Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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.

The G’s new dartboard: the blogosphere

In Politics, Society, Writing on April 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Does anyone think that the G is getting too trigger-happy shooting off warning letters into the blogosphere? I’ve lost track…

There’s the set that was sent to administrators of Facebook pages which contained comments on the 25-month jail sentence on the Chinese national who went berserk in Changi airport, carjacked a cab and killed a cleaner (contempt of court). Then there’s the Council for Private Education upset over some emails a blogger sent to the media (defamatory). Then a stiff clarification from the Singapore Land Authority to another blogger whom it said got his facts on the Pulau Ubin saga wrong (misleading readers).

Oh! The most recent: the Manpower ministry takes issue with a Yahoo news report on the SMRT bus drivers’ alleged grievances (failed to verify facts). And a filmmaker says she’s likely to hear something from the G on her video of those Chinese SMRT bus drivers (false allegations of police brutality).

The G and its agencies are really on a roll!

What is the message here?

Well, at least the G is responding to the blogosphere. (Hear me out, okay?) It’s better to be noticed than to be ignored although this is probably the kind of attention the online bloggers wouldn’t want…But, hey, it shows that there is some kind of official recognition that online commentators have some clout to sway opinions.

It also puts the online community on its toes; restrain your fingers before you shoot off your mouth. Engage mind before mouse. In the Pulau Ubin case, the point the blogger about not compensating the islanders for 20 years is way off the mark. They are tenants, not owners, and have actually been living rent-free. It’s a significant fact. And the SLA probably has a right to feel aggrieved. Of course, the retort could be that the G started the whole thing anyway with that silly clearance notice by the HDB which got everyone suspicious about its intentions.

The more important thing is to come to grips with why people are so angry over some things that they see red and see, yes, just half the picture. That 25-month jail sentence was astounding, for example, even though the judge made clear he took into account the Chinese national’s mental state. Didn’t anyone expect that there would be outrage? And if someone did, wouldn’t it better to make sure that judgment was clear and very, very full? Judges can’t be living in ivory towers. (Oops! Am I not even supposed to say that?)

Contempt of court is a concept that the layman finds difficult to grapple with. Does this mean it’s best not to criticise a sentence at all? When is criticism warranted and will not be construed as contempt? Maybe you can criticise the sentence, but not the judge?

Thing is, should everyone online know everything about what is “on” and what is “not on”? I suppose if people want to take on the role of journalists, they should strive for the same standards as the professionals. Quite tough, when even journalists can get it wrong. Top pointers would be: Get your facts right, verify allegations and get the other side of the story. Oh! And get a good tutorial on libel laws and contempt of court. You might want to add the Official Secrets Act as well.

Although the G is responding to the blogosphere, it seems to be responding only when things don’t go its way. It’s a negative reaction, hardly the engagement that most people would desire. Would the agencies, for example, respond to requests from the blogosphere for more information or clarification? Or would this be too much trouble? Would they enlarge their engagement to more than just members of MSM so more people have a clear view of what’s happening… especially since some people don’t read MSM and rely on Facebook feeds for their news diet!

So what’s next?

The blogger who faces the wrath of the Council for Private Education (CPE) is arguing that the CPE is really a public agency (it’s a statutory board), and so has no locus standi to sue for defamation. It’s seems more a case of who can sue than whether the statements were defamatory. Interesting.

The Real Singapore is gearing up for a showdown. It has refused to apologise for the comments on its FB page regarding the court case and has instead raised questions about who should really be responsible for comments on open Facebook pages.

Good question.

Do administrators have to watch and monitor every single comment? If so, better NOT to have Facebook pages and invite NO comments because one oversight and it’s over for you…I suppose the G’s online watchdogs will say that they will exercise discretion – maybe 100 horrid comments and you’re done for. Or if they are satisfied that there have been “some’’ attempt at moderation, they will turn a blind eye.

Big problem when you don’t know where the line is. Then again, we might not want a line drawn to constrict the independence of the blogosphere…

We live in interesting times indeed.

This article first appeared on

A post-BE conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on January 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

A post-BE conversation among Punggol East residents, members of the sandwiched middle class, and fed-up with the lack of facilities in the ward.

