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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

What other sexual subcultures should we know about then?

In News Reports, Society on December 15, 2014 at 12:30 am

I’ve always like The New Paper. It’s a feisty thing. With gutsy reporters who dig deep. For dirt, sure, but also facts. It tells people what they want to know, whether they know it or not…That’s why I don’t criticize much when it resorts to voyeurism and sensationalism. Newspapers, after all, have to sell. Compared to other tabloids elsewhere, TNP is actually pretty tame. Sometimes tamer than the afternoon Chinese-language dailies

I was surprised that it put a dominatrix on yesterday’s Page 1, someone who charges $200 an hour to whip clients. Of course, people will read it. It is part of a lifestyle that most people do not indulge in but may find fascinating. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this if I did not read the editorial justification for the story, which the reporter acknowledged will raise questions.

“Of course, people will say this story is being run for its shock value, but I beg to differ. We, as journalists, peel away the layers and look beneath the public image of sterile Singapore,’’ she wrote.

Then she asked a “quick question’’: Whether readers know that there was no sex involved when you hire a “professional’’ dominatrix. She said that she was no prude and that if being conservative means burying her head – and those of her children – in the sand about sexual sub-cultures, then she’d rather be liberal and discuss the matter openly with her children.

“Our culture may be conservative, but that should not stop us from being aware of what is permissive and what can happen between consenting adults behind closed doors.’’

I was uncomfortable reading this. If I want to picky and tear the feature apart journalistically, I can. It is just an interview with ONE dominatrix accompanied by an article on why bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism might be some people’s cup of tea. There is really no editorial imperative for such a story, except “pro-dommes’’ saying that there is a “gradual increase in the number of new bookings’’ – which is no different from someone trying to flog a product. It is not a trend story. The practice is not illegal. Nobody got hurt (except in the way they want..) And I keep wondering why the article keeps making the point that no sex is involved for pro-dommes. It’s probably what professional social escorts would say too. Enlightening the public on this “fact’’ is surely not the point of the publication.

If TNP is not a newspaper (and a daily as well), I wouldn’t have a problem with the article. It could appear anywhere in a lifestyle magazine, and even in its inside pages. But as the page 1 story of a newspaper, with the justification that it is peeling away the layers of the public image of a sterile Singapore, then I wonder where the line is going to be drawn. In fact, I am not even sure I agree with the image of Singapore as “sterile’’ anymore.

Does TNP then intend to venture into other “sexual subcultures’’? If so, I have many ideas and can even come with possible reasons for publication:

  1. What goes on in gay clubs – TNP did do a spread on what goes on inside such clubs in the past, with the editorial justification or what is in journalistic parlance known as the news peg being the accidental death of a man in such a place.
  2. The life of foreign gigolos here – So much about female foreign sex workers, how come not much about the men?
  3. Sex orgies in HDB flats – Who says heartlanders are dull?
  4. Public places where lesbians hang out – an informative piece for both straight and gay women
  5. The top-selling sex toy in Singapore – a consumer story for adults.

I can also accompany each with an expert-laden article on the whys and wherefores of such people’s lives and their activities. There are plenty of experts online to quote, like how TNP reported a Mail Online report last year on some overseas experts who believe that BDSM can make you more psychologically healthy because people who enjoy kinky sex are more extrovert and less neurotic. There’s even a Dr Andreas Wismeijer, a psychologist from Tilburg University in Holland, who said BDSM practitioners are no different from the rest of the population, and if they are, “they differed in a favourable direction’’.

Now, I am not making a judgment on what adults do privately. It is their business. If it is not illegal and doesn’t harm others, consenting adults should be left to their own devices. What I object to is a newspaper struggling for an editorial justification for a story which has no journalistic merit.

Its conclusion that our conservative culture “should not stop us from being aware of what is permissive (is this supposed to be a derogatory word or what?) and what can happen between consenting adults behind closed doors’’ is too sweeping for comfort.

I want my newspaper to remain a NEWS paper.

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A big fail of a story

In News Reports, Writing on December 4, 2014 at 1:59 am

This post is for those interested in journalism or those who fancy themselves “professional’’ readers. I am putting this up because I don’t understand how or why the story made it into the public domain.

This is the headline in BT yesterday: Spanish tycoon pays $4,100-plus psf for pair of Seven Palms Sentosa Cove units.

