Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I don't read the local papers regularly

Time is limited and reading the papers does take up some time.  But everyone has to read the papers to keep himself abreast of current news.  All the major newspapers are available for free online.  My main online newspaper is the BBC.  It has the best coverage and gives the latest news fastest.   I am signed on the best newspapers in twitter and I find the BBC gives more news and is a lot swifter in getting its tweets to me than CNN or NY Times.  The local papers are of course good for local gossip, if one has the time.

In my earlier blog post (see the last paragraph of this post), I alluded to some serious shortcomings of the local press but I didn't give any details.  In this post, I will give a proper account to justify what I have said of the local press.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the serious language errors in the local papers such as the Straits Times (for an example, click here).  I have on numerous occasions written to the Press about them but the local press is averse to publishing letters on its wrong use of words and other grammatical errors.  They usually thank me for my letters and they inform me that they will alert the newsroom but they don't publish the letters.  In many instances, I wrote to them only because the articles that contained grammatical errors were articles about the importance of good English.   Surely if a journalist has the ruddy cheek to write about correct English usage and criticises the general public for its common errors, he must at least ensure that his article does not contain grammatical errors!   But this is what Straits Times journalists have failed many times and despite the effort I put in to point out the errors, the Straits Times is only willing to "alert the newsroom" but not the rest of its readers.

Language matters are for another post.  I have written extensively on them and I will write more in the future.  I have saved all my letters and Straits Times' replies on my google plus and so it's easy to blog about them but they don't concern us here.

Language errors don't stop me from reading the newspapers.  But inaccuracy and irresponsibility in reporting are far more serious lapses.  And these are part of the failings of local newspapers.   It is common to hear how lacking in independence the local press is.  The opposition parties are always accusing the local press of being controlled by the government and most people do believe this is true but I'm not interested in politics and in what the government controls or doesn't control.  I'm only interested in ensuring that the newspapers I spend time reading are accurate in their reporting and it doesn't bother me in the least if the agenda is political or religious or racial.  I want full information and if you hold back information for whatever reason, you aren't responsible in your reporting and I'm not going to waste my time reading your articles, especially when I have free access to the world's best newspapers that don't hide information.

Let me give an example.  I will pick a local news item and compare the reporting of it in the local papers with what appears in a foreign press.  There will be less excuse for the local press since the news item is local in nature.

I first read about the death of JB Jeyaretnam (an opposition leader) in the Straits Times.  They had a write-up on his life and upon reading it, I knew something was missing.  I looked up the news online and the same chunk was strangely left out in the Channel News Asia article.  Channel News Asia is the publisher of Today newspapers and produced by the same team.  Here's the Channel News Asia article which is substantially the same as what appeared in the Straits Times (you may click on the image to enlarge it):


I have produced the article in full because I want to show you what's missing in it.  Now you may want to see what the BBC has to say.  I'll just post the screen shot below.  The link to the article appears at the bottom.


What made me unhappy with the local newspapers is they totally left out the fact that the Privy Council ruled in Jeyaretnam's favour.  The Law Lords in London made scathing remarks about the judgment of our local court.  I remember what a foul mood the then Chief Justice was in for weeks after the Privy Council ruling.  Shortly after, appeals to the Privy Council were discontinued.  Surely this fact is worth mentioning in an article that announces the death of JB Jeyaretnam and makes direct reference to his 1986 conviction?  Why should we have to read a foreign newspaper for such information when one would imagine that it should be readily available to local journalists?

My view is simple - if I want current and comprehensive news, I wouldn't look to the local papers.  I don't blame the government for this.  I don't believe the Ministry of Information is to be faulted.  The government of Singapore is actually quite liberal and easy-going.  It's the people of Singapore who have misplaced fears and they are the ones who exercise self-censorship.  These people include journalists.  I recall years ago a talk between Lee Kuan Yew and a group of young journalists.  They told Mr Lee that the people of Singapore were generally afraid of voting the Opposition.  When asked by Mr Lee, they admitted that they too were afraid if they were to vote in favour of the Opposition. I remember poor Mr Lee looking shocked and he mumbled in disbelief that these journalists had had a good university education.  But that's precisely what I've observed and what the foreign press always misses.  It's the people with their misplaced fears that give a false impression that a benign government is draconian.

I will say no more.  Politics is not what I'm interested in and all I want to say is if you want responsible, fair and comprehensive reporting, go for the foreign press. There are many different newspapers to choose from and they are all freely available online.  But if trash is your cup of tea, go for the Straits Times.  A good example is this scandalous article complete with the filching of someone's photograph from her facebook account:


It's a vile thing to do to that poor woman but that's the local press for you.

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