Posts Tagged ‘Society’

A conversation headed somewhere…

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 29, 2012 at 11:41 pm

OKAY, how many of you are old enough to remember the Shared Values era? That was in 1991 when a White Paper on Shared Values was presented. The man who headed the parliamentary committee which put it together was PM Lee.

Now values is all the rage again, except that the reasons for the renewed interest are different. Then, it was very G-driven. It saw the need for Singapore to have an identity, to keep it rooted in Southeast Asia and put up a dam against that terrible Western wave sweeping over the globe. Communitarianism versus individualism. There was a whiff of Confucian values. Some people thought it was an attempt by the G to keep paternalism and authoritarianism as acceptable values, by different names of course.

For the record, here are the five Shared Values
Nation before community and society above self: Putting the interests of society ahead of the individual.
Family as the basic unit of society: The family is identified as the most stable fundamental building block of the nation.
Community support and respect for the individual: Recognises that the individual has rights, which should be respected and not lightly encroached upon. Encourages the community to support and have compassion for the disadvantaged individual who may have been left behind by the free market system.
Consensus, not conflict: Resolving issues through consensus and not conflict; stresses the importance of compromise and national unity.
Racial and religious harmony: Recognises the need for different communities to live harmoniously with one another in order for all to prosper.

These values were supposed to be imparted through the school system and community groups. I don’t remember if they were. But I bet very few people can name the five values today. Or what the five stars in our flag stand for…

Different kinds of values have been thrown up in the current Singapore Conversation. As Lawrence Wong said, we’re looking harder at the intangible aspects of what we think should be “Singaporean’’. The values espoused so far are pretty universal: we want a kinder, more gracious society. It sounds very much like what the ex-PM said he would like Singapore to be when he took hold of the reins of the G. Seems it didn’t quite happen…given that we’re still talking about it.

The values conversation today looks like more bottom-up. Excellent. Not good to have the visible hand of G in something as fundamental as values. Let’s not politicise this, the way it sorta became in the 1990s.

The conversation seems to be headed this way:

We want to be competitive, but just enough so that we can still smell the roses at the Gardens by the Bay which we must be able to afford to enter.

We believe in meritocracy, but not if those with merit think they did it all on their own and thumb their noses at the less meritorious.

We want to be a more equal society, but wonder if this conflicts with our pursuit of excellence which now seems to be measured by how big a car and house we have.

We want to be kind and compassionate, really, but we’re so caught up with looking at our cellphones that we really didn’t see that old lady who needed the MRT seat.

We want to be No. 1 in the happiness index, but we’re not sure if we can be happy if we are also No. 110 in cost of living and No. 111 in economic growth.

We want to be nice to our neighbours regardless of race, religion, language or place of origin but we can’t help being irritated by some of their practices.

Tough huh? The five shared values look easier to uphold.

Anyway, I’m glad that the Singapore Conversation is getting down to a more “focused’’ approach. I hope one of the themes would be to craft some sort of vision/mission values statement for us. Good luck!
What we now know is that one of the themes will be education. I can see where this is headed from what the G has let fall:
We want a less stressful education system. Parents will know what is the basic level of accomplishment needed when their tots enter primary school. Kindergartens will be “sparked’’ and accredited. Primary school teachers will be told that the word “private tuition’’ is banned. Parts of the curriculum will be replaced so that there will be greater emphasis on character development, in other words, values. Students in elite and neighbourhood schools will mix more. Oops! There is no such thing as a neighbourhood school. (Media, please note) Every school is a good school. We are not going to split hairs over who has 1 mark more than the other in the PSLE – which will be kept because we still need some kind of measurement of achievement. Secondary school ranking has been done away with already, you know. Never mind if your kid is in poly or JC, he/she has a better chance of getting a university education because we are going to have more uni places. The undergrads won’t be learning abstract or esoteric stuff. Subjects will be integrated, multi-disciplinary and practical. This is so we won’t have unemployed grads protesting on the streets, demanding that Workfare be extended to them.

Okay, I am meandering. But I do think the Singapore Conversation is getting somewhere. Where, though, I don’t know.