Story:

The overall Sentosa Cove condo market may be languishing, but SC Global Developments is understood to have sold two units at its Seven Palms Sentosa Cove at what could be a record price in the waterfront housing district: $4,100-plus per square foot. The overall lump sum works out to $28.55 million.

Now, it is the job of journalists to verify and confirm. The intro is an uncertain intro (understood/what could be a record), despite the impression given by the headline. It’s perfectly okay to say it is understood if you tell me “how’’ you understand and if requisite checks have been done. That is, was SC Global Developments contacted? Some way to check caveats? Who/what is the source? The story doesn’t even say “sources’’.

Spanish tycoon Ricardo Portabella Peralta is thought to be the buyer of two neighbouring units on the third-level of the four story condo, which is flanked by Tanjong beach on one side with the adjacent greens of the Sentosa Golf Course, and the South China Sea on the other. Mr Peralta is chairman of Groupe Ventos and inherited a huge fortune, especially related to Danone Spain.

Again, “thought to be’’? There is no way to confirm this? Who is giving  this info? A friend of Mr Peralta? A business associate? Was Mr Peralta contacted? If he’s such a big man, he would aides/PR agents who deal with queries. Again, no indication.

Seven Palms Sentosa Cove received the Temporary Occupation Permit in the first quarter of 2013. The low-rise project has only 41 luxuriously appointed beach-house apartments available in three, four and five-bedroom configuration ranging from around 2,700 sq ft to 8,000 sq ft. The units picked up by Peralta are believed to be around 3,400-plus sq ft each.

Hmmm….thank you for telling me about the layout and all. But what is this “believed to be around 3,400-plus sq ft’’? If it is “around’’, do you need a “plus’’? Small point, but it all adds to how this story is so iffy.

The project was designed by Kerry Hill Architects, which has designed many Aman resorts.

Again, thank you. But up till now, I still have no idea if the report is real. I am supposed to take it on faith with no sight of whether checks have been made – not even attempts at a check. After this comes backgrounding on how Aussie Gina Rinehart was “reported to have paid’’ $57.2 million for two units in 2012. Price “was thought to have crossed $4,000 psf’’. Sigh. Even old stories don’t have facts nailed down.

Then this follows:

While the news of Mr Peralta’s purchase of the two Seven Palms units is not expected to improve sentiment for Sentosa Cove properties in the short term, “the news will be a good highlight to a very quiet and dismal year for Sentosa Cove’’, said Century 21 CEO Ku Swee Yong.

Gosh! “News’’ of his purchase? I am not sure I would call something so iffy news. Why is this Century 21 person being quoted so lamely on this? It would be better if readers are given an overview of what is “quiet and dismal’’. How many Seven Palms condos sold? What about other Sentosa Cove properties? Oh! And is this guy the “source’’?

A little bit more interesting, the next paragraph:

Transactions of condos as well as bungalows have thinned drastically. A few months ago, two units in the Turqiose Condo, both mortgagee sales, transacted at around $1,400 psf – a record low since the 2006/7 luxury housing boom, noted Mr Ku.

But it still doesn’t give me overall numbers, just a “highlight’’. Wonder if this piece of news was reported during that very unspecific “a few months ago’’?

As to why Seven Palms still managed to set a record price, or at least a near record price, Mr Ku said: “This is the only beachfront condo, and probably the only beachfront resident in Singapore. Morever, SC Global’s products have a certain premium…’’

Goodness, tentativeness of the story displayed in all its glory: record or near record. And did SC Global pay Mr Ku to say nice things which it can’t say about itself. No sight or sound from SC Global at all.

The resort-style facilities of the project include concierge service, a Beach Club, a 45-metre infinity pool with Jacuzzi and barbecue terrace overlooking the sea.

Thank you for telling me what the brochure says.

As if lack of attribution, verification and sourcing in the text isn’t enough, there is a photograph published of a family looking out to the sea with a caption on how Seven Palms has only 41 luxuriously appointed beach-house apartments available in three, four and five-bedroom configurations. The picture looks like a brochure picture and is NOT credited.

This story is a big fail.

MSM: You don’t need the G’s help. Really

In News Reports, Politics on July 12, 2014 at 4:17 am

There’s an interesting column in ST today calling for a re-think of the role of the media. The key issue is whether the role of the media is to strengthen the public trust in the G and if so, how to go about doing it. The writer sort of skims over the question of whether this should be the role. Instead, he plunges more quickly into how this should be done – if so.

