berthahenson

Media bias

In News Reports, Politics on May 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm

I am glad that The Straits Times editorial yesterday has prompted Low Thia Khiang to elaborate on his charges of media bias during the coverage of the Hougang by-election. I have never like unsubstantiated allegations – and actually wondered why ST would even print pot shots. I suppose if it didn’t, then the charge would again be of prejudice…But people who throw stones should be clear at what they are aiming at. So Mr Low Thia Khiang now elaborates. It had to do with a picture of himself, Sylvia Lim and Png Eng Huat looking grim, with the headline WP faces allegations of dishonesty.

http://www.straitstimes.com/STForum/Story/STIStory_804757.html

Pictures and headlines have always been biggest complaints of newsmakers. They and their fans will of course prefer that a flattering picture was published. I guess a better picture in their view would be of the three sharing a light-hearted moment? If so, the reader will be asking if the WP is taking the allegations seriously. And it definitely WAS. Then it comes to whether the headline was accurate. It could have gone the other way I suppose with WP clarifies Png’s NCMP remarks, as Mr Low seems to suggest? I think the brickbats would be hurled from the other side as the complaint would be that it wasn’t really a clarification. Which is why headline writing is such a skill and the safest route for a sub-editor to take is to write what is known as a “label” headline – unfocused, ambiguous. So maybe a headline like : PAP and WP lock horns on Png’s NCMP comments…or WP responds to PAP charges.

Lest people think that only the opposition complains about headlines, well, the PAP does too but maybe not as publicly. I don’t know about this by-election or even the last general election, but I’ve had to face the ire of PAP heavyweights who complain about unflattering pictures or supposedly misleading headlines during past polls or the amount of acreage given to the opposition. Yes, the PAP complains too about media bias.

It’s no fun being in the traditional media especially during election time. (Some coffeeshops won’t even serve you when the laoban hears that you’re a journalist; you get sworn at; you take notes at rallies next to some policemen…) I sometimes tell the younger journalists distressed at how their profession is being taken down that we must be doing something right if BOTH sides complain.

I maintain that the mainstream media did a pretty job of covering the elections fairly. You can see that pages are split down the middle between PAP and WP, and reporting is so carefully calibrated so as to give each side equal space. Its a by-election, only two parties – it’s the right thing to do.

Thank you Mr Low for expanding on your charge and ST for its reply. As Mr Low said, let’s leave it to the readers to judge.

Advertisements
  1. Speaking as an academic who has seen the reporting by ST and TNP in the last > 25yrs, this blog post contains utter rubbish. No bias when it comes to local politics? Which planet are you wandering in? Even in some interviews, our own LKY does insinuate that there are biasses when it comes to the elections (including the reporting); he has set the institutions up so that the opposition will have to work really hard to break into parliament. It is not an impossible feat, but a very difficult one for them. So I like him in the sense that he usually tells it to you straight in the face. Why can’t SPH have guts like LKY and admit the fact that they are biased? And if you don’t think you are biased, please conduct a poll and let the readers tell you if you are biased when it comes to local politics reporting. As an academic, maybe I should view the results of such a poll first before passing any judgements; but I grew up there, and you cannot kid me. Frankly, I have nothing against the biased reporting. But it is pretty “pukifying” when SPH states they are “unbiased”! This is the first and last time I am visiting this blog. Good luck!

  2. I wonder if ST will remind us of their coverage of our Lord LKY’s comments on Venomous Religions. This was another leak, this time from the US State Dept.

  3. Some data from GE 2011 regarding biased reporting (if we consider MARUAH’s stats as legit):
    http://maruah.org/2011/05/09/maruah-media-monitoring-7-may-2011/#more-959

  4. i am a ST subscriber and reader so I guess I am qualified to judge. yes that photo and the headlines is biased. No amt of justification by ST or Zaobao editiors can change the fact.

  5. Dear Bertha, I appreciate you reminding us about the dilemmas journalists here face. I know it’s a tough job. The problem I have with this piece is that you seem to be approaching it from a ST journalist’s viewpoint (granted, as you might be expected to). Among other things, your characterisation of “PAP complaining about media bias” is too simplistic. When the PAP complains, it is unhappy not with any “bias”, but rather with a short-term, one-off, problem: somebody didn’t like the story that day. When the WP complains–or when people like myself complain–we are also railing against a long-term, institutional problem, a systemic media bias that has crippled our country for decades.

  6. Actually by Tuesday night, WP has already refuted the allegations. Surely a more reasonable headline would have been something like “WP Refutes PAP’s Allegations”. A wise journalist would have come up have something like that, rather than the lame headline we saw on Wednesday. It speaks a lot about the quality and independence of our MSM. A lot of Singaporeans were and are not happy with ST and other MSM coverage. That is a fact whether or not many SIngaporeans actually bother to write to the forum page of ST (where letters are often censored/edited anyway).