Mr Lim, married, no children, in his early 30s, lives with his parents, runs a small agency
Mrs Ho, 33, working mother of two, wants to have three
Mr Ali, 40, married with one child in primary school
Mr Fernandez, 25, single

Mr Lim: So what you think will happen now? Our rubbish will still be collected, right? My parents worried.

Mr Ali: Of course lah, the PAP can’t just walk away like that. But I don’t know how the town council will work. Now we’re parked under Pasir Ris-Punggol town council. You think WP will have problems getting stuff from PAP?

Mr Fernandez: No way the PAP will give problems. WP already raised this AIM business what. The PAP can’t risk another blocking tactic. But I keep wondering about the CDC. It will still look after us right? It has ComCare to give out. And what about PCF? You think it will set up kindergartens and childcare centres?

Mr Ali: If it doesn’t, I’m sure some businessman will do. Eh, Lim, you do lah. The Government already said it will have more anchor operators. But that covered linkway that Dr Koh promised? Is this from town council money or HDB? Not so clear.

Mrs Ho: Whatever happens, that Ah Lian better fix the childcare problem. She’s a woman, I expect her to speak for mothers like me. Good to have her join that Sylvia in Parliament. Except both have no children right? I hope they don’t think like that Chua Mui Hoong and Rachel Chang in that Straits Times – these single women! Can talk about what…entitled… parents taking money from single taxpayers…! And they better tell the Government to let my family go in the front of the BTO queue. Why they only let first-time families? What about my family? Need a bigger flat!

Mr Lim: Anyway, I’m glad we have our coffeeshop back. Past week, everywhere so crowded. I bump into the Ah Lian just now and said: Huat ah! I also saw that Dr Koh. I tried to avoid him but he came to shake my hand. I told him I didn’t vote for him. Told him nothing personal, just sometimes the PAP needs to wake up its ideas. You think he will come back here next GE?

Mr Ali: Got quite a slap already, might be a bit malu… you think he want to come back here? Even the Prime Minister’s last minute speech didn’t help him. He actually seem like quite a good guy. He salah. Should have joined WP. Now I think a lot of good people will join the WP. Got chance to get into Parliament.

Mr Fernandez: And no one will want to join the PAP! Yay! I guess they will have arm twist some civil servant or army officer to join and stand next election. And make sure all civil servants and SAF guys vote for them! Haha. They should never have made Michael Palmer resign. Now Eurasians only have that De Souza lawyer. Put another Eurasian and I vote for him!

Mrs Ho: You cannot think like that lah. So racist! I never liked that Palmer. His poor wife…you think we women welcome someone like him? The PAP should have fielded a woman. Hey, you know the marriage and parenthood package? We’ll still get it right? My husband and I thinking of having another one. Not going to put us last in the queue or anything?

Mr Ali: Alamak! Two not enough ah? My one already got so many problems. I can’t even help him do his homework. So tough. And then this year Primary Six, I can’t even understand all this IP business lah, what streaming lah. Eh, I thought you complaining about how much it cost to bring up children? And how your boss never give you leave when your children sick? And how you can’t trust your maid to look after them? Better think again lah.

Mr Fernandez: Anyway, that bus service and new coffeeshop better come soon. Real fed up eating at the same place. And Rivervale Plaza. They better go bribe the contractor to get it ready by June. If not, I might move out of this place. Find a babe. Get married. Get new HDB flat. Near my parents’ place so can get the grant. And maybe one baby so can get the bonus.

Mr Lim: Lucky you! My parents want me to move out but my wife and I don’t qualify for HDB. They won’t help me with the cash downpayment for that EC. Too expensive. Jialat. Everything so expensive. Everywhere so crowded. So many cars, always traffic jam. MRT also jam-packed. My business can’t get more foreign workers. I want a new car but thinking a second hand one better. How to survive like that? Tell you, PAP better wake up its ideas! Huat ah!

Mr Ali: You been going online or not? My son asking me why everybody so against the PAP. I think whatever PAP do, sure people will have something to say. Can’t do anything right anymore. Quite kesian. Mrs Ho: Eh, eh, see who’s coming…Low Thia Khiang right?

