Sunday, May 3, 2009

AWARE, The Straits Times exposed!‏


May 1, 2009 by admin
Filed under Daily Musings

By Yeo Toon Joo, Peter, who ceased to be a newspaperman when he found none left

The inordinately extensive and daily coverage of the AWARE leadership tussle exposes and underscores the provincialism of Singapore’s press, the Straits Times in particular.

Any thinking person, with a modicum of appreciation of what constitutes news, must marvel over the MSM’s (mainstream media) ability to ignore the real issues of the day in Singapore while focusing so much of its might on what was primarily a parochial affair.

Instead of enlightening Singaporeans on the pressing issues confronting us – events that beg many questions and offer much scope for enquiry – our national press chooses to rivet readers’ attention through a daily barrage of reporting on the dispute of a marginal organization, till recently, of no more than 100 or 200 feminists.

Has the subservient MSM lost its way, just as AWARE allegedly had lost its own focus and objective?

It is incredible that the full strength of the MSM’s reporting staff had failed so remarkably to ferret out the real issue of the leadership coup – until spoon-fed by the protagonist.

In the not too distant days of yore, one of my rookie reporters would surely have enlightened us, and quite early on, too.

The Straits Times’s willingness to manipulate, or be manipulated (wittingly so) by minority interest groups, is so clear for all to see: any image consultant worth his salt will promptly point out how the ST’s photo/news editor had deliberately selected for publication the most frumpy photos of the new committee while editing so dramatically the most flattering portraits of the old, ousted committee members.

Sure, concern over AWARE’s alleged espousal of the cause of lesbianism and homosexuality was at the crux of the crisis. But this is no longer the hot issue of the day.

Aren’t there other pressing national issues worth examining? Is Singapore so boring that a storm in a teacup should excite the brains of its handpicked leaders? Should the people who wield the mighty pen (in our newspaper offices) engage in such peevishness? And be so actively stoking it up into a national controversy?

If our national press is truly unable to focus on what concern more Singaporeans than what used to engage a handful of AWARE feminists, may I suggest that it thinks about real national issues and cease its tomfoolery. May I offer some news gathering tips to our wayward press:

· Stop conducting yourself like a mosquito press while holding – by default only – the mantle of a national daily

· Be serious and desist from propagating a modern version of yellow culture in your pages or so-called Life-style sections (“Bollywood’s newest hotties”! My foot! Only good upbringing constrain me from a rude retort; MITA whither art thou?)

· Stop flaunting semi-nude bodies in your life-style pages or flashing regularly the bust lines of dumb broads, and exalting the careers of those engaged in promoting the bacchanalian life styles of geeks and Zouks

· Desist from playing up the prating of some misguided, immature, amorous young reporter who boasts about squeezing some exposed part of a film or rock star (such a confession should, in a court of law, rightly result in a charge of criminal molestation)

· Tell us about the vast disparity of incomes in our so-called 1st World economic miracle and how suffering Singaporeans are coping with the recession

· Instead of giving him scant attention, tell us more and truthfully about Kenneth Jeyaretnam, JBJ’s second son and his dream for the Reform Party. What about his brother Philip?

· Tell us also about the millions being frittered away everyday to finance the myriad failed bio-tech start-ups, and round it up with a balance sheet of Singapore’s successes-failures in this field – and what prospect the future holds

· Tell us something about how our Ah Bengs and Ah Lians are coping in this new world order and with unemployment, or do they not exist?

· Explain how that Singapore family could lose its 5-room HDB flat, and fall through the cracks of MCDYS’s social benefits safety net to spend the past year cadging for food and sleeping on park benches

· If the Straits Times press could devote a full page to profiling China’s five rising stars, why do our leaders in Temasek remain anonymous? Can’t get an interview with them? Surely!

· How will Singapore hope to recover some of its lost national wealth in the world’s economic downturn?

· If even a Warren Buffett could be caught out by the economic downturn and make some massive investment mistakes why is blogosphere so unkind to and unreasonable with Ho Ching?

· If Singapore could throw up a Ho Ching, a truly remarkable woman, why are so few women in parliament and just one has become a full fledge cabinet minister? (This is one issue the old AWARE could have shown some gumption in pursuing)

· Tell us how are our million guest workers, especially the lower-skilled ones, coping with Singapore’s recession and what is their likely fate; this study could also include the sub-standard living conditions of these people, the prostitute camps that used to spring up overnight around their dormitories, and their exploitation by hard-pressed and ruthless employers

· We read that, together with the 1.8k workers whose contracts were terminated prematurely, total redundancy in Singapore increased to a record 12.6k in 1Q09. Obviously, poor people do not exist in the MSM’s world; everyone seems to be happily employed only in media and marketing, if not in the press

· Tells us also what it means to our society to have a trade volume that is three times our GDP; does this not affect our values?

· Throw the spotlight on our local banks, e.g. how did the still independent OCBC and UOB manage to escape being caught more deeply in CDOs and toxic assets of other banks?

