I don’t mean “outspokenness’’ but simply being able to communicate their thoughts. They can probably do it on paper, after several revisions. But to get them to do so on their feet and you will see their tongues tied and, if loosened, tripping over what they want to say. The brain isn’t connected to the vocal cords. Sometimes I wonder if they even know what they want to say or if those words that emit from the mouth is merely taking up air space…

Is this a big deal? I know of several people with a language handicap who somehow manage to express their ideas clearly, even if not grammatically. I am full of admiration for them because at least, they KNOW what they want to say and will do their damnedest to express it. They are not shy. And because they do not have a vocabulary of big words, they use simple language effectively.

I have to add that this is a phenomenon I see in foreigners, including foreign students. When educated Singaporeans speak up, however, they speak in the language of  the press release or the academic thesis. That was my experience when undergraduates started writing for Breakfast Network, the poor ole’ site which has been shut down. It took a few months to get them out of their preachy, grandfatherly language and rid themselves of flabby words that contribute to nothing more than adding to length. I found that the less time I give them to ponder, the better and clearer  their written work. Nothing contributes more to clarity than stress!

Asked about this, fingers are pointed firmly at how they were taught. This is the generation which was not taught the rules of grammar. They say that their primary school teachers place a premium on the number of “big’’ words they use. So a test of vocabulary, I asked? Not really, they said. More a test of polysyllables that are descriptive in nature. They take this habit with them when they go higher up the education ladder and have to write “argumentatively’’.

Also, there is a tendency to ask about “word count’’. This is normal in academia where teachers expect essays of a certain length.  Students write to fit 1,000 words or 8,000 words as directed. It becomes a numbers game where words become more important than content. It is hard for them to grapple with an instruction such as “give it what it’s worth in as short a space as possible’’. Numbers act as the end point for thoughts. That’s why the stuff they write is usually so florid. It should be florid because writing simple sounds stupid.

As someone who champions clear and simple communication, that kind of thinking is what is stupid.      

But the young people are not surprised that Singapore is No.1 at problem solving. Throw them a problem and they will get cracking. That’s what they are used to and good at.

PISA detractors note that the teenagers solve problems individually in front of a computer. So it is a very individual activity which requires no socialisation or brain-storming. It’s straight-line thinking. I wonder what would happen if the Singaporean students are asked to say HOW they solve the problem. Will they be able to articulate their solution? Or if they have to solve problems in a group or deal with a problem which has no solution.

Employers are quick to lament the poor presentation skills of Singaporeans. In the big world where they have to interact with others, they fall short because they cannot express themselves clearly and will not put themselves forward. One wag talks about cringing when the locals have to take global conference calls or meetings. Mangled tenses. Long pauses. Jumbled phrases. They are outshone by those less intelligent but more articulate than they are. Well, an empty barrel makes the most noise too.

I think it would take a patient employer to find out what gems are hidden in the silent bodies of their workers. Maybe our young people are better at connecting via email or Twitter or SMS – an individual activity which does not require anyone to stand in front of a crowd and argue or defend a point on the spot. They are so used to individual activity that they become socially awkward. Not good. Not good.

Our education system is cognizant of this. So classes are now more interactive and project or group work encouraged. I only ask that when we teach our young people to speak up, they also make sense…

Okay. Back to those PISA scores.

 Methinks we are being too hard on the education system which has, after all, built the world’s No. 1 problem solvers. It’s a great achievement. We shouldn’t expect international tests to examine all aspects of education to our satisfaction. It’s probably difficult enough to come up with a problem solving test that would be applicable across all nations. Just think. If Singapore was No. 40, we’d be kicking up a greater, bigger fuss.

Our cynicism probably lies in the high expectations of what we expect of the education system which unfortunately cannot be one-size-fits-all. If our young people suddenly become vocal paragons, we’d probably have something bad to say about it as well. Perhaps we’ve also become blasé about reports of Singapore being No. 1 in this or that and can’t help but pour cold water over results because the reality the individuals among us face or see doesn’t fit the high scores.