Phrases for the National Conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Sports on September 16, 2012 at 2:00 am

I read Linda Collins’ piece in The Sunday Times today and her contribution to the Singapore Conversation. Hers is: Move down the bus! What a great idea to have phrases embedded in the national consciousness that we would reflect what Singapore is about. So here’s my list:
Kid in a neighbourhood school: “I am NOT in a neighbourhood school. I’m in a good school.’’
Kid in a top school: “I am NOT elitist. I am special. That’s my humble opinion anyway.’’
Parents on selecting kindergartens: “PCF is good enough. They have graduation ceremonies too.’’
On welcoming foreign talent: “Sure we welcome foreigners. Look at Kai Kai and Jia Jia.’’
On feeling squeezed on the MRT: “We might not have elbow room, but we still have breathing space.’’
Lower income on raising pay: “We want both: hand-out and leg-up.’’
Higher-income on doing more: “Sure thing. It’s tax-deductible.’’
On the NIMBY syndrome: “You are welcome to use my backyard – if you can find it.’’
On the Government doing everything: “The Government is not God; it’s just demi-God.’’
The single’s mantra: “I am just single. Not hopeless.’’
The homosexual’s mantra: “I am gay…and, boy, am I happy too!’’
On having more children: “Show me the money.’’
On the LionsXII’s 0-0 draw against Johor: “Why fight? We’re neighbours.’’
On returning trays in eating places: “Bring your own maid.’’
I want to add this last phrase in case someone out there doesn’t have a sense of humour which we seem to sorely lack here: “Just joking.’’

A conversation going nowhere

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 7, 2012 at 11:54 am

I had a look at the National Conversation page that Mr Heng Swee Keat put up inviting all and sundry to say what sort of Singapore they want to live in. But besides having it written in four languages, I don’t see anything new in what he said. But never mind that. There should at least be a structure on how this conversation is going to take place. I can already see frustration building up. Some netizens are already asking for some kind of structure – by policy perhaps? As it is, so many posts are building up on a wide range of topics but there’s little follow-through. Not much in terms of reaction from fellow netizens and none from the G. In any case, who is taking part in this conversation? Is this a conversation between Government and people? Or people-to-people? Or is someone waiting to see what will happen “organically’’? Is someone taking notes so that at the end of the 1,000th post, we’ll know what are the top issues etc. If that’s the case, pay for a scientific survey!
Seriously, it’s about time Mr Heng and his team (whoever they are) get down to telling us HOW this conversation will take place instead of simply suggesting “dialogue’’ and “forums’’. We’ve been dialogueing and forum-ing for quite some time. I think people are actually quite excited at the prospect of engaging in the conversation – but if there’s no sign of some coherent structure, it’s gonna flag.
The last time something like this happen, Remaking Singapore, topics were put in terms of trade offs – like how to deal with the expectations of the young and needs of the old. That was a good way, except that it was confined to just some hundreds of people invited to form committees etc.
I believe the population unit’s current discussion on population policy is framed in terms of trade offs as well. Perhaps, different FB pages could be spun off so we have a more constructive way of engaging each other, and with the Government. How civil servants can help is to provide background information along the way at certain points of the conversation so that it can be informed.
How about it, Mr Heng?

Strong society

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

There have been a few articles in the press over the past few days which made me think about the Singapore I would like to live in. The first had to do with the cyclists who’ve come up with a map on safe cycling routes. The second is about a pre-school teacher who has set up a network of some 2,000 colleagues to talk about their work.

This is Singapore at work – where people do not wait for the G to take the initiative or ask the G for something for themselves. They see a need (sure, it might be self-interest) but they take it upon themselves to do it and inform others. Good on them! There is a third article on social enterprises which seem to be shying away from nominating themselves for an award. They are too busy, they say, to go chasing after an award. Good on them too!

But I also read about one woman complaining about her neighbours in Opera Estate blocking pavements etc. Hmm…do we really want the G to step in on something like this? Must her complaint go to the press which then goes about finding out about the law and the fines etc? Looks like something for the neighbourhood to settle. And you needn’t even involve the MP!

