Thursday 31 May 2012

Hougang By-election: The Art of Low

Low explains comments on media
I SHARE the editorial writer's view that 'anyone who claims to promote the idea of a First World democracy should take care to uphold its institutions, including the media' ('Fallout from the Hougang showdown'; yesterday).

At the by-election public rally last Thursday, I said: 'The media is a potentially powerful tool for or against certain political parties. Therefore, it is imperative that the media must become a reliable source of information for the people, independent from the strong influence of the Government... We must not allow the media to be used by the Government as a political tool.'

At the press conference last Saturday night, I reiterated that only with an independent media that presents fair and accurate information, can the people make an informed choice of their Member of Parliament.

In the recent campaign, I detected biased reporting, calculated to damage the Workers' Party (WP) candidate and the party itself. For example, the front page of The Straits Times last Wednesday showed a large photo of party chairman Sylvia Lim and myself talking to each other with grim faces at our rally, with the candidate in between, with the headline 'WP faces allegations of dishonesty'. This was after the accusations had already been publicly clarified.

The writer is wrong to suggest that I am unhappy because there were adverse reports about WP. I welcome scrutiny of WP, but when images and headlines are manipulated to mislead readers, is it acceptable?

The media also reported unverified news and anonymous opinions. In Lianhe Zaobao on Monday, I cited the front-page report by my paper last Thursday, featuring an e-mail interview with the 'Secret Squirrel', who claimed to be a WP member, attacking WP.

I have asked my paper whether it has established and verified the identity of 'Secret Squirrel'.

Based on my 30 years' experience in Singapore politics, I am well aware of the critical role the media can play towards a First World democratic society.

The recent reportage of the Hougang by-election leaves me concerned. The media can become a stumbling block to the progress of democracy in Singapore and set us back by 20 years.

Whether this is unfounded or not, I leave it to Singaporeans to judge.
Low Thia Khiang
Workers' Party

ST Editor replies: We believe our coverage of the Hougang by-election was balanced and fair.
Mr Low has taken issue with a photo we used on May 23. We picked this as it summed up dramatically the story of that day.

It showed the Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat, the man in the middle of the controversy, framed by his party leaders deep in discussion.

The headline accurately referred to the WP 'facing allegations of dishonesty', as was the case from the developments through the day, and which the WP sought to address at its rally.

On the leaked WP memo sent by 'Secret Squirrel', we chose not to run this on the night it was sent to us, so that we could do our own checks on it.

There were also many other allegations swirling about on the Internet about the WP candidate, which we decided not to run as they could not be substantiated.

If indeed we were minded to paint a misleading picture of the WP, as Mr Low charges, we would not have acted with such circumspection.

The morning after his post-election outburst against the media, Mr Low told reporters that his remarks stemmed from a 'feeling' that the mood among journalists during the campaign was 'not so jubilant' compared to last year's General Election.

That came as a surprise. As professional journalists, we do not see ourselves as cheerleaders for any political party. Our aim is simply to report the news dispassionately and objectively, so that our readers can decide for themselves. That we have done, and will continue to do.
ST Forum, 30 May 2012

Straits Times, Zaobao challenge Low's remarks
TODAY, 30 May 2012

The Hougang by-election may be over, but its ramifications are still being felt.

Following Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's criticism of sections of the media at its press conference on Saturday, Lianhe Zaobao and the Straits Times have weighed on the issue.

In a commentary published on Monday, Zaobao editor Goh Sin Teck described Mr Low's remarks as "irresponsible" and "unfair" and said he should not use the media as a "target board".

Mr Goh also questioned why Mr Low only made these accusations after the elections. He noted that the WP had faced questions during the campaign period over party discipline and whether its candidate Png Eng Huat had been upfront about not being selected as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.

However, the WP chose not to address them and instead levelled accusations at the media.

He also defended the paper's handling of the "Secret Squirrel" episode - where minutes of a WP central executive council meeting were leaked by a source who called itself that - saying it had acted professionally in verifying the facts and had given the WP the chance to respond.

According to Mr Goh, the reporters tried to contact the WP, but its designated spokesperson did not respond. WP chairman Sylvia Lim replied after midnight that the issue would be addressed the next day.