We ask ourselves: Are we really that good?

Well, we’re definitely not perfect. But maybe sometimes we should admit that we’re good. Somewhat.

 

 

Wishfully thinking wishb

In News Reports on April 5, 2014 at 3:16 am

I was angry yesterday. Today I am just sad. I had banked on The Straits Times correcting its inaccurate statement on the closure of Breakfast Network.

It didn’t.

It had said in yesterday’s edition that the Media Development Authority ordered the site and its Facebook page closed after my crew and I “refused’’ to register. This was inserted as background in an article on the MDA telling news site Mothership to register: In the same month, Breakfast Network was ordered to close down its website and Facebook page after it refused to register

The fact is, the MDA never ordered us to do so. We opted to do so because we knew we couldn’t meet the registration requirements. We didn’t wait for any order.

TODAY newspaper got it right in its article: Last year, two websites with a socio-political bent were asked to register, sparking an outcry from some who were concerned that would dampen online debate.  The Independent complied with the request, while the Breakfast Network opted to shut down, citing the onerous requirements for registration.

I said on my FB wall yesterday morning that ST had got it wrong and that I would like a correction and an apology. No one contacted me. There is no apology.

I suppose some people might say that the ST was not wrong in saying we were ordered to shut down because it’s a fait accompli. Well, I disagree. The implication of ST’s phrase is that we were recalcitrants who had to be told to shut down. Not so. We volunteered. We made that plain, on the record. MDA didn’t need to exercise its regulatory powers; we saved MDA from looking like a bully. We didn’t want a prolonged battle.

As for the Breakfast Network Facebook Page, it’s still alive. You can go check it out.  

 You see, what MDA was concerned about in this whole business of registration of sites which discuss local politics and religion, was that a company had been set up to run the site as a business and therefore supposedly more susceptible to the receipt of undesirable foreign funding.

I shut the company down.

I can think of a few reasons/excuses ST declined/refused to run a What It Should Have Been, never mind that one of its cherished mantras is “accuracy, accuracy, accuracy’’.

  1. She didn’t come to us officially, but chose to make a statement on her Facebook wall. So no formal complaint, no correction.
  2. MDA didn’t say anything (this is an assumption on my part) and MDA is far bigger than Bertha. So if MDA is okay by it, no correction.
  3. It’s regulatory. So whether Breakfast Network volunteered or not, it was still under orders to close if it doesn’t comply. So no correction.
  4. MDA wanted to know who was behind the FB page, indicating that it should be closed down if run by the people behind the company. Never mind that it’s still alive. It is technically accurate. So no correction.
  5. What’s on social media is crap anyway, so why even bother to check with her or anyone else? No correction.
  6. When is that crazy woman going to stop this? This has-been, washed-up, disgruntled, ungrateful ex-journalist whom we’ve fed for 26 years….Not enough that she trashes our stories almost every day? Who does she think she is? Let her stew. Make her beg. So no correction.

 

I suppose there will be some arguments about a “clarification’’, rather than a correction which would have saved ST from making an apology. But since no one contacted me – whether on FB, through email, by SMS, phone call or What’s App – the instruction was probably “Don’t’’.  I don’t know if it corrected its “files’’ – no one told me.

It’s painful to know that not a single ST journalist bothered to reach me, not even to find out “what’s happening’’. No one is recorded as “liking’’ the FB post although there are plenty of ex-journalists who did so (all of them are disgruntled?) So many on my FB wall, and a studious silence from all. It makes me wonder …. 

I write the things I write because, among other things, I believe strongly in upholding professional standards of journalism. I know how hard it is for journalists and editors to navigate the politics of the country and still do a professional job of reporting. I know how hard it is to fend off commercial interests which want to influence editorial work. I know how hard it is to hold the line. But as I keep telling journalists and anyone who is interested, 99 per cent of the time, you can still do an excellent job of doing your profession proud every day.

Today is not that day.  