He talks about the old knuckle duster approach of ex-PM Lee Kuan Yew and the gentler hand of the G these days, focused more on cajoling and persuading journalists and editors to “do the right thing’’ (my words). There is a mention of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, but he does not call for a re-look of this piece of legislation with its annual renewal of publishing licences and allotment of “management’’ shares.

Instead he asks that the Government “help strengthen public trust in the media’’. It can do this by being forthcoming with data so that the media can do a better job of reporting and analysing the news, he said. Then he segues into how the MSM must be a thought leader that contributes a diversity of views – without saying what role the G plays in this regard. Instead comes an exhortation that the G should “respect and trust’’ MSM journalists to act in the interests of the nation, and give them a wider space to operate in.

It’s an old familiar rumble. MSM would never call for a re-look of the legislation or any regulations that govern them. I doubt that any editor or publisher would let such questioning of media rules see light of the day. It therefore has to resort to asking for the G to be more transparent with information and wield less of a big stick when it publishes more “controversial’’ views. As for what sort of “persuading’’ and “cajoling’’ is done, just go read my ex-boss’ book, OB Markers.

But I think the writer has got the wrong end of the stick. There is really no need to ponder over whether it is MSM’s job to strengthen public’s trust in the G, even less how the G can “help’’. It is MSM’s job to strengthen the public’s trust in the media by professional reporting that would make BOTH the G and the people turn to it as a conduit of information and views. That has always been the role of journalism, unbeholden to any institution or in need of outside “help’’. Both the people and the G must trust the media – it is the mediator, middle ground for both sides to connect with each other.

The writer laments the criticisms levelled at MSM, calling some of them unfair. I agree. The MSM is fair game precisely because it is so closely identified with the G – that’s why I really don’t think the writer should be asking the G for “help’’. So there are plenty of online rants about MSM being biased towards the G and having a pro-G spin. Most of them are just that, “rants’’. A word from the wise (namely, ahh, me) to young journalists who are disheartened: Pay them no heed. There is only one thing the MSM journalists should consider: and it is whether you have done the best journalistic job you can, especially in the business of asking the tough questions which seems to be an increasingly rare trait.

But MSM must take seriously legitimate complaints about its work. Whether they are about grammar mistakes, factual errors or lack of perspective in reporting. This is no longer a field in which MSM plays alone; there are too many sources out there that serve as counter-checks. Keep professional reporting standards high and people will trust you. So will the G. No need for any help. Just help yourself.
At the risk of preaching/teaching/over-reaching, I would like to suggest the following steps for MSM :

a. If the G doesn’t want to give you info for any reason, you must always tell readers you asked for the info and say why it wasn’t given. This is to make clear to readers that you know what your job is about. There is a temptation to ignore this because the journalist’s job is to give information you’ve gathered. So nothing gets said when nothing is gathered. But in many instances, you should also show that you’ve tried especially if there’s a big hole in your article which the readers expected you to fill. Do this often enough and, perhaps, the G will be shamed into telling you the next time.

b. Even if the G doesn’t want to give you data, go around it by asking experts or near-experts to give an estimate/guess-estimate. If it is wrong, the G will correct. If the G doesn’t correct, then the G is complicit in abetting the circulation of false info. Very soon, the G will realise that it is better for it to fill in info gaps, than let others do it for them or speculate.

c. Name everybody in your story, INCLUDING spokesmen. Again, the temptation is to keep stories short and say ministry spokesman or agency spokesman instead of naming the person. G spokesmen will be more aware that they are talking to “people’’ if they are named. And held accountable to more people than just their bosses. It is also rude for a spokesman to think that he/she doesn’t owe the reader a name.

d. More on names…for goodness sake, try and name everybody in a story instead of resorting to quoting Netizen rubbish123 or porkypig. It’s plain sloppy and gives the idea that that was the only “appropriate’’ quote that you can get. And by the way, please go beyond getting the views of 20somethings because it is becoming too obvious that young journalists are canvassing their friends.

e. Try not to go for label headlines on G news that don’t give news. Motherhood headlines like Parliament wraps up debate or So-and-so on need for social defence isn’t doing you any favour. (And I’m not even saying how the G comes out looking. Nag, nag, nag.)

f. Avoid the temptation to “rah rah’’ G news. It’s enough just to report the facts without any adverbs or adjectives to dress them up. All you need to do is remember that you are not writing advertising copy. Serious. It works wonders if you can discard phrases like how people can LOOK FORWARD to something or will WELCOME something or say that they CHEERED something. Just report facts.

g. Have a proper policy on what should remain online and what should go into print. I have yet to hear any media say how it selects news that emanate from the online sphere for print, which I assume is still the anchor medium. So what is the MSM definition of viral? This is important because it saves those online from guessing WHY something made it into print/and why something didn’t. Stops people speculating on whether there are other motivations that aren’t clearly “editorial’’ behind the choices.

h. Even as there are online posters who castigate MSM, the media should also stop painting online views as just noise and rubbish from a “vocal minority’’. It doesn’t make you any friends and a careful look will show that there are plenty of views online that are far better, deeper and richer than most letters the MSM print. So acknowledge that there are good views out there as well.

