No media is genuinely middle-ground. It would be very difficult for writers, even an entire publication not to take a sympathetic stand on issues. Take for example, the Straits Times. Yes, we all know the broadsheet is where the staple of our news comes from. But it does have its fair share of journalism faux pas.
Here are 2 case-studies about articles recently published:
Case 1: Philippines Independence Day
The Straits Times reported on the xenophobic remarks by online trolls about the Philippines Independence Day celebrations at Ngee Ann City, they gave the impression that there were 26k netizens against the event.
Minister of Manpower Tan Chan Jin, realising something was amiss commented on FB:
“That there are xenophobes wasn’t the surprising part since there are these sad elements in any society. It was the reported 26,000 ‘likes’for the page …that raised my brows. As it turned out, the reporting was inaccurate.”
The Straits Times responded to Minister Tan explaining:
“The reference to the 26,000 likes was clearly about the page “Say No to an Overpopulated Singapore”. The administrators of this page, which has 26,000 likes, had asked people to join in their protests. We did not say there were 26,000 protesters. Was the figure of 26,000 relevant in this instance? We believe so, because this was a post calling for protest, put up by the administrators of a page which has a base of 26,000 likes.
Could we have phrased our sentences better so as not to potentially cause confusion? Perhaps. But a close reading of the story would have disabused most people of any confusion.”
Bertha Henson, former Associate Editor of the Straits Times of 26 years, wrote a scathing “Open Letter to ST Readers Editor”:
“This is inaccurate. The 26,000 “likes’’are for the page itself, which was set up a few years ago and has a wide variety of posts including those not associated with foreigners. The post calling for the protest amounted to some 300-plus “likes’’.
This mis-reporting has caused consternation as it implied that 26,000 citizens or so support the protests –which is not true. For a subject that is potentially explosive, I believe it behoved ST to be extra vigilant in the accuracy of the information it publishes.”
Indeed the paper did not misrepresent. Yet you wonder why they chose to omit the 300 likes? Was it meant to “sensationalise”the article by “selectively”omitting the 300 likes for the particular post? Why did the paper not publicise both numbers?
Case 2: Most Popular Passport
Also recently, the Straits Times published an article “Which passports are most accepted around the world?”
In the article, the reporter praised our humble travel document:
“It was ranked sixth internationally – alongside Australia and Greece – for the unrestricted access it offers”. But if you look at the rankings carefully (as below), its obvious that Singapore is not ranked 6th, but actually 21st (at best) as there are numerous joint rankings from the 1st to 5th ranking!
Thats a huge difference, ranked 6th and 21st! Playing with the words? Where’s the truth?
During the launch of the book “Hard Choices: Challenging The Singapore Consensus”, the writer Sudhir (editor, writer and researcher with The Economist for many years) touched on the topic of press freedom and transparency.
He mentioned in no uncertain terms that during his stint at the Economist, the magazine would occasionally publish articles about Singapore – both the good bits and unsavoury.
The Economist is routinely published on a Friday. If it printed with a friendly article portraying Singapore in good light, well, that same article would definitely be seen republished in the Straits Timeswith full prominence. However, if it was a scathing article, there would be no mention at all.
Is it any fault of the Straits Times?
Actually it is nothing new. American Fox News and British run BBC are guilty of agenda setting themselves. Because everyone votes (at least in Singapore), everyone has a political agenda, whether they will admit it or not. Every reporter, every editor, every presenter, every member of the media is biased.
Journalism ethics teaches us to report everything factually, but even so, one can chose to add or omit information, using words to our advantage. It is not possible to fit every detail into an article, so the journalist or editor has to chose. And in chosing, you fall victim to being biased.
As a reader, we must be discerning and know that ALL media is biased. You are your own best or worst editor. If you find yourself reading only material that you agree with, you suffer from confirmation bias. But if you can weigh the different perspectives presented, in the plethora of media available – then you have for yourself a true balanced consumption.