Anyway, this is my formal letter to The Straits Times because I gather it will stand behind a “write in officially if you want to complain’’ SOP:

To

Editor/Accuracy Editor

The Straits Times

I am writing in to point out an inaccuracy in your article yesterday, News site told to register. In it, it was reported:  In the same month, Breakfast Network was ordered to close down its website and Facebook page after it refused to register.

I wish to point out that Breakfast Network opted to close down its site because it was unable to cope with the regulatory requirements. Its Facebook page is still operational.

Please publish a correction.

Yours sincerely,

Bertha Henson

 

Here’s what we should give Baby SG50

In News Reports on April 2, 2014 at 3:30 am

So the G is asking for ideas on how to celebrate our 50th birthday next year. It wants the “ground’’ to throw up suggestions and good ones will get $50,000. It’s enough to make me come up with a listicle of 50 ideas in the hope that one will hit the sweet spot.

Then the G says all babies born next year will get a Jubilee Baby Gift pack – no money please. Just stuff that will remind the babies for the rest of their lives that they were born in SG50. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu suggested a sarong with the Singapore flag motif so that mothers can use it when carrying baby around or when…gulp… breastfeeding. Wooah. Talk about bonding with mom and country!

My list of what should go in the pack:

  1. A cute rattle which, when shaken, plays Count on me, Singapore. You can never start national education lessons too early.
  2. A cute baby bottle with a malfunctioning nipple which will impress on baby that he really has to work hard for his lunch. PS.The nipple will have an addictive additive so parents cannot replace the bottle or baby will be bawling all the time. Pharmaceutical sponsor needed.
  3. Cute baby booties that will tickle baby soles, so that baby is made aware that he will have to stand on his own two feet quickly.
  4. A commemorative jubilee coin that can be attached to an ankle chain. NOTE: ankle chain should not be called leg shackles (which are not cute).
  5.  A cute baby blanket with the Singapore flag emblazoned on it. Symbolises the care and comfort that the country will give baby. Also known as security blanket. Babies are expected to drool on it to show attachment.
  6. A cute Merlion stuffed toy for baby to hug at night. Note that it should be a smiling Merlion – not the scowly one at Sentosa which will frighten baby. Contact manufacturers of Lion King merchandise.
  7. A year’s worth of cute diapers from Temasek Cares foundation. Baby will grow up questioning: what is Temasek? Opportunity for parents to teach baby Singapore old history – and Singapore current economics.

All the items should be put in a gift box made of recycled cardboard (to show the need to preserve the environment) which have the signatures of the whole Singapore Cabinet (so that it is too “valuable’’ to throw away). It will be bound with a commemorative ribbon which, if presented after 50 years, will entitled baby to an SG100 jubilee gift pack (to teach baby the value of looking ahead with optimism).

A parentocracy with entitled children

In News Reports on March 31, 2014 at 7:32 am

I learnt a new word from the Sunday Times, courtesy of NIE’s Assoc Professor Jason Tan: Parentocracy.

Interesting.

He said that meritocracy in Singapore is being increasingly replaced by parentocracy. What he means: It doesn’t matter if your kid is smart or hardworking or talented, it matters more who his parents are. Now, we’ve heard this all before: that the privileged beget the privileged and can endow them with the resources that money can buy. So tuition, enrichment classes and alma mater links can mean the kid gets not just a head start but a growth spurt.

So far though, we’ve thought about it only in the academic sphere where grades matter. The education system has been gradually evolving to include non-academic indicators of talent in response to among other things, parents who moan about the unfair competitive advantage that the richer kids have. But it still doesn’t mean the playing field is being levelled. A well-to-do parent can afford coaches, music instructors and even people who write admission papers. So there goes the Direct Schools Admission scheme which looks at non-academic talent. If your kid can’t score at exams, make him a footballer or train him to be another Joseph Schooling. Or give your girl ballet lessons and drama classes. That will get them into “good’’ schools.

