Know Where Your Media Stands In GE 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
In this instance, The Business Times (BT) clearly sets an excellent
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
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,
As a result, I adopted Mr Tan's advice for a day on October 23, 2001.
I visited the ST website (See
I visited a discussion website managed by the National Solidarity
Party (NSP), an opposition party in Singapore (See
On the ST website, I read a report by Laurel Teo, "Full-time MPs a
bad idea, says Tony Tan" (See
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
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.