    In the years to come, Singaporeans will know whether or not the MSM is truly independent eg whether or not ST or MSM has actual communication with the government on what should be published; all will be revealed, nothing stays hidden forever in history.

    In any event, SPH, ST or other MSM publications has not rebutted what Mr Low Thia Khiang has raised about the Chairman and board members of SPH being dominated by ex PAP ministers etc or SPH being owned by GLCs thus drawing the presumption of how can it be independent. There is this principle in administrative law, justice must not only be done and must be seen to be done.

  7. As another academic who has researched aspects of media studies I can say that this article is based on some really faulty premises. That is my polite way of saying that it’s rubbish.

    Generally speaking photographs of politicians smiling are always better received by the public than pictures of politicians scowling, frowning and engaging in conspiratorial whispers next to the words ” DISHONESTY.” Any editor worth his salt will realize this and we should not assume that the Straits Times is packaged by some naive first year journalism students. The whole packaging and layout of a page is often apprehended in a very subliminal way and you can’t merely deconstruct each element in isolation. But I think the photo is a digression.

    THE REAL ISSUE is the headline itself. DPM Teo insinuated that the WP was dishonest and this was what the headline should have read, leaving the reader to decide if he was being petty and vindictive or if there were substantive claims involved. Allowing DPM Teo to set the news agenda definitely displays bias. Come on, any one with half a brain can realize that Png was not being dishonest, somewhat lacking in clarity and detail maybe but the substance of what he said remained the same. HE DID NOT GET SELECTED FOR THE NCMP SEAT PARTIALLY BECAUSE HE MADE CLEAR HE HAD NO INTEREST IN IT. Whether this happened before or after his name was put into a ballot does not change the substance of it.

    Your newspaper has shown itself to be deserving of the deplorable ranking it has received in the PRess Freedom Index. It’s hard to blame people for regarding it as a meretricious rag.

  8. Wow, quite a few academics here who don’t put their name down 🙂 C’mon guys, don’t hide behind email addresses and “Anonymous” if you have an opinion to share that is fair and objective.

    Bertha, as long as SPH has a board of directors that is heavily Govt-linked, ST will never be seen as an objective, unbiased publication. No matter how much effort they split the layout equally, the actual persona of the paper is too closely linked with the PAP and this is why so many readers have stopped reading it.

    One good example of “media bias” is that it took such a long time for ST to begin publishing pix of the huge crowds at Opposition rallies vs the tiny crowds at PAP rallies. I haven’t been reading ST regularly during this by-election and they may have just run those pictures, but it was only a recent development in the past two GEs. Do correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t read every issue of the newspapers to make an accurate call.

  9. That is right. Leave it to the readers to judge and this reader has judged it to be bias and extremely prejudiced against the WP. When I first saw the screaming Headlines about DPM Teo’s insinuation that WP is dishonest, I could not believe ST even could put that as a Headline, especially since there is nothing substantial to it. Come on, nobody would even consider that an ‘honesty’ issue. We all know this is gutter politics and unfortunately, the ST had participated in it . Why would a ‘reputable and fair’ newspaper do that? Simple, because the ST is JUST not reputable and fair when itcomes to political reporting. In fact to put that as a headline shows how complicit the ST is in this game against the WP. Surely you cannot pretend you dont know that putting that as a headline is a calculated move to carry a certain message across, hoping to influence readers in a certain way.

    In today’s ST forum 30 May, ST editor replies Low and insists that their coverage is fair and unbiased. Yes, you can insist all you want and give your high sounding reasons, but lets call a spade a spade. a bias newspaper is a bias newspaper and unprofessional journalism is unprofessional journalism.

    • hahah. Somehow I knew that post would generate plenty of comment! I must be doing something right. I gather that the ST newsroom hasn’t been too happy with my blog over the past two weeks or so – “Why are you focusing on ST?” and now that I attempt a little defence on its behalf, I get whacked. BTW I did say in past posts that the NCMP kerfuffle was much ado about nothing and the PAP should shut up. I was suggesting in this post that the newspaper could save itself by attempting a neutral label headline than go too far in intepretation. That “dishonesty” headline floored me too. What in heaven’s name was ST thinking, was my own thought. Where were the checks?

      In case someone forgot, I am no longer in ST but yes I do have some regard for the newspaper. It has some really really good people who are trying very hard to do as professional a job as they can within the constraints of this terribly small island. I wish that they would get more support when small steps are made. I have seen electoral coverage change/improve over the years – much to the consternation of the Establishment. Sure, there would be shortcomings – some of which are made unthinkingly rather than as a result of some calculated agenda.