I want to add to this: Parents with education also have plenty of social capital, besides capital capital, to spread around. They move in certain circles, with members who can tap each other for help. How many times have an employer heard young adults drop their parents’ name in order to secure, say, an internship? How many times have you yourself had friends asking for favours for their kid? Okay, maybe you’re not some big-time person but you can bet that if you are, there will be more calls to help out a friend’s child with something or other. And…chances are, you will say yes. Who knows? That friend might help your own child out some day.  

 What does this mean? That those lower down the ladder will stay there – and so will their children and even their children’s children. If you are a nobody who knows nobody, your kid will be a nobody too. It sounds scary but there is some truth in what he said – unless society can pitch in to level up the children whose parents are less privileged.

There is another article on the same page which talks about the flip side – children who have a sense of “entitlement’’. They think that their parents or society at large should provide them with whatever they need or want – even without them having to work for it. 

Okay, if you are of a certain generation and a parent, you’ll probably be nodding in agreement – because it is always some other person’s kid who is like that, not yours…

Anyway, American parenting gurus Richard and Linda Eyre had some tips to stop children growing up like this, except that they seem more tailored for more Western-style parents. Like having clear rules for the family, including for parents who set the rules. One example given was a “repentance’’ bench: do something against the rules and you go sit there. I wonder how many parents here will do this. It’s more a case of “do as I say and not as I do’’ with Asian parents methinks. And a repentance bench? Maybe the kid will be asked to face the wall but I can’t think of an adult doing the same willingly.

As for the second tip, it was for family rituals, such as a weekly meeting. I suppose this meeting can be replaced with Sunday dinner in the Singapore context. That might work.

Then there is a third tip to get the kids to earn what they want. So it’s do the dishes and there will be some money for you to buy your favourite whatever. I totally object to this. It turns responsibility for the household and family into something transactional. What is wrong with just ordering the kids to do the dishes because it is about being part and parcel of being responsible for the family? And if the kid does take on jobs that bring in some money from other people, what is wrong about turning the dough over to the parents to pay for some household bills? Or if you really want to be “transactional’’, pay for his own food and lodging?  

The two articles are worrying. The first, because it’s probably true and the second, because it’s not the right “cultural fit’’ for us. At least, that’s what I think.   

 

Closing the gate on Geylang

In News Reports on March 31, 2014 at 5:59 am

 Over the past year or so, I’ve been to Geylang several times. Before you get any funny thoughts, it was strictly for legit business. The now defunct Breakfast Network held our meetings at a building in one of the lorongs where our backend support was located. Perfectly legit company with its own carpark which made it easy for the drivers among us.

There was a mini market nearby patronised mainly by foreign workers where we would buy our beers for our strictly legit consumption as we talk legit business. Several nights, we had dinner in one of the fabulous coffeeshops. Crossing the road was a dicey matter and getting off the pavement was a normal manoeuvre to avoid the crowds of men and women. There was quite a lot of “sight-seeing’’, especially for the undergraduates who joined the meetings. The oldies among us joked quite a bit about “educating’’ the young ones on the seamier side of life.

Now it seems only a Martian would not know about Geylang and its environs. The media has been full of Geylang over the weekend, after the Commissioner of Police singled it out as a potential powder keg that contained more explosives than Little India.

So Little India is crowded on weekends, but it seems Geylang is crowded too, though not in the 100,000 numbers. And the crowds descend every night, with more than drinks being bought along the lorongs. We all know that Geylang is a red-light district (we seem to have forgotten that Little India was one too, until Desker Road got cleaned up). But I would venture to say that few people are clear about the status of prostitution in Singapore. In all the media reports I have seen, none shed light on the way Singapore manages this commercial activity.    

Thing is, prostitution is legal in Singapore although all the “side’’ activities like pimping aren’t. A certain number of brothels are “tolerated’’ or regulated and its prostitutes are medically screened.

To look at Geylang though, it would seem that the police turn a blind eye to vice activities.