· How is Wee Cho Yaw planning his leadership renewal and how he built up his father’s little bank into the behemoth it is today without a foreigner at the helm, while OCBC still struggles to raise its profile, and why DBS with all its patronage is not faring so well

· Stop publishing all the incredible ‘feel good’ stories that we read daily, e.g. how our displaced unemployed workers are merrily engaging in community work, how Mr Mohd Zainuddin is happily adapting to a lowly paid job (1/3 what he used to earn) and is so optimistically looking forward to promotion in his new found position, and signing for self-improvement marketing courses in his late middle-age

· And, if you are truly interested in why and how people become homosexual, conduct a real examination of this subject. Give us, in a non-partisan and objective manner, an intelligent digest of the question. So many people, including even senior cabinet ministers, still labour under much misunderstanding of this subject. Apparently, too, even our Minister Iswaran (Education) and the Ministry’s director of education programmes have not read the old AWARE’s manual on sex education before issuing a defence on the issue a few days ago.

The ideas thrown up above are quick from-the-hip suggestions that any news editor worth three-quarters his salt would suggest on a daily basis, even hourly if need be. That’s because, unlike now, the journalists of old used to be trained, sensitive, experienced and fiercely jealous of their independence. We were not automatons who had to wait for cues from news editors who reside outside the newsroom.

I know Saturday’s EGM at AWARE will throw up more morsels for the MSM to continue its feeding frenzy. If it is true that the newspapers of a country reflect the caliber and depth of a society’s intellect, then the MSM does Singaporeans much injustice.

[There are two charges Yeo makes against The Straits Times.

1) The Straits Times (and other mainstream media in Singapore) is a parochial newspaper (in the case of other MSM, news agencies) that writes up insignificant fluff and passes it off as news; and 

2) The AWARE situation is largely the domestic affairs of a marginal organisation with little impact or relevance beyond the gay issue and sex education.

Taking the first point, Yeo charges that the Straits Times shouldn't be presenting fluff like "Bollywood Hotties" and "semi-nude bodies in [the] life-style pages" (Perhaps Yeo thinks these should be on Page 3 as is traditional?)

His remedy is that MSM should focus on real news with real issues of the day affecting Singapore and Singaporeans. In other words, this AWARE business is just "petty politics". (Now, who else characterised this sad affair as "petty politics"? I guess Yeo concurs with him.)

Well, Yeo (and the powers that be) are free to characterised this issue as "petty politics" or fluff, or not "real issues of the day". The fact is that there is a variety of issues that interests and affect people. There are days when the front page news do not grab my attention. There are sections of the papers that I never bother to read (soccer news for example). Certainly, sports news, horse racing information, and lottery results are not issues of the day. But they are in the papers, and people do want to read them.

So is the Straits Times supposed to be some elite newspaper intended for the well-read, well-informed, serious policy maker and policy commentator? Or is it intended to be a mainstream broadsheet with something for the whole family? Then it has to cater to all these interests, and that means bread and butter issues, jobs, employment, the economy and economic outlook and government policies - all the important issues of the day, as well as sports news, entertainment news, lifestyle, food, fads, health and so on.

The ST has done rather well in continuing to be profitable, maintaining and even increasing it's readership in a era of falling readership worldwide for print media. That means that it has managed to stay relevant and hold the interests of its readers. And if Yeo thinks that the ST is parochial, he should check out newspapers in countries such as Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and many other countries. Even some of the "international" papers in the US, is more US-centric, than truly international. Because of Singapore's position in global trade, I would argue that the ST is in fact one of the more "globalised" in perspective.

Which brings us to the second charge: that the whole AWARE issue was fluff. There is nothing wrong with fluff, but does it deserve pages and pages of newsprint? Yeo is of course entitled to his opinion as to the relevance and importance of the AWARE issue. He can remain convinced that it is nothing more than a storm in a teacup over some gay issues and the syllabus of some sex education programme.

But based on the interest and arguments raised on the internet, I put it that his opinion is not shared by many others. The discussion, arguments, criticisms, and posts on the matter extends beyond the explicit bone of contention (sex/gay education) to what netizens identified as the expansion of the religious realm and an encroachment into the secular common space. It has become an public discourse (a rowdy and passionate discourse!) on the role of religion and what is secular common space, and the expression of religious values in secular terms.

In other words, netizens and the ST recognised that the crux of the matter was not simply a debate about sex education and family values, but about how religious values relates to civil society organisations. Concerned parties recognised that the strategy of the insurgents was tantamount to an attack with no interest in discussion or debate.

The ST may have been tipped off to this story by their contacts in AWARE, but the other factor that weighed in as newsworthy was the amount of cyber-chatter on the issue. If the ST had ignored the new media, then wouldn't they be guilty of selective blindness or traditional media snobbery?

So, no. The ST is probably one of the least parochial papers in the region. And no, the AWARE story was not just a petty politics story about a marginal feminist organisation.

So Yeo, who "ceased to be a newspaperman when he found none left" was probably never a newspaperman because he couldn't recognised news if it bit him on the arse.]

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