Anyway, that’s my one cent worth. Journalists can take it or leave it. No skin off my nose. Really.

A first bite on the third bite

In News Reports on June 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

I am writing this based on Neil Humphrey’s column in TNP which is blurbed on Page 1 as Third Bite is the Deepest which I assume is a twist on the song, First Cut is the Deepest.

The background: I said on my FB wall that sports writers should take the opportunity of gaining as many fans as possible when big games are played, by not merely speaking to the converted. So someone asked me to try and do it myself. Okay. Please bear in mind that I don’t watch soccer, not even this World Cup, and only knew of Suarez’ existence a few days ago and that he plays for Liverpool and Uruguay. But because I am interested in big games, I read the sports news and I depend on TNP to direct me because I gather it’s got the best sports coverage around town.

Anyway, TNP’s inside page headline is Suarez shamed World Cup (all in caps) with Strap: Uruguayan’s brutish behaviour threatens to leave a bad aftertaste

Here’s the story (and my copy-editing comments. My apologies to TNP):

Luiz Suarez has shamed the tournament. (Okay, I know he’s Uruguayan because it’s in the strap) That’s the unforgivable sin that stings the most. (Not sure if an unforgiveable sin stings; more likely to condemn person to hell. But never mind) His temperament has long gnawed (is this suppose to prepare me for BITE?) away at this talent (this talent as in the talent is Suarez or some other trait like his footballing skills?); like a psychological cross (now it’s back to biblical allusions) he must bear in return for his priceless gifts.

But that’s his problem. (His problem as in HIS problem and not ours?) He pays a personal price each time he exorcises his demons (biblical allusion) and his latest indiscretion (but I thought it was an unforgivable sin?) is likely to be the costliest yet (for him I presume).

The third bite goes deeper because it has infected one of the purest World Cups in recent memory. (So now we are back to bite and there is a first and second bite. This bite is like the Aedes mosquito because it can infect. What’s a “pure’’ World Cup anyway? Never mind..)

Argentina’s infighting marred an already poor Italia 90; Diego Maradona’s positive drug test struggled to sour the average fare of 1994 and Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt was arguably the only memorable highlight of a negative tournament in 2006. (I presume that these are references to past World Cups? In 1990, Italy. Diego I believe Argentinian but played WHERE in 1994 and who is Zinedine and where was World Cup in 2006?? No consistency in backgrounding)

But Suarez has left an indelible stain on the most flawless of sporting spectacles. Vibrancy has reigned in Brazil. The cities have exploded in color as the pre-tournament concerns gave way to a collective, almost subconscious desire to get this one right. (Plenty of words but I suppose the gist is that past World Cups have been lousy for some reason or other and this years looks to be real crackling…under Suarez’s third bite – on who leh???)

Fifa’s corporate shenanigans have failed to filter down to the pitch. (I don’t know what they are but never mind – it’s still within theme of keeping the Cup “pure’’)  Brazil’s questionable infrastructure and incomplete stadia (!) have compromised neither the atmosphere nor the artistry.

Positivity reigned. Dutch courage (is false courage no?) was matched by those Teutonic terrors (Germans – attempt at alliteration?), which in turn was equalled by the swashbuckling (piratical? or more samba and sashaying?) South Americans and the committed Costa Ricans (I guess need a C and courage already used….)  

Well, the column goes very much in the same vein without saying anything about the third bite except that the red marks on Giorgio Chiellini’s should go much deeper….(I guess that’s the Italian…we not even told who Uruguay was playing against…) Then more hyperbole on Suarez’ “repugnant act’’, “puerile contemptible act’’, “violation’’, “animalistic”, “penetrating the World Cup’s beauty’’ – we talking rape here? “unsightly scar’’, and a “two-faced tournament’’.