A couple of posts back, I wrote about how I thought the G should get out of our lives a little more. And how we should not always be looking to the G to solve everything. Perhaps, I should have framed it this way: We have a strong Government, but not a strong Society. In fact, some people, including me, would say that the G was too strong – too much executive fiat, fingers in so many pies, hands on so many levers of control. With politicians dominating so many aspects, from the unions to GLCs, from sports associations to grassroot groups, it’s no wonder people say that the G should go do everything. And should take the blame for everything that goes wrong.

(In fact, I keep wondering why no one is fingering the NTUC for the current income gap. Surely. the unions should be at the forefront of wage matters and shouldn’t have let the gap widen so much? Didn’t the labour movement see this coming and flag its urgency? Wages is a fundamental issue for unions, never mind if it’s in a tripartite partnership with the G and employers.  )

Anyway, back to my point….I recall going to Switzerland a couple of times on assignment. Each time, I was amazed at how small a role their G had to play in their lives. Their politicans seem to have little say over things. They are self-effacing people, not self-important. It comes across when they talk to you. The people, though, are paramount decision makers. You can tell when you converse with the Swiss, and from the way they carry themselves, It’s funny that we once said we should achieve the Swiss standard of living, but didn’t and still don’t say very much about its level of societal participation.

A Government pull-back here is probably anathema to those who think we need this kind of leadership to get things done on a small island. Maybe on some matters, only the might of the G will do. Not the free market. Not civil society Maybe there are those who think Singapore will unravel and things fall apart if the centre (the G) does not hold. Or that most people don’t know what’s good for them, they think for themselves only and short-term, not national and long-term.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I think in this national conversation we are going to have, we should re-look fundamental values, not get obsessed with nitty-gritty policies. One big one is the G-people relationship. (Ok, I am repeating myself here…but like the G, I also think messages have to be reiterated…so there!)

The Singapore I want to live in is underpinned first by a strong society, then a strong Government. Get the basic relationship right, and hopefully, the rest will follow.

Less G is good, more P is better

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Sports on August 11, 2012 at 2:45 am

I agree entirely with Jeremy Au-Yeong’s column in ST today. Go buy ST. Or go read online since it is now added to circulation numbers…

Jeremy talks about how the G should get out of sports (I’m paraphrasing loosely), because its overwhelming presence tends to complicate feelings people have towards, among things, sporting achievements. So Feng Tianwei’s Olympic bronze looks tarnished because people tend to mix it up with the G’s policy on foreign talent. That heads of NSAs are predominantly men-in-white is another example of the G’s all-pervasive influence.

The thing is, Singapore is G-directed. Whose fault is this? The G who thinks that people wouldn’t come forward if it didn’t take the lead? Or the people who want the G to do everything? It’s mutual reinforcement. Why should people, or local companies or local titans etc do anything when the G is there to do it? It is everywhere, at the grassroots, in the unions, on GLCs, as patrons of charities, dispensing largesse, dishing out penalties, intervening  in the bedroom….you know what I mean.

Some people think that the civil service is subordinate to political control more than before, and that it does not function as the independent bureaucracy political and management theory would have. MInisters are said to be extremely interventionist and top civil servants mere drawers of water and hewers of wood. It doesn’t help when you see civil servants at political events. It raises the question of whether they are there to serve the G or the party. (ok, you can argue that a minister’ walkabout in his own constituency is in his capacity as a minister rather than a Member of Parliament. But..really?)

I suppose it’s normal for a political party in power to want to control as many levers as possible, whether to mobilise opinion or votes or carry out policies. We’ve taken the G’s presence for granted. That’s why we keep running to the G and say “The G should be doing this and that…” or we blame the G for every single thing that goes wrong in our lives – which we demand that the G fix. NOW.