It’s probably a case of realising that you can’t police human instincts, however vile, and it’s better to contain such activities in a limited area where an eye can be kept on them. That is a reason for a sustained massive crackdown on massage parlours masquerading as brothels brothels masquerading as massage parlours because we wanted vice out of the heartland. At least, that would keep the heartland “ring fenced’’.

It seems however that the “containment’’ policy has got out of hand.

Vice activities basically attract other types of similar activities. We know that. That is a reason the introduction of casinos years ago caused worry and why we tied up the casinos with red tape and rules and even have police officers dedicated to watch over them.

TNP, with its usual grassroot thoroughness, had an interesting spread on the nocturnal activities there in its Saturday edition. Besides open solicitation and pimping, there were sales of contraband cigarettes, codeine and sex drugs. Foreign prostitutes have marked out territories. Now this was just after two nights of staking out, and right after the CP had turned the spotlight on Geylang. Perhaps, criminals and low-lifes don’t read the media and don’t know when they should take cover and move their activities elsewhere.

So the CP has given out some statistics. There were 135 crimes committed last year there, which included murder, rape and robbery. They also included 49 public order cases of rioting, assault and affray in Geylang. Police were viewed as the “enemy’’. One policeman was assaulted and a police car vandalised. The CP, however, didn’t give statistics on arrests – that would give us a better idea of police performance in the area. He only said that at its peak, there were more than 60 officers in the area at any one time.

Predictably, the MPs have weighed in on behalf of constituents. Community-driven activities cannot do much given that the trouble makers appeared to be foreign workers who do not live there. One suggestion was to make sure that the area was cleared of “dorms’’ which operated out of shophouses there. That looks do-able, especially if the “dorms’’ are licensed.

 Just as predictably, NGOs spoke up on behalf of foreign workers, citing the lack of amenities that cater for them. Then there were those who spoke about Geylang’s colourful and flavourful atmosphere, so different from the rest of sterile Singapore I suppose. If you don’t look for trouble, you don’t get into trouble. Unsavoury characters leave you alone, say the Geylang lobby.  

 That got me thinking of Joo Chiat. Remember the fuss that was being made over how the area was turning into sleaze street? The community, mainly residents, got involved and the area appeared to have been cleaned up.

The trouble though is that there is really no incentive for business owners in Geylang to want things changed. Rent is low and they make money hand over fist from customers, whether desirables or not.  (By the way, is there a Geylang equivalent of the Little India Shopkeepers’ Association?)    

Where there is demand, there is supply. And the influx of foreign workers means plenty of new business of all types. Perhaps they are run by Singaporeans who see a quick buck being made. Perhaps foreign crime syndicates also saw a chance. Definitely, some foreign workers saw an opportunity to moonlight.

So what do we do besides allowing the CP an extra 1,000 men?

 Frankly, I am in favour of a total blitz on Geylang. Sweep the place. Arrest. Charge. Convict. And deport if they are foreigners. Sure, they’ll be back – and the process will have to be repeated all over again.  As I said, where there is demand, there will be supply. It is a short-term measure but the law must make sure it is obeyed – and even feared.

We should back our men and women in blue on this.    

Little India COI: The final chapter

In News Reports on March 27, 2014 at 7:44 am

So the Little India COI has ended – and what have we learnt?

About Singapore and foreign workers

  1. That Singapore isn’t such a bad place for foreign workers to work and live in. Except that they don’t seem to have places to play or congregate.
  2. That Little India is swamped by as many as 100,000 foreign workers over the weekend. That the South Asians may drink, litter, loiter and piss at will but they’re not like the die-hard criminal types that patronise Geylang.
  3. That the foreign workers really hate that female bus timekeeper and dislike the way they are being herded onto the buses – or bumped off it. And that Land Transport Authority has been tardy about watching the bus situation in Little India.
  4. That while Little India is awashed in liquor, it’s not so densely alcohol-fuelled as places like Chinatown.
  5. That too many of the real trouble-makers appeared to have escaped the dragnet that night.
  6. That the workers worry about being sent back home willy-nilly by employers who use the services of “repatriation companies’’ to avoid giving them their due.
  7. That Indian beer is far more potent than a lot of regular beers. And Kodai Canteen is now on the map of Singapore.