Without any response from the WP, Mr Goh said the newspaper decided to go ahead and publish the story after determining - based on experience - that the minutes were authentic.

Low responds to Zaobao editor

In a response to Mr Goh's commentary, which was published in Zaobao yesterday, Mr Low stood by his remarks. Nevertheless, he clarified that he did not accuse the media of being the perpetrators of an attempt to discredit the party.

Mr Low said that what he had said at the press conference was that the media was being used as a powerful tool by those seeking to hurt the WP, and that he did not accuse any media outlet of behind a "thug" of the People's Action Party (PAP).

He also pointed out that he had spoken on the need for an independent media during the WP's final rally on May 24. Mr Low reiterated that, by allowing itself to be used for political gains, the media would encourage others to do the same in future.

Referring to the "Secret Squirrel" incident, Mr Low directed criticisms at MyPaper, which had interviewed the anonymous source. Mr Low questioned if MyPaper knew for a fact that "Secret Squirrel" is a WP member.

Mr Low said: "If the media does not verify the veracity of its sources, or even the identity of its source ... it misleads readers and could lead to public mistrust of the media."

Straits Times weighs in

During the press conference, Mr Low had criticised, in particular, the Straits Times' use of photographs and its headlines.

The Straits Times joined in the fray yesterday: In an editorial, the newspaper pointed out the developments in the run-up to Polling Day "were no fabrications by the media but emanated from within the party". It added that "far more damaging material" on the WP could be found on the Internet, "which the mainstream media mostly chose not to pick up, as it was unsubstantiated and possibly defamatory".

The editorial added: "Mr Low's charges that the mainstream media was used as a 'political tool' by the ruling People's Action Party were therefore unwarranted and unfounded. His post-election outburst, scripted and delivered live on national television, seemed designed for political effect, firing a salvo at his political opponents, with the media caught in the crossfire. That is lamentable, not least since anyone who claims to promote the idea of a First World democracy should take care to uphold its institutions, including the media."

Speaking to TODAY, PAP Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Information, Communications and the Arts, reiterated that "no one can control the media and any responsible media would want full editorial independence".

Mr Baey said: "Sometimes reports may not be what the newsmaker wants it to be, because there may be neutrality by the media, so it's not always what the newsmaker wants."

He disagreed with Mr Low's assertion during Saturday's press conference that the conduct of the by-election was regressive.

Mr Baey said: "I don't think we have gone back 20 years, I think the balance of coverage now is quite fair in that you have more profiling of the Opposition parties than you did before, perhaps even more than what the PAP would like. Readers will have to decide for themselves, and nowadays social media also plays a big role ... They can look at what is out there and form their own opinion."

联合早报, 28 May 2012














The following is a rough translation;

Wu Xindi: Wrong to Target Mainstream Media

This Hougang BE is indeed "highly variable" as proclaimed by the Workers' Party Secretary-General. The last variable unexpectedly came from the man himself. He chose the post-BE press conference to launch an attack on the mainstream media, describing all the mainstream media as back stabber, as the “political thugs” of PAP during the election campaign period. These words were clearly a serious attack on the impartiality and integrity of the mainstream media. More importantly, these were not an off-the-cuff reply to a reporter's question, but in the prepared speech read out in both Chinese and English. In other words, this attack was a deliberate one on the mainstream media after careful and thorough consideration, with the words used carefully chosen and scrutinised without any ambiguity.

In his reply to a question raised by reporter, "Lianhe Zaobao" was not listed in the two instances cited by him. However, he specifically highlighted that, “the media went ahead to publish the email posted by an anonymous writer without confirming the identity of the 'secret squirrel'. As "Lianhe Zaobao" was the first mainstream media to report the content of this email, what Low Thia Khiang mentioned without doubt led people to conclude that "Lianhe Zaobao" is the “PAP thug” placed to backstab the Worker's Party.

Low Thia Khiang clarified during an interview yesterday morning, after thanking the HG voters, that "Lianhe Zaobao" reports during the election campaign have been balanced. This is significantly different from what he said the night before, making people unable to figure out what position the Workers' Party is taking. But most importantly, the damage has been caused.