I have always taken the view that this is all pretty unhealthy. We should have less G, not more. And the people  should DO more, not demand more. Citizens have entitlements, but it doesn’t extend to abdicating our responsibility for this country to the G. An election every five years does not mean we have delegated our brains to the elected (even if the G does think so). BTW, it doesn’t do the G any good either, to be the source of all woes…

I think re-calibrating the G-citizen relaionship  is one big part of the national conversation that we want to have following PM’s message on what sort of Singapore we want to be. I dread thinking that the results of the conversation will boil down to: The G should do this or that – whether to get Singaporeans to have more babies, integrate better with foreigners, provide social safety nets etc. Then it’s back to the old days of Remaking Singapore, Singapore 21 and those other national conversations which I find pretty forgettable. The thing is, are we, as citizens, up to the job of looking after ourselves and our country?

I read the pieces in ST on expert views to get Singapore and non-Singaporeans to integrate better. Useful views, but many require the G to take the lead (again!) – like national level programmes to have newcomers do community service, limiting foreign children from enrolling in international schools. having an “immigration bonus” for Singaporeans. And when it came to organising SPORTING activities at the grassroots – look who’s doing the talking, its the politicians being interviewed again..Let the G go calibrate its immigration and work permit regime, can we the citizens of Singaporean take on the ground level work of dealing with newcomers? A man I respect gave an idea recently: He said the workplace is the right place to start. Getting Singaporeans to open their doors is too difficult. After work, we want to rest in the castle that is our home. But the workplace is where we spend most of our time, and that’s probably where we meet foreigners. Daily interactions over lunch, around the water-cooler, bitching about bosses and work – and hopefully leading to visits to each others’ homes, joint outings. Employers can take the lead. A happy work environment is surely a bonus. No need for the G to do anything at the workplace level.

So in this national conversation, deciding on one fundamental value from which all/most approaches should spring would be this: How much Government do we want? To this end, I recommend a feature in ST in its Saturday section written by an expert in parenting. Go buy ST.

Meanderings of a muddled mind

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 9, 2012 at 3:19 am

Now…that was a good speech by the PM. So good that I don’t mind being journalists being paralysed by him. We got the works – excerpt, reactions and all. And we will probably get more when he elaborates on the theme in his National Day Rally speech.

So what did he say and what should we do? The PM has set some parameters: getting children to the same starting line, meritocracy to remain, racial harmony reinforced, financial prudence reiterated, more giving back to society. Can’t disagree with that at all. Maybe we should add income inequality reduced, more public engagement and nationalistic sentiments tempered. Because that’s the reason for all this introspection and angst isn’t it? We feel the pressures of being hemmed in by foreigners, rising cost of living and a sense that while we give feedback, is anyone listening?

My guess is that meritocracy is alive and well, although we should watch the rise of “patronage” – people getting to where they are because of their parents and who they know. Multi-racialism is alive and well too – strangely, I think this is being bolstered by the presence of so many foreigners….so as Singaporeans, we close ranks regardless of race. As for financial prudence….we tend to leave that to the G, with its CPF and Medisave and what have you. So while the G might be financially prudent (Brompton bikes aside), I am not sure as a people, WE are.

Minister Heng Swee Keat is supposed to look at approaches and policies. This must be after we have decided what sort of Singapore we want to have? Then those new/reformed ministries will get to work. Actually, before we get to that, my question is: what sort of SINGAPOREAN do we want to be?

For some time now, I have been thinking about the values we hold and whether we should use a different prism. I prefer to think of a person in terms of being principled, pragmatic and passionate. Over the years, I wonder if we have got this balance right. It looks like pragmatism trumps every time – over principle and passion. And that pragmatism is seen in very economic terms – having more money, paying out less – we have a culture of accumulation of assets.

I see more passion now, especially among young people. They are interested in more than just making money (I hope it’s NOT because they depend on their parents’ money and have never been in economic need). That passion comes across in the causes they espouse, strongly held beliefs – and a determination to have their own way. Sometimes I find passion over-powering. Especially if taken to extremes. It leads to an inability to take in different points of view.

Being principled is I think the most neglected value of all. It involves the concept of integrity, dignity and honour. The only times we use the word “honour” is when we address the court..or when a cheque is not honoured. But honour is an important word – you honour your promises, you say what you mean and mean what you say. There are no two ways about it. We can temper passion and, in my view, pragmatism should always give way to principle.