Mr Fernandez: Rock star!

Mr Ali: Come here! Come here!

Mr Lim: Huat ah!

A media list for 2013

In News Reports, Writing on December 29, 2012 at 5:28 am

It’s that time of the year when the media does a look back and a look forward. On everything from photographs to entertainment to politics – accompanied by predictions of what is to come. On everything, except on themselves or what is expected of them in 2013. At the risk of being accused of pious preaching, here is one news reader’s wishlist for the mainstream media in 2013. Most very do-able. Some already being done some of the time. Here’s to a higher level of journalism!

1. Reject one source stories. By that, I don’t mean merely adding another “voice’’ to the story which says he/she welcomes this or that. I would like to see someone else confirming the news or giving an intelligent facet to the news. By one source stories, I also mean all voices coming from one agency/company/ministry – who are just likely to parrot the same line – or FB and blog postings from individuals that are simply reported without any value added.

2. Expand the list of usual suspects. Aren’t you tired of seeing the same ole people/experts giving comments on issues? Surely there are more academics, economists and political observers around to give a point of view?

3. Reject anonymous comments. You know, recently, there was an article in ST in which a PAP MP who declined to be named (!) gave his views on who could be the next Speaker of Parliament after Palmergate. I can’t believe this! An MP who wants to be anonymous and won’t put his name to what he’s said! Anyways, there are too many “declined to be named” people in the news – and it’s not as though their views (sometimes very innocuous ones) will cost them their jobs or their lives.

4. Get the core story right. I say this because some articles pounce quickly to obtaining reactions or putting in the big picture context without getting the core story right in the first place. You know what I mean, some thing happens and the story morphs quickly into who is at fault or what it might have been instead of just making the news CLEAR in the first place.

5. Bring back explanatory graphics. Nice to have flora and fauna infographics but what about news infographics that explain changes? BT today had a nice graphic on what the US fiscal cliff is all about. Also, what about more charts etc that makes it easier to read numbers? This also means text can be devoted to explaining the implications of the statistics rather than a recital of numbers.

6. Get the corporate hand OUT of the news. I know media companies want to make money and there is always tension between editorial and corporate arms. It’s disconcerting to see pages sponsored by businesses which accompanying editorial that trumpets the business. For some time now, even front pages are being “bought’’. I wonder what Today will do when the hammer comes down on exec condos. For some time now, CityLife@Tampines has been boasting about being the first luxury-hotel style EC on the cover. I hope editorial can keep the advertiser at bay…

7. Steer clear of commentary in the news. Most times, this is adhered to. A news story is a news story and while there might be legitimate analysis or interpretation, there is no outright comment made on the news by the journalist. The thing is, analysis or interpretation should be attributed – unless it’s such a no-brainer that readers would have reached the same conclusion themselves. If not, it will be the news media which is doing the validating or re-affirming – and I don’t think that’s on.

8. Cut down on self-indulgent columns. Unless they are witty, entertaining, make me laugh or cry or offer me an insight I didn’t have, I really don’t know why anyone would want to read about the private lives/habits/quirks/woes etc of a mere 20something, 30something or even 40something journalist. Go blog!

9. Help the reader with “running stories’’. Not everyone follows the news every day and an article really has to be written in its entirety for the fellow who just landed in Singapore. This is true especially for court cases. A “case so far’’ which details what had gone on before would really help the “new’’ reader follow developments.

10. Stop using acronyms in the text of the story. By saying Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) at first mention and then assume readers will remember what SHB stands for when the acronym is used later is really too much to assume. Most times, the readers have to re-read to remember what SHB stands for. Just say bonus plan. Likewise if it’s a company or organisation or association that is unknown, don’t fling acronyms at the reader. The company, the organisation or the association would do. Longer. But clearer.

Saturday Sighs

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on December 15, 2012 at 8:50 am

Equally fair?
This headline left me scratching my head: “Pay fair wages regardless of nationality’’ in ST. You have to read further to find out what is “fair’’. I don’t know why the headline can’t just say: NTUC not happy with equal pay for equal job for all workers. That’s in the deck.
Why headline it this way? To make the point that being fair does not mean being equal? I sure hope that the day doesn’t come when Singaporeans have to go abroad to work at low-end jobs. At least, I hope our cost of living will be much much lower than it is now because I don’t think a foreign employer will pay us more just to take into account the cost of living over here.

