Wikileaks: Significant Government pressure on ST Editors

 

 

A senior staff member of Singapore’s largest newspaper admits there’s “significant government pressure” on its editors to follow the government line, according to a newly released WikiLeaks document.

As a result, reporters within the paper are “increasingly frustrated” with the restrictions on what they can report and often seek overseas postings where restrictions are less.

The document, which appears to be a written minute taken in 2009 at the Singapore Embassy, highlighted the private views of two Straits Times journalists and a then-journalism student.

Chua Chin Hon, who is currently the US bureau chief for The Straits Times, was quoted as saying that reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore’s leaders will “likely come down hard” on anyone who reports negatively about the government or its leadership.

He also added that the government exerts significant pressure on ST editors to ensure that published articles follow the government’s line, citing examples of how several ministers at the time “routinely call ST editors” to ensure that media coverage of an issue “comes out the way they want it.”

Chua also said that ST editors had been vetted to ensure their “pro-government leanings” and that while local reporters are “eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting.. they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line.”

In the Wikileaks cable, Chua pointed out how there is extensive media coverage before the government intends to push out a certain policy, adding that some articles read like “Public Service Announcements”.

He cited how during the 2008 collapse of Lehman brothers, there was a spate of articles writing about the retirees who lost money in the mini-bonds in a sympathetic manner, and this was followed by the government’s decision to assist those retirees.

Another ST reporter, Lynn Lee, who is currently the paper’s Indonesian bureau chief, confirmed the restrictions on local media, highlighting the internal editorial debate over the covering of the opposition in Singapore.

An example she gave was the conflict over the amount of coverage that the paper would dedicate to opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) following his death in September 2008, saying that while editors agreed with reporters’ demand for extensive coverage of his funeral, they rejected reporters’ suggestions to limit the amount of coverage devoted to eulogies provided by Singapore’s leaders.

In the end, the leaders’ statements took up a significant portion of the allotted space, Lee said.

In addition, Lee revealed that self-censorship was a common practice for reporters.

She said that she would never write about any racially sensitive issues, citing the case of a journalist in Malaysia who was arrested for reprinting a politician’s racially charged comments.

In contrast to the limitations imposed on local reports, Chua said that ST reporters are more free to write about international events. Chua said he enjoyed a great deal of freedom during his stint as ST’s China Bureau Chief.

In the last paragraph of the Wikileaks cable, then-journalism student Chong Zi Liang said that he could see himself working locally for one or two years before going off somewhere else, because he thought it was too “stifling” to remain in the country.

The document is part of a collection of 251,000 unedited and confidential US diplomatic cables that can be found on the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, founded by the controversial Julian Assange.

In the latest batch released online, several more can be found on Singapore.

One talks about the state of Singapore’s opposition in 2004 and another on how the government actively co-opts talented Muslims to become Members of Parliament.

Last year, WikiLeaks revealed what key Singapore diplomats thought of neighbouring Asian leaders as well as what former leader Lee Kuan Yew thinks about North Korea.

 

For actual cable leak report click on picture above or this link : http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/01/09SINGAPORE61.html

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