I don’t know if I am making sense. Being principled is easier if you have options, like chucking your job because you don’t like the way the company is heading or you think it calls on you to be deceitful and dishonest. Likewise, being passionate is easier if you have something/someone to lean on – I can be a full-time tree hugger or work with dogs and cats if I don’t have to work for a good living.

Without options, we become pragmatic. We do what WORKS for us, never mind if we don’t like it or think its right. In fact, I think we take pride in being a pragmatic people. I am not sure we should be that proud…

Anyway, the above are just meanderings. Forgive my muddled mind please.

Church vs State

In News Reports, Society on June 30, 2012 at 2:39 am

What, in heaven’s name, is City Harvest church up to?

I know this is a day late, but I cannot figure why the church seems so intent on putting itself on a collision course with the State. Never mind exhortations and reminders that this is about five individuals breaking the law, it seems City Harvest wants to put the full weight of its congregation behind the five. It is even arguing on  theological grounds  – promoting Sun Ho’s secular singing career to reach non-Christians is part of doing God’s work. In fact, the church gave details of the “fruits” of its controversial Crossover project – how money made from the more than 80 concerts (at least I think its money made from the concerts although the church never said how much) have gone into funding global humanitarian projects.

The church seems to say that the members didn’t think anything was wrong. (And they got their money back anyway…) News reports quoting church members seem to say the same. I guess short of doing of poll of all its 30,000 members or so, we wouldn’t know. So I suppose when the case comes up, lots of paper will turn up – minutes of meetings and board resolutions and the like – to show what really took place.

So why can’t the church wait?

I cannot believe that there are no lawyers in the congregation advising the church on what it can or cannot say – legally. That the statement is subjudice and contempt of court. Church insiders say the statement is an attempt to calm the congregation. Really? So I suppose the church does not mind? care? about the consequences of itself breaking the law by speaking about the case before the judge has a chance to hear arguments? Maybe the church figures that the State would be hard put to throw the book on a whole Church. What’s the penalties for subjudice anyway?

The trial hasn’t even started and I am already confused about what is the issue at hand….

Shorn of all the legal jargon, I thought this was about whether the church members know where their donations are going to – or not. So were they conned by their leaders – or not? And when the leaders were supposedly found out, they did a complicated series of transactions (is this itself illegal?) to cover it up?

I find it disconcerting that while the five leaders were suspended from their posts by the Commissioner of Charities, the pastors among them are allowed to preach. I suppose there is a line drawn between the CoC’s powers over charity governance and interfering in the work of religion…It would seem to me more appropriate if they took it upon themselves NOT to preach while the case is going on. Even if their sermons do not touch on the case, you can bet that feelings will run high. Whatever they say on the pulpit will be analysed and re-analysed for signs of emotion, distress or grievance. Why put the church through this? Why not let justice take its course? There will be vindication if no one did anything wrong.

The business of harvest

In Money, News Reports, Society on June 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

I am a little confused over the City Harvest story. So the church embarked on a Crossover Project to promote Sun Ho’s secular music to the masses. I suppose with the aim of converting them…Sounds like something any church (if it has a star singer) would say okay to.  Thing is, how was this project supposed to be financed in the first place? Was it to come from church donations? If the Church says yes and followers know, then there’s nothing wrong right? Why this need to funnel through Malaysia and some dark underground Multi-purpose fund?

Two years ago, when ST was checking on the story, the thing that blew us away was the businesses that the church was into. It led to some comments on the role of the church in business and what’s allowed or not. Time, I think to talk about this again. I, for one, can’t remember much of that issue. What sort of State rules are in place on this? Just normal ACRA accounting rules? Is this the business of the church and nobody else’s business?  Even members of the faithful would appreciate some help in navigating this.