As editor-in-chief of "Lianhe Zaobao", as media workers with dignity, I must solemnly highlight that we cannot accept unfounded allegations by Low Thia Khiang.

On May 21 (Monday), the Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat said in a television interview that because he was against the NCMP scheme, he had requested the CEC not to include his name on the list of names in the vote for the NCMP seat; "Lianhe Zaobao" subsequently received his statement explaining why the Workers' Party did not nominate him as the NCMP.

But on the same day around 10 pm, we received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be the "secret squirrel”, which alleged that what Png Eng Huat said was inconsistent with the facts, and attached the minutes of the Workers' Party CEC meeting convened to elect NCMP. The minutes of meeting stated Png Eng Huat has received one vote, and what was stated differs with what he previously said during the television interview.

Although it was already close to our deadline, we still based on our professional instinct as reporters to try to verify the facts via various possible ways, which among them, of course, include making an inquiry to the Workers' Party spokesman. However, we did not receive any news from the designated spokesperson of the Workers' Party. After midnight, the Chairperson of the Workers' Party, Ms Sylvia Lim, finally replied to our query, stating that they would respond the following day. Using the information we obtained, based on our experience, we judged that the minutes of meetings were not fabricated, and decided to publish the contents of the anonymous letters on page 4.

During this incident, we did not manipulate behind the scene to undermine the Workers' Party. In contrast, during the whole process, our reporters have maintained professional attitude to verify and report news. We believe that our readers have the right to know about this latest development. As to how this development is beneficial to which political party is not a consideration of the newspaper. Whether or not the Workers' Party would respond on not, how they would respond, whether the response would be able to convince the voters, these are also not our concern. As a platform for dissemination of information, we must ensure that, if the Workers' Party has a response, we will fairly and truthfully report it. And in fact, we had done so in the following day. On the front page of our 23rd (Wednesday) paper, we published in full and in an obvious manner the responses from both Low Thia Khiang and Png Eng Huat.

Why would anyone want to choose this time, via an anonymous way, to expose these? Has the Workers' Party launched an internal investigation? While these questions should be properly addressed publicly to the voters, the Workers' Party chose not to address them, but instead chose to make the mainstream media as a “live target” – this is irresponsible and an unfair accusation.

In dealing with all the reports since the election campaign began, including interviews with both candidates, up to today’s report on the appreciation activities by both the winner and loser, "Lianhe Zaobao" reporters and editors have upkeep our belief in professionalism, impartiality and independence. To our readers, we have a clear conscience.
The author is this newspaper’s editor-in-chief

Biased? But S'poreans have right to know...
IT IS fascinating that Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang is claiming the moral high ground over the People's Action Party with accusations that the ruling party had discredited Mr Png Eng Huat and the WP in the run-up to the Hougang by-election ('WP chief lashes out at PAP and media'; yesterday).

Did the WP not also cast aspersions on the integrity of Mr Desmond Choo as an independent-minded PAP candidate throughout its campaign?

The views of both parties were presented very fairly in The Straits Times.

Still, Mr Low complained bitterly about the bias of the mainstream media while conveniently ignoring the pro-opposition and anti-establishment stance that some online media have chosen to take.

Singaporeans, including the residents of Hougang, attach a huge importance to the integrity of their MPs, and have the right to know about the true character of all candidates who choose to serve them.

Otherwise, why would the WP sack Mr Yaw Shin Leong, shortly after insisting that his alleged sexual peccadilloes were a private matter and nine months after it presented him as a righteous man?

Mr Low speaks highly about building a First World society and First World Parliament.

Unfortunately, this did not stop the WP from stoking anti-foreigner sentiments during the last General Election to win votes, only to call for a relaxation of foreign worker quotas in certain sectors after the polls.

If these were not calculated moves to discredit its opponents and extract political mileage, then I don't know what is.

I urge Mr Low and his party to get on with the job of serving the people instead of painting themselves as political victims to win sympathy.

Be gracious in victory.

As the saying goes: 'If you can dish it out, then you must be prepared to take it back.'
Toh Cheng Seong
ST Forum, 30 May 2012

Media bias -Bertha Henson

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