Many, many more words and I still have to guess at what happened. How he tried to “gain an inch on Chiellini” but “took a chunk’’. Three pars from the bottom I suddenly know that he has previous misdemeanours (not sins?) against a Chelsea player and a PSV Eindhoven player. He is described as a “unreformed recidivist’’ “recalcitrant offender’’ (isn’t recalcitrant enough?)  and a “reluctant apologist’’ (U mean apologiser? I think apologist means something different).

Then the final line is about Time being a great healer and football can overcome…  

Okay, I am sure some people would say this is nit-picking. Maybe. Old editing habits die hard. Some people will also say that sports has a language of its own and that columns should be written for sports fans, who already know what’s happening. I agree to a certain extent. But I think it’s wrong for a columnist not to hew to some journalistic basics such as backgrounding and to assume too much of readers. Plus, any columnist would want to gain more fans, rather than be content with a static following. I believe that any report can be made simple enough, even technology, without the need to dumb it right down. 

So here’s my version based roughly on the style above.

Luiz Suarez, the Uruguayan who went from wheelchair-bound to World Cup hero, has just committed an unforgiveable sin. He stained Brazil 2014. Stained it indelibly. He launched his teeth into Italian Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, and in turn left a mark on what had promised to be a memorably pure World Cup tournament.

Pure, because it was devoid of team infighting (the Argentinians in Italy in 1990, of failed dope tests (Diego Maradona in ? in 1994) and ugly headbutts (Zinedine Zidane in ? in 2006). Even Fifa’s current corporate shenanigans such as ?, didn’t mar the Beautiful Game played out all over Brazil; not even the much publicised shoddy infrastructure with seat-less stadiums.

Then came Suarez’ bite, how long? into this tournament. This bite cuts the deepest because the world has so far been treated to football like it has never been played before, not in World Cup memory. The Dutch danced; the Germans gyrated, the South Americans sashayed and tiny Costa Rica could teach Singapore a thing or two about making it on a world sports stage despite a small population.      

A constellation of stars sparkled. Like (which country) Neymar and his what? , German Thomas Meuller’s X-goal haul? And Argentinian? Lionel Messi’s what? Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo shone despite his Portuguese team-mates lacklustre showing?.

Then came Suarez’ bite, the third in his footballing career. Background on past two bites. His teething problem has earned him bans from matches and it looks like this time, he’s bitten off more than he could chew. Chelliani and who else ??are asking for his head; or rather for him to hang up his football boots.      

The Uruguayan fans do not deserve to have this contemptible, repugnant act played out in front of them in Sao Paolo?. Though numbering just 3.4million, the exuberance they have displayed as Uruguay trounced the English and which other team? warmed the soul/lifted hearts/stirred dreams etc….

Nor does Oscar Tabarez, the team’s coach, a dignified, patient gentleman who now has to defend the antics of one of his la Celeste.

Nor does this wonderful tournament.

Now, you can bite me….

Guide to bad writing

In News Reports on June 17, 2014 at 6:46 am

This blog post is prompted by the wonderful words of the PR people in DBS/POSB about the ATM disruption reported in MSM today. She/He said that “a small number’’ of ATMs were “intermittently impacted by a connectivity issue’’. So customers might have “experienced issues’’.

Some people have suggested that that’s the way business people speak to avoid liability and litigation, so we should forgive them. They just don’t want to lose money. It’s like saying that’s the G speaks in a certain way to avoid losing votes – and it is therefore understandable too.

I don’t buy it. But that’s just me. In any case, let me help the PR people along with this Guide to Bad Writing.