Just as the NKF scandal led to changes in charity governance rules, perhaps the City Harvest case would give some clarity on this religion-business nexus. That would be the most useful outcome of the case, even as it provides plentiful colourful copy…

Red tape and red faces

In News Reports, Society on June 27, 2012 at 12:05 am

Omigawd. Another day of bad memories. I am referring to the case of the ex-SPH exec Peter Khoo who was charged in court for filching money and receiving kickbacks from a supplier. I have been waiting for this day for close on two years now, ever since my ex-Editor called me into his room to tell me the news that Pete had confessed to what he did. He asked me to take on Pete’s job and clean house. I felt as though my head was about to burst; the blood was pounding in my skull so hard…I would never have thought Pete needed the money…

The day went by in a blur. Meetings with management to cobble out a press statement, a trip to the National Council of Social Service – then administrator of the School Pocket Money Fund to alert them to what’s happening, editorial meetings to decide how to “play” the story. The ST editors decided that the story would be dealt with like any other story – even though/or especially since it involved one of our own. Stake-outs started. People who might have an inkling of what went on were pounced upon by their own colleagues.

But the impact fell hardest on the staff closest to Pete. Through the day, I had been busy contacting each one, telling those who were out of the office organising outside events to return, getting people on their rest day out of home to the office and telling one who was away on holiday to take the next plane home. Like now. Now.

When all were finally brought before the Editor to be told the news, they were shell-shocked. I thought to myself, Oh my god, I am going to have a very hard time pulling them together to clean house…I was wrong. After a day of daze, they picked themselves up wih a vengeance and we went about sorting through all the standard operating procedures and introducing new ones. I tied so much stuff in red tape that we were strangling ourselves with it.

The main thing was to ensure that DONATIONS would not have a way of slipping into somebody else’s pockets. Thinking back, some of the things we did were really over-the-top. Not enough to have one safe but two. Not enough to have one signature but two/three. There was the problem with cash donations. Cheques were pretty straightforward since they were in the name of the Fund, but all those coins and notes? Dealing with small change became a big chore. Bags and tags and counting once, twice, timings to get to the bank. It became so that I was tempted to say no cash please. It was just a small percentage of total donations but enough to be a big headache. Several times, staff came to me to ask that we convert the cash into a cheque. My chequebook would come out, and I would have several stacks of $2 bills that couldn’t fit into my handbag.

Of course, we didn’t clean house alone. Internal and external auditors were killing trees with reports on what was the case, now the case and would be the case. Those vouchers – and we had plenty – were a pain. New records were started, everything serialised, and procedures put in place for the drawing of any voucher. Essentially, staff had to record my permission for every single voucher drawn. What was worse was that Pete had supposedly confessed to  taking Capita vouchers too. So there I was at one dinner with the Capitaland folks, a cheque in hand, to make restitution. I don’t know when I have ever felt so shame-faced. But the Capitaland folks were gracious and more than willing to work with us again…I mean, they could have really made me feel worse.

I am not talking about the ins-and-outs of the alleged kickbacks etc since a court case is coming up. I know SPH has declined comment, but an assurance that things are in order is, well, in order. So dare I say this:  We cut off all links with Sino-British, the suppliers, as soon as we possibly could. The SPMF was ring-fenced even further. It is now a full-fledged charity, rather than the half-being it was. It is now properly staffed, with its own board and governance rules. There’s so much red tape on collection and distribution of money we could use them as Christmas decorations. At least, that was the way I left it.

Some people thought that we made too big a deal out of a small amount of money. I mean, $190K or so that was supposedly taken is nothing like City Harvest’s $23m…I don’t think so. When a publishing company gets into trouble, it has to come clean, be whiter than white. After all, the media is the outfit that gets on its high horse whenever others commit breaches of trust. What more when it’s one of its own? Some self-flagellation is in order to restore the public trust. That’s part of maintaining editorial integrity as well.

Go buy ST.

Feeling Stomped all over

In News Reports, Society on June 26, 2012 at 1:44 am

This Stomp fiasco brings back so many bad memories. Many moons ago, TNP had to apologise to ex-DPM Toh Chin Chye for saying that he had been charged with drunk driving. The whole stable of SPH newspapers had to get on its knees and apologise on page one, not on one day, but on several. The reporter was sacked and a couple of his superiors were removed from decision-making positions. A disciplinary inquiry took place which looked at the system of checks would should have prevented something like this from happening.

