So, here’s the thing. On 2 June 2012, Saturday, former ISA detainees, supporters and members of the public gathered at Speakers’ Corner to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the “Marxist conspiracy” – or “Operation Spectrum” – of 1987.
The turn-out was pretty good, in my opinion. Some 500 people were there to lend their support, including politicians, activists and bloggers.
The message from the speeches by various speakers at the event was clear: Operation Spectrum was a lie, a manufactured fiasco fed to the public for political reasons, and a Commission of Inquiry must be convened to ascertain the facts of the alleged “Marxist conspiracy”.
I repeat: the ALLEGED “Marxist conspiracy.”
The detainees were never charged in court. Never given any opportunity to defend themselves in 1987 or since. Doubts were cast not just by the detainees themselves, but – most importantly – by Government ministers such as Tharman Shanmugaratnam (now Deputy Prime Minister), S Dhanabalan who was then Minister for National Development, and former Attorney General Walter Woon.
Tharman had said, on public record, that the accused “Marxists” “were not out to subvert the system.”
Dhanabalan’s resignation from the Cabinet in 1993 was, according to former PM Goh Chok Tong, because Dhanabalan “was not comfortable” with how the Government handled the “conspiracy” in 1987.
Walter Woon said he did not believe the accused were “reds” (communists).
Very senior members of the Government had, over a period of time (Dhanabalan in 1993, Tharman in 2001, Woon in 1991), doubt the validity of the Government’s case.
“As far as I am concerned, the government’s case is still not proven. I would not say those fellows were Red, not from the stuff they presented. I think a lot of people have this skepticism.”
“[The] government’s case is still not proven.”
And so, here we have the Straits Times report on the 2 June 2012 gathering at Speakers’ Corner:
What’s wrong with this picture?
Look at the headline.
Remembering the Marxist conspiracy
There are no quotation marks for the words “Marxist conspiracy”.
It is basic writing and journalism skills which tell you that one should use quotation marks if something is not proven, or is a direct quote from source, or is a claim by one party against another. The term “Marxist conspiracy” is a term invented by the government, whose case – as mentioned above – is not proven, till this day.
There are disputes and doubts about the government’s case.
Yet, here the Straits Times’ headline is published as if the “conspiracy” was true, as if it is a fact.
It is, in fact, not a fact.
It may just be a pair of quotation marks but its absence reveals the Straits’ Times declining standards and editorial incompetence.
And then look at the caption for the picture:
“Former Internal Security Act detainees…. share their experiences of a 1987 crackdown on suspected members of a conspiracy to overthrow the Government.”
“… suspected members of a conspiracy…”
That, to me, means: there was indeed a conspiracy and Soh Lung and others are the suspects. This seems to be an attempt to reinforce what is in the headline – that the “conspiracy” is a fact.
One would, in such cases, use the more accurate word “alleged”, rather than “suspected” vis a vis the detainees. But the more important point here is the assertion by the caption that there was actually a “conspiracy”. That this is a fact.
Should not the caption be instead:
“… members of a suspected conspiracy…” ?
“… members of an alleged conspiracy…” ?
It is quite unbelievable that the Straits Times would even put out a headline and a caption for the picture like that.
The decreasing standard of the Straits Times is quite appalling to behold. It doesn’t even seem to be able to practise basic journalism skills.
The Straits Times owes the former detainees and the public an apology for a misleading statement.
To put it bluntly, the Straits Times lied.
Really, the rag sheet needs a wake-up call of its own – with this latest failure coming on the back of a shameful “charity” stunt, an attempt to pull a fast one on the Workers’ Party during the recent by-election, and a generous full-page report on the losing PAP candidate of last year’s general election.
The Straits Times Chief Editor is Warren Fernandez, by the way.