  1. Why use a short word when a long one is so much better at impressing people who don’t even know what it means?
  2. Always be ambiguous so people don’t know what you are talking about – and when you don’t know what you are talking about.
  3. Reach for the oft-used phrase because people’s eyes tend to glaze over clichés.
  4. Write sentences with multiple meanings so you can always tell someone they got your meaning wrong/right.
  5. There is no such thing as a problem. Everything is a challenge. Of course, everything can be improved so you must always meet challenges that will FURTHER improve, bring to a HIGHER level and BETTER enhance anyone’s “experience’’.
  6. Issue is a very good word and can be laid at the door of anything that goes wrong. So there are “human’’ issues, “technical’’ issues, “administrative’’ issues, “engineering’’ issues and “connectivity’’ issues. Nobody will take issue with you over the issue.
  7. Try to “-ise’’ everything. Like synergise, energise, urbanise. No one will realise that what you are saying is a compromise.
  8. Only say that you are sorry for inconveniencing someone or if you have hurt someone. Never say sorry for being stupid or careless.
  9. Statistics are good because numbers can lie. So always compare something with something really very bad, like how your company is doing as compared to when Sars hit or during the Asian financial crisis.
  10. Proportions are good too. If four in five Singaporeans love National Service, it sounds better than one in five. And one in five is better than saying 1 million people.
  11. Never pin yourself down to a time-frame. Use periodically, regularly if not short-run, medium-term and long range.
  12. Actually, don’t even use “use’’ if you can harness. Like harness resources, energies and goodwill. Because everything can be harnessed if you try hard enough.
  13. Never say someone said if you want him to sound intelligent. Try “expound’’, “elucidated’’ or “opined’’. Second choice: “elaborated’’ or “explained’’. Better still, say he “issued a statement’’.
  14. On statements, if you make a strong enough statement like People don’t/do trust the G, some people will actually take it as fact.
  15. As a matter of fact, you should use “as a matter of fact’’, “the truth of the matter’’, “it is to be believed/recognised/acknowledged’’ and even “Forsooth, in truth’’ so people will know you are not lying.
  16. If you have to talk about something you really don’t want to talk about, use a preamble such as “with regards to the circumstances surrounding…’’, “with reference to the afore-mentioned situation concerning …’’, “in view of the conditions affecting the incident that arose from….’’
  17. Remember to give as little information as possible; just imagine that you are talking to sheep. Better still, try not to  talk to sheep because you’ll look silly.
  18.  Remember that “intensive’’ or “extensive’’ or both, should always come before feedback, consultation, review and deliberation.  After which everything must be monitored “closely’’.
  19. You never suffer a “setback’’. You experience a “slow down’’. And both are “temporary’’.
  20. You never lose any money. You experience a cashflow or liquidity challenge.

 Here’s how to deliver bad news in a worse way. Banks, please note:

With regards to the circumstances surrounding the accidental intermittent usage of our automated teller machines, we have ascertained that this was due to a connectivity issue. This connectivity issue – as distinct from human issue – was immediately investigated and promptly rectified with further improvements to better enhance the customer experience. We apologise if anyone has been inconvenienced by the lack of access to liquidity. Rest assured that we will conduct an extensive review, do intensive due diligence and harness public feedback to synergise our operations to better effect. Only one in five of our customers will be impacted by our on-going review which, truth to tell, is a very small number. Really.

 

The G gets a Fail x 3

In News Reports on June 7, 2014 at 5:53 am

In the name of constructive politics, I’m going to say something that I hope some people, especially those in power, will take constructively. It’s about the way the G is communicating with the people. There are three recent events that I am inclined to give G communications an F. Here’s what and why:

a)        The SingPass affair. I don’t know why the G can’t be clearer about the way things happened. If it was, then it must be the way the media reported what happened. To put it bluntly – it looked like a mess. I am putting together what happened through sheer guesswork. And from a layman point of view.

So 11 people reported to IDA that they have got notices to re-set their passwords, and that was when the red flag went up. Then I suppose IDA checked those 11 and found something about the telephone numbers that raised another red flag. Somehow, they managed to link the telephone numbers to another 1,500 plus more accounts. And from among them, found that someone had tampered with the passwords? That this was the case for 45 accounts which, I think, probably had weak passwords? Like 12345 or something? But apparently, the hackers got through – and nothing happened? And that’s why although there was a “breach’’, the SingPass system was not compromised?

Plenty of technical types have weighed in online to explain what should have been explained by the IDA. That there was a difference between a breach – which is something that happened on the user front – and a “compromise’’ of the system – which is something to do with the servers which contained the data.

But you know what? Do you think the layman has any clue when jargon is employed? I went to the IDA website for enlightenment that morning but there was no mention. So much for the Infocomm Development Authority making use of ICT …Nor was there any sign on the SingPass website that morning to alert users.

The IDA set itself up for attack by not making it clear why a breach is not a “compromise’’. To those who are distrustful of the G, can you blame them for thinking that the G is indulging in semantics or was trying to put a good spin on something? Or that it was placing the blame at the door of the users instead of ensuring that the mother of G portals had more security features than an IC number and a password?