Equally painful?
Students are going to be getting their character education awards soon – at the community centres. I suppose this is like Edusave scholarships and bursaries – presented by MPs at CCs. Are there going to be presented by MPs too in a ceremony that will require students and their parents to wait an hour?
Heng Swee Keat said the venue reflects how “excellence in all domains is valued by the community’’. Hmm, but these students were nominated by their teachers. So now will they have to go for two ceremonies? Are these Meet-the-MP sessions? Why not let the principals do the honours at the school’s annual Speech Day or something?

Calling it quits
I wonder how Daniel Au felt at being woken up by the cops one day three years ago and made to take a breathalyser test. The fellow had dozed off in a parked car after a night out on the town – and got nabbed for drink driving.
What a crazy case. I’m glad he was acquitted but seems he’s yet to get his $4K fine refunded to him although the judgement came out three weeks ago. Then there’s the matter of two weeks jail time he served. The G was reported in ST saying that it was studying the High Court decision and might bring it up for appeal. My goodness! It sure looks like an open-and-shut case to me. Unless you want to signal to drivers that you should NOT sleep in your car when you’re drunk, but attempt to avoid the cops and drive home under the influence…

Building on numbers

In Money, News Reports, Writing on December 15, 2012 at 8:06 am

All those building numbers are making me dizzy. You know, the number of BTO flats to be built, private homes, EC sites and land sales…What I know is that we are building like crazy.

So I had a good look at the private housing numbers that are coming up, depending of course on whether developers buy and build on those sites that the G is releasing as reported today.

Actually, I am not sure I care. Isn’t the problem whether or not people can afford to buy property? Does a bigger supply of homes translate to lower property prices? I had to plough through half of the ST P1 story to find out that it won’t.
I went to BT and found that the land releases for private homes are represented as “joyous tidings’’. I wonder for whom? Private developers? Or home buyers? (you would think that plenty of people are unhoused at the moment)

I am not sure what to think after reading the stories although I’m sure the real estate types would make more of it. BT had a chart on number of homes to be built while ST had maps of plum sites. I wish one paper would have BOTH so I don’t have to read so much text.

What I was interested in was that ECs will form 45 per cent or 3,110 of supply in the “confirmed’’ list in the first half of next year. I guess we’ll see more penthouses for the sandwiched class soon. Isn’t it time we took a look at the sky-high EC prices and see if the policy still holds? I mean, ECs are classified as “private housing’’ even though they are subsidised and subject to some HDB-like rulings. Are EC developers making a killing on taxpayers’ money? I want to be enlightened.

Another numbers story that left me in a fog was over how we spent a record $7.4b on R&D last year. According to ST, it was by both private and public sectors, although it didn’t say who was responsible for how much. Reading the article though, you would think this was all G largesse, courtesy of A*Star. Especially when it mentioned that $16b had been set aside for the next R&D five-year plan – 20 per cent more than over the previous five years.

I had to turn to BT for the full picture. And that is: Private sector research, especially by foreign companies, out-paced that of the public sector. Local companies still lag behind, not a good sign given the productivity push Singapore is embarking on.

Also, here’s an interesting case of how numbers can look good or bad:
ST said that last year’s research spending of 2.3 per cent of GDP brings Singapore “closer’’ to other countries famed for research, such as Denmark.
It added that the Republic’s target is to get it up to 3.5 per cent in 2015, which would put it on par with the top research countries such as Israel and Japan.

BT, on the hand, did not refer to the levels of research in other countries. Instead it pitted Singapore’s achievement against its own target: Despite a red-letter year, the country’s research intensiveness is 2.3 per cent of the economy, still some way off its 2015 goal of spending 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product on R&D.
Amazing what sort of spin you can give to numbers. Also shows why you have to read more than just one media for a full picture.

