Sometimes, you want to give the mainstream media the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes, it is also hard to do so. This post is not to point the finger at the individual reporter in this case. It is, however, to point out that the mainstream media – being professional news organisations staffed by professional editors, reporters, journalists, and with resources which citizen journalists like myself and my colleagues can only envy from afar – should at least be mindful of simple mistakes which show up its lack of professionalism.
In the ongoing court case with regards to the Prime Minister’s discretionary powers in calling by-elections, the mainstream media’s reporting has, so far, been below par. (Caveat: I’ve also been following and reporting on the case for publichouse.sg and Yahoo Singapore, with the reports also published on TR Emeritus.)
Take this recent report on 16 May:
What’s wrong with the report? Two things:
1. The first paragraph:
“A Hougang resident is pressing on with a bid for the courts to order the Prime Minister to hold a by-election in Hougang within three months.”
Anyone who reads that opening sentence would go away with the impression that Vellama Muthu, the lady who is bringing the case against the Government, is somehow an unreasonable person, since the PM has already called the by-election in Hougang and indeed, campaigning is currently in full swing. Why proceed with the case if the by-election has already been called – and within the requested 3 months too?
In fact, what the case is about is also the PM’s discretionary powers to call by-elections in general, and not just pertaining to Hougang. Therefore, Vellama is proceeding with the case because, although the PM has called a by-election in Hougang, the issue of whether his powers to do so – in any occasions where there are vacant parliamentary seats – are “unfettered” is still to be resolved.
Thus, the court hearing will determine this, hopefully.
2. Look at the picture and the caption in that Straits Times report.
“Dressed in a bright pink and blue sari and adorned with gold bangles and earrings…”
First of all, what has Vellama’s attire got to do with the court case? Second, and I’ve been told this by my Indian friends, what Vellama was wearing in that picture isn’t even a sari, as the caption claims.
“Eh Andrew , and that’s not even a sari. It’s a punjabi suit, sari is the attire with the 6m of cloth wrapped around the entire body often exposing the mid-riff,” a friend informed me on my Facebook page.
Thirdly, I was at the Court of Appeal on the 16th, when the hearing took place. Vellama wasn’t even there in Court that day. That picture in the St report was from another earlier occasion when Vellama attended court. There was no indication of this fact in the ST caption.
So, the message sent out by that ST report is perhaps this:
“Vellama, and by extension her lawyer M Ravi, are unreasonable people because they’re still proceeding with the case even though the PM has already called a by-election, even going so far as satisfying her application to call a by-election in Hougang within 3 months! And look at her – all dressed in a nice sari and decked out with gold bangles – coming to the Court of Appeal on 16 May. She cannot be taken seriously!!”
I’d asked Vellama about those “gold bangles” about 3 weeks ago. She told me they aren’t really gold bangles, but fake ones – like those you find in shops anywhere, in fact.
Of course, the mistakes made in the report may be just that – honest mistakes. And therefore I am not castigating the reporter but I do take issue with the editors and the paper itself. The editors should be checking their facts.
In any case, a little while later, the ST changed the report somewhat and the picture in that report, and removed and changed the entire caption too:
Not too long ago, a minister – as our ministers are wont to do rather regularly – praised the local mainstream media as “accurate, timely and balanced.”
I hope the mainstream media will live up to such lofty claims and gold standard accolades.