Really. The G doesn’t do itself any favours. Perhaps, it doesn’t want to give a blow-by-blow account in case of “info overload’’. But the SingPass is something almost every adult Singaporean has, and each and everyone will want to know the ins-and-outs of the affair. So can please be clear next time and lose the jargon?

b)       As for info overload, some people have been wondering if this is why the Medishield Review Committee couldn’t be more specific about the rise in premiums when it can be so specific about the amount or kind of subsidies that would make up for the extra money. Is it a case of softening the ground with the good news before hitting us with the bad stuff?

Frankly, it really looked like good news all around with claim limits lifted, deductibles held steady and co-insurance levels brought down, that is, if the layman understood the meaning of deductibles and co-insurance rates. I think the G (and the media) needs to realise that not everyone is au fait with the workings of insurance policies and while it is easy to say that they should go find out for themselves, it is actually easier if the G explained it properly first. So the deductible is that amount which the insured have to pay before insurance kicks in – and that is capped at 3,000. And even when insurance kicks in, there is a co-insurance portion which the insured has to pay himself. The good news is that this out-of-pocket payment will come down with the review. That means even with higher premiums being paid out, when the health bill comes along, the insured won’t have to pay too much. The question that people will have, again, is how much premiums would they have to pay in the first place.

There is another reason the committee should release all details at one shot: Because others will come in to fill the gaps. And if DRUMS start taking hold, there will be those who hear only the drumming even when full details come out.

c)        Which brings me to another point – on wages. I wonder why the NWC released its recommendation BEFORE the Manpower ministry released the labour statistics which was  reported yesterday. Isn’t this like putting the cart before the horse?

So this is what TODAY said about the wage statistics: Real wages up by 2.9 per cent: MOM.  

BT said: Singapore salaries last year up 5.3 per cent: MOM.

It seems even journalists themselves did not know that MOM’s statistics are not new. They were actually in the NWC press statement when it announced its recommendations for the year.

 What really is most interesting are the DETAILS in MOM’s wage statistics. In this instance, ST scored well. Its headline said: Highest pay hike in 16 years for blue-collar workers.  These workers had a 5.4 per cent pay rise last year, and this was the first time it outstripped those of white-collar workers. (My quibble, however, is why ST chose to use the term blue and white collar when it seems the report was referring to rank-and-file and non-rank-and-file…Aren’t there also rank-and-file white collar workers?)

 There is one illuminating point in the ST story. I had asked in an earlier blog post if employers were unhappy with having to give wage increases (that $60 for those earning $1,000 and below) because real wages had out-stripped productivity.  In fact, productivity actually fell 1.4 per cent in 2012 and 0.2 per cent last year. MOM seems to think this doesn’t matter. This is because between 2003 to last year, productivity rose 1.4 per cent each year, while real total wages grew 1.5 per cent per cent. The long-term trend as ST reported, was “less alarming’’.   

 Hm.

In any case, I think it makes better sense for the wage report to be released first so that people can pore over the figures, understand them and have a basis with which to analyse the NWC figures.

Because if even journalists can miss the news, what about the rest of us?

      

Wage credit story – no credit to ST

In News Reports on May 23, 2014 at 5:27 am

The trouble with G policies is that not many people can remember its intricacies or even link its rationale to implementation. That is, unless you can be bothered to go to original sources and do some research. So what do most people do then? They rely on professional journalists to get their facts right and also to set the facts in some kind of context. So it was with me and the workings of the Wage Credit Scheme as reported in The Straits Times.

The WCS has always been defined as a way to raise workers’ wages, by subsidising their increments. To be sure, it was controversial. The immediate reaction is that some employees, that is, those earning below $4,000 a month would see it as an entitlement. The G gives boss, boss must give me. As it turns out, not many companies do this,  as today’s ST report said.  

What would the ordinary reader think? First, why aren’t employers are not passing the “credit’’ directly to workers, which is what wonderful OCBC did with its $3m?  

The answer lies in the workings of the WCS which is not clearly enunciated in the ST story. Wages must go up FIRST, before the G gives employers any money. So if an employer raised wages by $100 a month, the G will give $40 back to the employer. It is for the employer to do what it wants with the $40, although the hope is that they will put it into programmes that will raise productivity and further raise the salaries of workers.

It is not the case that the money should form 40 per cent of pay increase, with the employer footing the other 60 per cent. If this was the case, the wage would actually go up not by, say, $100, but by $140.

That’s the first thing that should be explained to readers. It is really up to employers to decide what it wants to do with the money – although this itself is controversial. (You would expect some guidelines for employers who have been given taxpayers’ money. If not, it can used to build…. a koi pond? Buy a new Beemer?)