Educating Ah Boy

In News Reports, Society, Writing on December 12, 2012 at 2:53 am

I have never thought Today as being very good on the graphics front, but I thought its display on how our students did in the international assessment tests was useful. It was nothing to shout about. But at least it was on Page 1, not tucked inside its bowels. And the statistics allowed a reader to absorb the information without the commentary that goes along with it as would invariably happen when there’s intervening test. TNP had a graphic too – a rather kiddy one.

The reason I am so hot on graphics is that for the big stuff, readers want the whole picture unembellished. And this being education-related, I’d bet that many would want to look at the details.

So I suppose we should give our education system a cheer that our students did so well vis-à-vis other children. But methinks ST was too quick to give the MOE the credit.

The fourth par said : The results validate the approach adopted by the Ministry of Education (MOE) more than a decade ago to trim syllabuses and allow more time for teachers to develop critical thinking skills in their students.

Who is saying this? ST? Besides verification, there is this thing called attribution. And the statement was not attributed. It is this sort of reporting and writing that does ST a disservice. It puts the newspaper too clearly on the G side, even if the statement is true.

It doesn’t matter if the attribution came much further down the story. Two-thirds of the way, the story said: MOE attributed the development of higher-order thinking skills to the syllabus cuts and the shift towards more inquiry-based teaching and learning in schools

Too late in the story, babe.

I looked at what Today said: While Mr Lim (Biow Chuan – the MP) felt that factors such as the rising education levels of parents and tuition classes could have contributed to the overall academic improvement, the Ministry of Education said that among other things, the results affirmed its effort to create room for self-inquiry skills over the years.

Practically the same thing, but put in the MOE’s mouth. It has the added value of having an “outsider’’ commenting on other non-MOE factors, instead of just having the officials and teachers patting themselves on the back.

By the way, I wonder if we should be worried about the children “knowing’’ less, even if they are “reasoning’’ and “applying’’ more as the assessment tests showed. Some things have to give, I suppose, when the school syllabus was cut down. Maybe we should send our students to a “knowledge’’ test as well to see how they fare.

I am glad that TNP highlighted one point on literacy from the survey. We are not quite fourth as the literacy survey showed, but actually No. 1 when you realise that it was literacy in the language of the assessment system. For a moment, I was taken aback that the Hong Kong and Russian students beat ours in literacy. But no, the Singapore students led the pack on the English language, ahead of Northern Ireland and the Americans.

Thank you TNP for pointing this out.

Facilitating only….

In News Reports, Writing on October 31, 2012 at 3:45 am

There’s one word which I am beginning to swear at – facility and its plural variant. Things that are physical are now a facility or facilities. It is the case for the mega ITE campus on ST’s page 1. It’s a facility and there are facilities, like a swimming pool, within this facility. And this facility is actually a merger of smaller facilities, which are the standalone ITEs.

Oh, and a productivity centre which was launched yesterday is also described as a facility. Likewise a business centre opened by Boston Consulting Group. You realise there is no longer space for recreation, but recreational facilities. Or space to play sports but sports facilities. I remember the days when facilities was a polite way to ask for the way to the washroom – as in, where are the facilities, pray tell.

And while I’m ranting…there’s also this word called facilitate. Nobody helps anymore, they facilitate.

Okay, I digress. Actually my main beef is about the way the media seems to wow, ga-ga and rah-rah whenever something new is set up. In fact, they actually write that you should go “wow’’ – like how “visitors to the ITE will be wowed by a massive atrium…’’. And how students will “benefit’’ from an authentic learning environment. And how one student is “eagerly’’ looking forward to studying there. A page 1 story on the facilities isn’t enough, readers will be wowed by a massive graphic in the inside pages.

This exuberant reporting extends to any kind of facility, like sports halls, shopping malls and gardens, whether commercial or state sponsored. If it’s state-owned, I wonder why the more critical question of whether these facilities are worth the taxpayers’ money aren’t asked. For example, what is going to happen to the current five ITE campuses that are going to be move to this mega-campus? I read in Today that they will be returned to the state, although what the state intends to do to these five facilities isn’t answered.

When the media goes rah-rah over commercial facilities, I cringe. So we get a blow by blow on how many shops etc there will be and the wonderful play and eating facilities. I think to myself that the developers and private companies should take out an ad.
Look here, I am just asking for neutral reporting that would benefit the reader.

I think Today did the ITE story better. Four new courses, how many students, where they will move to, when, how big etc. Methinks ST tried too hard to factor in the big picture of an ITE that’s super, when it should just give info in some coherent order.

By the way, the ITE said it hoped the mega campus will change the “perception of the public to ITE education’’. In the next breath, the same ITE spokesman said that “locals sometimes still think that ITE is this dingy little workshop’’. Locals??? Gosh. I have to put my grass skirt back into my dingy little kampong house…

Finally, the facts…

In News Reports, Politics, Writing on October 20, 2012 at 4:04 am

My ex-boss has written a tell-all book. I read it yesterday evening and closed the book with mixed feelings. Cheong Yip Seng was the man who brought me into journalism, and to this day, I have always considered him the top newsman in Singapore. Not by virtue of his position as editor-in-chief of the Singapore Press Holdings English and Malay language newspapers division, but as a consummate professional. That is, if politics didn’t get in the way.
I would ring him at home after office-hours when I find difficulty angling a story or was unclear about how to proceed with the reporting or writing. My colleagues were aghast that I would bother Cheong, as we all called him. But a short conversation answering a few sharp questions he posed would always set me right. I would hang up and start banging away at the keyboard. He missed news reporting and editing; that was clear to me. One weekend many moons ago when I was helming weekend coverage of the sinking of navy ship, RSS Courageous, he actually called me to ask if I needed him to come in to help. He was the only editor who offered to do so – and he was my top boss. I told him how much space I was giving to the story and he told me this: “Let it rip! Open more pages!’’ I was stunned. Anyway I doubled the coverage.
Cheong is the only journalist to have survived the bruising media environment and to retire gracefully. He did so by navigating the political environment skilfully. And because those who worked with him trusted that he would still do his utmost to ensure we practised good journalism, albeit within the OB markers. Of course, younger journalists wanted wider fairways and chafed when we thought them to narrow. Cheong would do his best to persuade us to his point of view, especially at his famous coffeebreak editors’ meetings. Sometimes we agreed with him, sometimes we did not. Sometimes we wished he would simply order us to toe his line. After all, he was editor-in-chief. But he never laid down the law. Always, in the end, we did as he wanted. He allowed feedback and dissent to surface and, in my case, I would do what he wanted because I appreciated his frankness and his earnest wish to get us over to his point of view. Also, I knew that Cheong was usually right. Butt heads with the G over one incident and risk the fairways becoming so narrow that we couldn’t do very much?
Cheong’s book, OB Markers, is remarkable for the revelations that senior editors had thought should be closely guarded secrets. The phone calls from ministers, slap on the wrists, face-to-face meetings were something that we do not talk about in public. Now here is Cheong telling all. It is a factual account and I myself was party to some of the discussions which took place. I wonder how the reading public will view the book. Here are some scenarios:
a) Ahah! I knew it!
Patrick Daniel, Cheong’s successor, had wondered if this would be the reaction. Will the book only confirm a perception/misperception that the ST is a “docile’’ press, one veteran had asked. Cheong replied that there wouldn’t have been so many run-ins if the ST was docile. Truth to tell, there have been occasions when I thought the ST reactions to G’s overtures (that’s the mildest term I can use) could be more vigorous. But you know something? If you are not in the business and not privy to some information, it is easier to shoot from the hip. I have always tried to take the view that Cheong was thinking for the long-term, hoping that time and technology and the unstoppable trend towards political openness would allow journalists to better practise their craft. Actually, journalists do have a lot of room to do good journalism which does not touch on the politics of the day. Over the years, there was less “interference’’ over non-political stories. On these stories, we “went’’ with the newspoint as well as with Cheong’s three principles firmly in mind – accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
b) Wow! The G really doesn’t trust the media
That’s true. Even to this day. The catchphrase civil servants threw at journalists when the reporting does not go their way is: You have an agenda. My usual response would be: “Where got so much time to come up with an agenda? What’s the agenda anyway? Bring down the G?’’ It’s laughable. Most times, the accusation comes from thin-skinned civil servants and politicians who want only favourable stories that put them in a good light. On several occasions, I have had to face newsmakers who do not “like’’ my questions, considering them too aggressive or do not “like’’ my writing because it was too racy. The flip side happens as well. They also “like’’ some of my stuff, which almost makes me wonder if they thought I was their PR machinery….I try to comfort myself when we get hit at by both the People’s Action Party and the opposition – if we are equally disliked, we must be doing something right!
c) The media people are really cowards….
Then there will be those who think the media should have “fought’’ back. That we should report “everything’’ and let the people decide how to view the articles. After all, as Cheong himself said, it is not likely that the Internal Security Act would be invoked against the media or that its publishing licence would not be renewed. True enough, but the G’s hold over the media is far more sophisticated. You should read Cherian George’s Freedom from the Press for indications. Editors have come and gone. But more importantly is what these people who advocate a “fight’’ really want? Too often, they are the first people who will say “don’t quote me’’ when asked to put their views in print. They expect others to lead while they watch on the sidelines. I always say “I am not going to be martyr for you’’ and will just do the best journalism I can. In any case, I will say that I don’t believe in full freedom of the press. On bilateral relations, for example, I will be guided by the G. When you do not have full possession of the facts, you put your country at risk by running uninformed accounts. I am not about to be responsible for Malaysia turning off the water supply!
d) The media here has such a tough job…
The thing about journalism is that we do not write about the difficulties of the craft. We just tell you about the information we have, not about how we got it or the hoops we have to go through, the telephone calls we have to field, the late night changes. It’s all part and parcel of reporting and writing. Cheong’s book gives a good insight into this. Sometimes the job is so tough that good people leave. Too narrow a fairway, too controlled an environment, too many considerations before even the writing starts, too many missed dinners PLUS the constant heckling that journalists have to endure, now tuned louder because of the Internet. I have on too many occasions had to console younger journalists upset at the jibes they receive – from both the G and the vociferous, nameless netizens – even as they try to do the best job they can under trying circumstances. I tell them to keep doing their job and trust that their bosses will take the flak and not deviate from ethical journalistic principles. As a senior editor, I try to convince them to “trust’’ us. That we do not roll over all the time. That we hold firm against the tide. But even I find it tough. Which was why I quit.
I am now waiting for public reaction to the book. Which scenario will pan out? Cheong said that if it resulted in some re-calibration of G-media relations, it would have done some good. Maybe it will realise that too controlling a hand will simply drive thinking people away from journalism. Maybe it will realise that this control, however subtle, puts ST’s credibility at risk especially with a better educated people with better access to information. The G should trust that journalists are not out to undermine Singapore. But it, too, should not undermine their editorial integrity.
Thank you, Cheong, for the book. It must have been tough for you to write it. The wonder is that you got Lee Kuan Yew to endorse it as “worth a read’’! Times, they are a-changing…

How can like that?

In News Reports, Writing on October 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

I wonder what John Lui has against the word “How’’. I happen to think it’s one of the most versatile words in the Singapore English lexicon (note: I didn’t say Singlish) So how to explain Cecilia Sue’s text message which went: How? How? How? It’s a plaintive How can you do this to me?! How can you be so heartless? How am I supposed to cope now? Wonderful word, very textured.
Foreigners would have great difficulty figuring out the Singaporean’s How? I know some of my ex-colleagues did when I blithely ask “How?’’ It can mean How are you today? How about that update you promised? How’s it going with that problem? Context is everything. That, and the tone of voice of course.
Another good word is “Can’’. It can be used with and without a question mark. To the uninitiated and ignorant, it means yes, with and without a question mark. Put how and can together, you get a very distressed How can. How could this have happened to me????? This is so unfair! I can’t believe this! You know, the usual lamentations…
You can also divide How can, as in How? Can? You are expected to reply Can, not Cannot.
I agree with John Lui’s take on the word “like’’. I so dislike “like’’. In the past, I got all het up when it’s used to substitute “such as’’. Now, Facebook has just inspired my total hatred for the word. Why, in heavens name, would anyone “like’’ some silly post, picture? I am, like, so upset with such inanity.
John didn’t talk about this other word “nice’’. Which I happen to think is not nice at all. What’s nice about this? Is that the extent of your vocabulary? No other way to describe what you like about this? I mean, how can?


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