      Anyway, you can call this post rubbish or whatever you want or stop reading etc. It’s just that sometimes I think my old newspaper deserves a voice on its side too. As for Ian’s point about the crowd rally picture. Yes, I was there at that GE – and the ST made a bad bad mistake which would take decades for people to forget. If ever. As for the SPH board being government-linked, what to do? Do all journalists therefore up and go because they will be perceived as biased etc? Do we want to lose good news people who can tell good political and non-political stories (and there are MORE of those) professionally and accurately and willing to do what they can to get to the truth? You think readers will lobby the Government for a change to NPPA or the composition of the board? You think readers will defend ST if the Government comes down on it for some reason or other? I not sure leh.

      • I don’t agree that the ST (or mainstream media as a whole) have been balanced, in the elections or otherwise. But I agree that it doesn’t mean every MSM journo in Singapore is a PAP bootlicking sell-out. I do know many good people in the MSM who are just as engaged and alarmed at the direction things are going in Singapore.

        I think the problem goes far beyond individual journalists. Sometimes it seems as if there’s an ingrained, systematic tilting of playing fields in the MSM, just like almost everywhere else in Singaporean politics and public discourse.

        I’m taking this anecdote out of the specifics of ST – Zaobao defended their decision to publish the minutes of the WP meeting which it received from an anonymous source before they approached WP for clarification. This may or may not be right, but the biases pointed out here is that it is highly unlikely the MSM would do the same if it were the PAP instead. I myself, along with some other activists, have seen stories about our causes/issues/advocacy get hopelessly watered down, misreported, or perhaps die completely because of the MSM’s refusal to publish anything without a ministry/PAP politician’s response/clarification. So why the difference in standard when it comes to the opposition party? That is what we’re asking.

        It is sad that there is such a lack of trust between MSM and Singaporeans now. This is something that is going to take a long, long time to fix. The MSM has a lot to prove to the people.

  10. The acid test as to whether ST or any MSM is guily of biased reporting is to ask onself, whether the same photo or the same headline would be published had the roles been swapped with the other Party.

    Will ST publish any allegations of impropriety (say Choo Wee Kiang) using a photo of him framed by Lee Hsien Loong and Khaw Boon Wan? Using the same headlines?

    How come ST has in all its years never been able to take a single photograph of Chee Soon Juan smiling?

    If ST or any MSM bastion of independent reporting, why is it that we are ranked 154th?
    For an open developed economy?

    Why?

  11. “..You can see that pages are split down the middle between PAP and WP, and reporting is so carefully calibrated so as to give each side equal space.” I disagreed on this statement, the last I saw in ST, was as long as the WP is featured on that particular page, somehow, there will be a PAP column(s) in the same page featured.

    I gave up on readings political news in ST already. It is biased and manipulative. i must say.

  12. Bertha, re “As for the SPH board being government-linked, what to do? Do all journalists therefore up and go because they will be perceived as biased etc? Do we want to lose good news people who can tell good political and non-political stories (and there are MORE of those) professionally and accurately and willing to do what they can to get to the truth? You think readers will lobby the Government for a change to NPPA or the composition of the board? You think readers will defend ST if the Government comes down on it for some reason or other? I not sure leh.”

    All that we (ie. those of us who try to be more civil about media issues) ask is that ST avoid claiming to be totally objective if they aren’t prepared to provide disclaimers about their directorship, constraints under NPPA, and past shortcomings on political reporting. It’s not easy, but it’s a first step to showing people that there’s no such thing as pure objectivity in news, but there is such thing as accountability, professionalism and editorial balance.

    • Fair point. But its a pretty old issue you know. Wish someone in Parliament will bring it up and question the G more rigorously. They’ve done so time and again, but not very prepared leh. Maybe LTK should bring it up – move a motion for full debate rather than question for oral answer – since WP is so concerned about this. Or a Nominated MP. Then just as ST editorial prompted a reply LTK, maybe the Parliament reports will prompt a reply from ST or better still, its parent publisher…

  13. Addendum – “there are such things as…”.

  14. No, Bertha Henson, you’re not doing something right. You’re just a retard. And people are correcting you. Only a retard believes the Straits Times DO NOT KNOW which side their bread is buttered.

  15. “I maintain that the mainstream media did a pretty job of covering the elections fairly. You can see that pages are split down the middle between PAP and WP, and reporting is so carefully calibrated so as to give each side equal space. Its a by-election, only two parties – it’s the right thing to do.”

    Haha, are u sure that is the right thing to do ? I remember distinctly that when the ST was queried in the past as to why the PAP receives more coverage than the opposition parties during general elections, ST’s response was that since the PAP is the ruling party and therefore enjoy the support of the majority, it is only right that the bulk of their articles appeal to the majority.

    Going by ST’s own logic, shouldnt their coverage of the Hougang by-election be focused more on the Worker’s Party since the Worker’s Party is the incumbent and it has been enjoying the support of the majority of the Hougang voters? Following the style of their coverage of opposition parties in general elections, coverage of the PAP’s candidate in the Hougang by-election should be confined to relatively small write-ups hidden in the middle pages whereas all the frontpages and headlines should be devoted to pointing out what the majority voters like about the incumbent party, i.e. WP.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: