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Know Where Your Media Stands In GE 2001

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  • Yadav, Dharmendra
    Know Where Your Media Stands In GE 2001 By Yadav, Dharmendra Thursday, 25 October 2001 In the 1988 General Election, The Straits Times and some other
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 24, 2001
      Know Where Your Media Stands In GE 2001
      By Yadav, Dharmendra
      Thursday, 25 October 2001

      In the 1988 General Election, The Straits Times and some other
      newspapers openly took an editorial stand backing the ruling party.
      For the 2001 General Election, in respect of the more competitive
      media climate in Singapore, you may find both print and broadcast
      media dedicating several columns or even sections to political
      parties which their editors or directors are likely to endorse.

      As a reader and viewer, I was concerned about how such support will
      affect media coverage of the elections so I wrote to the various
      heads of media organisations in Singapore, i.e. those from Singapore
      Press Holdings, MediaCorp, NTUC Media and SAFRA Radio. I requested
      answers for 2 sets of questions within 4 working days:
      1. Will your media be taking an editorial stand in support of any
      party for the 2001 General Election? If yes, which party and why? If
      no, why not?
      2. In light of the above editorial stand, what is an estimated
      percentage of coverage that your media will be giving to each
      individual or organisation that contests the 2001 General Election?

      Only 2 out of 17 such media leaders responded. As for the rest, one
      can merely make wild guesses about their lack of response. Perhaps,
      this is also a simple example of why the Honourable Prime Minister
      Goh Chok Tong thinks companies in Singapore need to improve their
      respective standards of customer care. (See
      http://app.internet.gov.sg/data/sprinter/pr/archives/2001081903.htm)

      In this instance, The Business Times (BT) clearly sets an excellent
      benchmark.

      Within 12 hrs, Mr Patrick Daniel, Editor of BT, replied, "We usually
      decide and make clear our editorial stand in a leader we write closer
      to polling day - you will have to wait for that. In any case,
      whatever our stand, we try to be balanced in our daily news
      coverage... there is no predeterimined "percentage of coverage" for
      individuals or parties; we decide on coverage on the basis of what's
      said and what's newsworthy."

      A couple of days later, Mr Lionel Skinner, News Director of SAFRA
      Radio, wrote back, "Thank you very much for your interest in SAFRA
      Radio. If you are interested to listen to our English station - Power
      98 - you can log on to http://power98.com.sg."

      Although Mr Daniel's response directly addressed my questions, I was
      left to ponder about Mr Skinner's feedback. On one extreme, I asked
      myself if he had read my questions. Alternatively, I thought he was
      prompting me to visit his site and be a judge of this myself. After
      all, a question of balanced coverage is a subjective matter. As
      individuals, we all have our own notions about balance.

      Some of us will share the view of Mr Cherian George, former
      journalist of The Straits Times, who in the 1988 General Election,
      observed, "... although Mr Seow's [an opposition politician] contest
      was the talk of the town, the entire news media treated it as if it
      was just another of the dozens of parliamentary seats at stake. As
      part of my research, I asked the editor-in-chief of the Straits Times
      whether this under-coverage, verging on a media blackout, was
      deliberate. He said yes... decided independently by the newspapers,
      in keeping with its openly-stated editorial stand of endorsing the
      PAP as the best choice for Singapore in that election" (See
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/singapore_media/message/18)

      Yet, some of us will concur with the view of Mr Daniel who
      argues, "... although I'm not from The Straits Times [ST], I do not
      agree that there was a "deliberate under-coverage of non-ruling party
      viewpoints". In fact, ST gives a lot of coverage to opposition
      viewpoints, a fact which is not appreciated by those who don't
      support the ruling party."

      In such situations, it would be wise to adopt the advice of an ST
      columnist, Mr Tan Tarn How, who submits, "And this is where you come
      in. You have to decide who is right... How do you know who is
      right... First, read the newspapers... Visit the political parties'
      sites too... Second, attend a campaign rally. No, make it at least
      two: go to a PAP [People's Action Party] event and another by the
      opposition, preferably of the party which is standing in your
      constituency... Third, talk to people." (See "Hey there, don't read
      this, please!", ST 21 October 2001,
      http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/columnist/0,1886,274,00.html)

      As a result, I adopted Mr Tan's advice for a day on October 23, 2001.
      I visited the ST website (See
      http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/home/0,1869,1003874340,00.html) and
      I visited a discussion website managed by the National Solidarity
      Party (NSP), an opposition party in Singapore (See
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/discuss-singapore).

      On the ST website, I read a report by Laurel Teo, "Full-time MPs a
      bad idea, says Tony Tan" (See
      http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/singapore/story/0,1870,78874-
      1003874340,00.html). The report noted, "DPM expresses this view in
      the light of declaration by three SDA candidates that they would
      serve full time if elected. A PARLIAMENT made up of only full-time
      politicians would fail to represent the full spectrum of society,
      said Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan yesterday". I found a wide range
      of responses to the Honourable Minister's comments on the NSP website.

      Interestingly, I also chanced upon some information that I would have
      missed had I depended only on our mainstream media. For example,
      Steve Chia, an NSP leader, revealed, "In the last election at Hong
      kah, I was involved in the counting process. We saw many cartoons,
      pictures of sex organs and vulgar languages drawn at the PAP vote.
      None of them was sued -- or identified. It still went to their count -
      - as both parties agreed before hand that anything within the
      parties' tick box will be counted as theirs". (See
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/discuss-singapore/message/627)

      Thus, there ended my eventful web-surf for the day. Although I still
      cannot decide "who is right", I have realised a powerful lesson on
      why we should know where each of our media stands and why it is
      necessary for us, as individuals, to read & view critically.
      Regardless of how intelligent, responsible or creative a journalist
      or a reporter is, no media report should ever be treated as an axiom.
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