Therefore, ST’s story today really make me do a double-take. My immediate reaction: How can the G be so silly? And how can the bosses be so Machiavellian?

Here is the story:

COMPANIES have received their first payouts from a scheme that subsidises wage increases, but most large firms are unlikely to hand the money directly to employees. (The assumption is that they should. In any case, critical backgrounding is missing. It’s $800million that has gone out to 74,000 employers)

More than 10 prominent Singapore companies were contacted (out of 74,000 companies) about their plans for the first Wage Credit Scheme payout, which went out in March.

While almost all declined comment (sounds fishy), The Straits Times understands that many large companies are planning to channel the funds towards training and skills upgrading for staff. (Is this okay or not?)

Under the Wage Credit Scheme introduced in the 2013 Budget, the Government subsidises 40 per cent of pay rises given to Singaporean workers earning up to $4,000 a month. It expires next year. (This is not enough backgrounding as it makes it sound like future pay rises when it is not. The wage credit is given after employers furnish CPF proof that pay has gone up for a period of time)

The scheme came under the spotlight earlier this week when local lender OCBC Bank announced that it would be handing out its first $3 million payout to about 1,500 staff. (A press statement that the bank issued to make it look good) The bank is believed to be the first major company here to completely disburse the money to workers. (“believed’’ because no one really knows since companies not talking)

Mr Victor Mills, the chief operating officer and acting chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, said firms “should do the most appropriate thing for the companies and their employees”.

“Larger companies usually focus on training and development,” he said. “The point is to increase companies’ capabilities.” (Again, no backgrounding on the aims of WCS and what this has to do with “training and development’’. So far, we only know about pay increases)  

Mr Mills added that the chamber has not found it necessary to issue guidelines to members on how to use the money, as “it is entirely up to them”. (Given that readers have no idea on the way WCS should be used except in terms of “pay rises’’, this makes readers wonder if employers are breaking some rule)

The chamber represents more than 700 global companies here.

The Singapore National Employers Federation said feedback it has received shows that most employers are using the funds to offset higher business and manpower costs.  

The federation “encourages companies to share their productivity gains with employees”, said executive director Koh Juan Kiat. (Productivity gains – not the wage credit)

While human resource experts and unionists back the OCBC move (is this really a good thing given that other employees will ask how come they don’t get the credit?), they are also realistic that not every company will be able to follow suit.

“It is a good gesture of showing appreciation to the staff,” said Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, adding: “But only companies that do well have the resources and ability to do it.” (But the reader will say, G already gave you the money – so just give over)

Veteran labour Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang said small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may face difficulties giving the Wage Credit payouts to workers. “Of course we want companies to share the payment with workers, but we are realistic that the SMEs that face cost constraints may not be able to do so,” he said. (But they’ve GOT THE MONEY!)

Mr Zainal Sapari, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general, said low-wage workers will benefit most if firms share the Wage Credit refunds.

“But if the money can be used to raise productivity which leads to sustainable pay increases in the long run which is higher than the one-time payment, then I would prefer firms invest to raise productivity,” he said. (With the proper backgrounding, readers will still be flummoxed by the productivity point. So why call it Wage Credit?)

(Below is the obligatory “ordinary’’ person’s voice of praise)

But at least one worker who got a raise last year is happy with her higher pay. Madam Chua Yam Khen, a cleaner at a polytechnic, saw her monthly pay rising from $850 to $1,000 last year. Part of the increase was subsidised by the Wage Credit. But the 67-year-old does not expect her employer to share the subsidy with her.

“It is up to the boss, but having more money is definitely useful for workers who do not earn much,” she said in Mandarin. (Like it wouldn’t be…)

This is such a badly written story, I can’t even describe it.

So what should it be?

Companies which have received wage credits in return for raising their employees’ pay are planning to plough the money into training programmes. They are unlikely to pass the credit on to workers, as OCBC did with its $3m.

Some $800m have been given out to 74,000 employers, under a Wage Credit Scheme intended to help companies defray part of wage increments and use the credit to raise productivity levels.

Most of the 10 companies contacted declined to say how they would use the credit, a move which (fiction from here…) experts think is to halt employees’ expectations of higher increases because of the extra money.

Under the scheme, employers who have raised salaries of those earning below $4,000 will get 40 per cent of the pay increase back from the G, after furnishing CPF proof of pay. The hope is that the money would help them improve processes or train their workers so that further pay rises can be sustained.

   

 

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.

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.