  About the police 

  1. That they stick to doctrines and protocols which lead to slow response times and what seem like an inability to innovate according to circumstances.
  2. That there ARE a few good men and women in uniform who took heroic steps which should be applauded but which their superiors also think could be foolhardy.
  3. That the SCDF looks better organised than the cops when it comes to doing their work. It even has cameras mounted on trucks to give real-time information to HQ.
  4. That police patrol cars don’t seem to be equipped with anything like riot gear, much less the lathi which the Indian cops carry and which the COI so often referred to.
  5. That there are too few, much too few, policemen to go around.    

 The COI will be taking up till June to come up with its own recommendations. I have to say that it seemed to have left no stone un-turned. Its intensive “grilling’’ might have seemed unfair to some people, especially when the cops on the ground took the stand. But seriously, you do not expect the use of kid gloves in an inquiry, especially about an unprecedented riot which people think the police could have done better to stamp out.

 It’s also not surprising that the cops would hold to the line that “no shots were fired’’ to describe their performance. No one was hurt or killed. Just cars, which are less valuable than lives. Yup. Okay. As for the cops “standing around’’, they weren’t trained for this sort of scenario and it would be unfair and unwise to have them go charging in given their small numbers. Uh-huh. Those cops in the ambulance didn’t run away, they had wounded people with them and it was prudent to get them to safety. Ahso.

The only things the police conceded were that there was a communications breakdown with the cops not knowing what each other was doing nor even where they are and that it took too long for the Special Operations Command to be activated. Also, according to the cops, there were no signs that a riot would erupt in Little India, and they were more pre-occupied with shenanigans in Geylang.

Right from the beginning of the inquiry, the police position was wrapped in this  nice big bundle known as “Man no enough’’.

So please tell me how we got to this stage that our manning levels are so atrocious that we have one police officer to every 614 resident? Compare that to Hong Kong with one policeman to every 252 residents.

Here are the absolute numbers:  8,785 regulars, with 86 per cent deployed in the field.

Over the past 20 years, the population grew by 58 per cent, while the number of police officers went up by 16 per cent.

I’ll stick my neck out and say this: It seems that our over-enthusiastic immigration policy of the past have not only strained our infrastructure but our law and order forces as well. 

I gather that we can’t possibly employ foreign workers to do the policing – or can we? Therefore, we outsource some of the police work to companies like Cisco which seem to be able to employ foreigners so long as they are PRs (at least that’s what I think given the testimonies of auxillary officers who took the stand at the COI)  

According to Commissioner Ng Joo Hee,  police spent $2.5 million last year on auxillary police and “protection officers’’ to get more boots on the ground of Little India on weekends. 

So in all, how much does the Home Team spend on “outsourcing’’? We already know that plenty of auxillaries are employed at the immigration checkpoint. And what are the “manning levels’’ taking into account the hiring of auxillary police officers?

Is this a good option? Or is such outsourcing a last resort? No one wants to be a cop or is the pay too low? And is this why we now have citizen “cops’’ to nab litterers and spitters?

It makes you wonder what other problems our past immigration policy has wrought. Ordinary folk can feel the squeeze on trains and buses and see property prices and rents go up. But we wouldn’t think too much about cop manning levels – and who knows what else – that have come under strain.

We would leave this to experts whose job it is to anticipate such problems rather than wait for the dam to burst or a riot to break out. We leave this to the politicians and civil servants. Seems like some people got too confident and too complacent about Singapore’s internal security needs.

Yup, sure, I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight.

Now, my crystal ball tells me that the force will be enlarged. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t mind the State allowing the CP his extra 1,000 men.  What is the role of the State after all? At its most basic, it must provide law and order to stop people from hurting each other. Peace, in my view, comes even before providing the population with housing and transport.

The Finance ministry should oblige.     

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