Suffice to say that it had to do with a reporter noted for bringing in the big scoops, a star whom editors believed in. It had to do with one anonymous source whom the reporter had past dealings with and had always delivered the goods so to speak. It had to do with keeping the story under wraps to prevent word leaking out to rival media. It had to do with getting the story out before the G could enter the picture and complicate matters. It had to do with editors who DID raise questions but decided to go with the judgment of the reporter.

In the end, the story turned out wrong.

I was in Australia when the news (or rather not news) broke. And when I returned to Singapore, I was given marching orders to go to TNP to fill the gaps left by the editors who had been disciplined and sidelined. Oh, I kicked and screamed all right! But in a newsroom, the editor points a gun to your head, and you go.

It was a subdued newsroom and I was given the leeway to re-organise and start new practices in it. I brought quite a lot of the ST systems to bear. A paper as old as ST has honed a robust system of checks, with high discipline standards and areas of accountability for all levels of staff.

Orders also came down from bosses – no more unidentified sources, at least two sources needed in a story, and there must be official confirmation of the facts. The rules were tightened considerably, and some journalists chafed that they look more aimed at killing stories, than getting them published. But they were good rules to ensure journalistic standards. Never mind if you lost the scoop, make sure you get the story right. Plug every hole. Account for every fact.

These are the sort of standards that distinguish a professional journalist from a blogger or a citizen journalist. Don’t just report stuff that’s circulating online or offline. Verify. Verify. Verify. Even if you get accused of “hiding” or “covering up”, never mind. Check first – and get the story right. It might well be that the rumour online/offline is false and fabricated. Then the story should not be run. Never mind if people saying you are “covering up”, you do not run the story simply because, there is NO story.

It’s been some time since the Toh Chin Chye saga. The people involved have been rehabiliated or have moved on. In the meantime, there is this thing called the Internet which is complicating journalists’ lives.

News or whatever is masquerading as news gets out faster.The faster it circulates, the more it assumes the status of truth.  The fuddy-duddy MSM will have go through all the lines of checks to suss out the facts. In the meantime, it is hit by barbs about being slow, late or self-censorship. Still journalistic standards must be held. Like who is really the person behind that email handle (real name, age, sex and occupation please). Is the so-called source a real source or a massive fraud? Is the picture doctored? If not, what is the source of the picture – who took it, when and where? Should this or that Internet poll be trusted or should you just poll people yourself? Is that really the person’s view or is someone else using his name? Does the fellow have an agenda, something to lobby for, axe to grind?

Only when all the bases are covered does something online make it into MSM. Tedious but necessary. Because people (most I believe) trust that what makes it into print is credible. It’s not as though MSM hasn’t broken great stories because of stuff online. Remember graffitti on MRT train? It came from a video posted online. ST, which broke the story, got the fellow who posted it, checked with police, SMRT and all manner of sources before deciding to run the story. And what a story!

Ironically it was about SMRT….

So MSM fails on several levels over the Stomp fiasco. Frankly, Stomp is just a collection of pictures contributed by people. And what gets posted should remain just that – contributions online. To get something from online to offline, those checks must kick in.

Yet, newspapers still carried that Stomp picture first. I don’t know why. Obviously, they didn’t think about the source of the picture, who posted it, and whether there is really any chance that doors can be left open while a train is moving. Hold your horses, hold the story, get the full story from source, wait for SMRT to check – and the story should not even have seen the light of day. It would have been another instance of MSM doing its checks, found the story false and not worth publishing.

Of course, if in the process, if it found its own staffers wanting, then disciplinary measures should kick in. Sack people. Demote. Suspend. Remove bonuses. Clean up the house. And heave a sigh of relief that you weren’t publish-happy.

I am terribly upset over the Stomp fiasco. Anyone who is or has ever been a journalist should be. Ethical standards have to be maintained, ingrained in all levels of journalists if I am to trust whatever MSM is saying. It’s wrong to fake stuff. And its wrong to let stuff through without checking. It’s not just Stomp which should clean house, the newspapers have to do the same too. Social media has made life harder, but really the checks are still the same. Maintain them.