Unbelievable, Straits Times

Former detainee, Vincent Cheng, speaking to attendees at the Saturday event. [Picture by Lawrence Chong.]
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.

Woon said:

“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:

Picture from Martyn See

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.


21 thoughts on “Unbelievable, Straits Times

  1. Under Warren Fernandez, the “nation-building” national paper is either Incompetent or Biased, all the time in favour of autocracy.

    We should really lock him up under ISA for subverting justice and democracy in Singapore!

  2. To be fair the article itself also casts doubts on the govt’s case. They are “suspected members of a conspiracy”, not “former communists”.

    1. So is it ok if I say: “PAP did not inform public of $800k paid out to Mercer for Ministerial Pay Review”? And then go on to explain that well, the members worked voluntarily and engaged Mercer for professional advice.

    2. Shouldn’t it be members of a suspected conspiracy, rather than suspected members of a conspiracy then?

      The fact remains that the existence of a conspiracy has never been proven. If there is any conspiracy, it is that fashioned by a paranoid government to retain its power.

  3. You look at the cup and say it is half empty. ST sees the cup as half full. Who is right and who is wrong? From your previous postings, you already made up your mind that ST is biased and therefore condemn their headline. But look at the content – they did publish Tharman’s doubts. So why no credit for that? ST could jolly well have omitted to even cover the story. Should you not at least be appreciative that they did? Or would you rather they did not?

    1. The most important part of a newspaper article is the title or the photo. Because it is either one that catches the attention of the reader first prompting him to read further. Hence the fact is that the Straits Times has used a misleading headline.

    2. You are deliberately missing the woods for the trees. The significance of the whole event is to highlight the abuse of power by the PAP govt. All your sprinklings of “Tharman’s quote” etc are not sufficient to make the cup half-full. They only serve to add a repulsive taste that can be discerned by any event attendee.

  4. Yeah, but the article describes it as an ALLEGED Marxist conspiracy and even includes Tharman’s doubts. If you’re going to slam the headline and caption, at least clarify that the actual article is different lah. Else you’re guilt of disingenuous ‘selective reporting’ yourself.

    1. Large BOLD heading to frame the context and shape readers’ views. The small text embedded deep in the article for “objectivity”. Please!

    2. I am not a professional journalist, I confess, but I am a professional consumer of journalistic products.

      I would assume that any readers like me, would be keen to know the detainees’ side of the story in GREATER detail, seeing how it is an “alleged” Marxist conspiracy as reported by the paper. How about including the government’s official response to this event?

      After all, it should be a total shocker that the highest paid government in the world could be so inhumanely cruel to have locked and tortured innocent Singaporeans due to an “allegation”.

      The Straits Times article, with a misleading headline, seemed utterly bland and callous in face of such grievous transgressions of basic human rights

  5. I will call it half -full after I can drink it from the full-cup!

    Agree with Andrew here. The first impression upon reading headline is that it is spoken/written like a fact. If ST is truly taking an unbiased neutral ground, they would at least invert the commas of “conspiracy”, yet they didn’t. They choose to infer that the event is a fact, and only through reading the text, you get to ‘suspected members’. The whole premise should lie with fact that it is a “Conspiracy” , not the “accused members who are suspected to be part of the plot”. When the former is non-existing, the latter becomes irrelevant.

  6. 😆 are you angling for the ST to sue you for calling it a “liar”? If so, don’t waste your time. It won’t give the platform you are baiting for!

  7. most if not all Singaporeans know what agendas The Straits Times have in anything relating to our national nation building. The Chief Editor has someone to answer to in matter of political nature, especially concerning PAP leadership quality. If we are not careful, this newspapers will have us hating the Singaporeans who are being oppressed, and loving the Singaporeans who are doing the oppressing. I just take whatever dishonesty reporting from The Straits Times with a pinch of salt, and i salute all Singaporeans who with courage stood up and went another step with boldness which help us to preserve human’s self-respect and inherent dignity . We just HAVE TO REMEMBER TO PRESS ON OUR FIGHT TILL THE JUSTICE EQUALITY AND REAL CLEAN DEMOCRACY IS REALITY IN OUR NATION. MAJUKAN RAKYAT SINGAPURA!

  8. For those who feel I am whacking or nitpicking the Straits Times, I actually said some nice things about their reporters. I wrote about them here:



    And here is one more recent example of how the Straits Times failed in another report:


  9. I agree with Puzzled. How we live with contrary views determines the kind of society we want. I disagree with the apparent vitriol so abundantly displayed today. The Marxist conspiracy is history. Nothing I say can repay the detainees what they had to endure and wish them well. Ditto, the nay sayers.

    1. I too am confused why the police bother putting up wanted lists of suspected criminals when some of them are still not brought to justice after years. Why bother?

  10. I believe I was once told that headlines and selections of photos are not up to the decision of the reporters who wrote the piece. In other words, the editors make the call on these. If that’s the case, the reporters may well provide a fairly balanced text (which I believe this case to be), but the editors make the call on the headline, photos, where the article should be placed in the paper etc.
    They may also not be aware of the nuanced differences between Marxist Conspiracy and “Marxist Conspiracy”, although they certainly did not delete words in the article’s text that alludes to the alleged nature of said conspiracy.
    Are they biased?
    Who is “they” here? The editor(s)? Reporters?
    I would say that a critical reading of the headline and photo would seem to imply that this “they” is intent on projecting a particular image of the event. Note how a photo of a smiling detainee was used, as if to say that she is ‘sharing exciting recounts’ rather than ‘recounting terrific events’. That might be the case here, but we will never know if that was the intent.

  11. Let’s not forget that this is the SAME Straits Times that colluded with the government of the day in 1987 to present the “facts” when no alternative media was available. Do we expect more from them now? The PAP, ISD, TV stations, Straits Times, etc all colluded to present the “facts” then and they will continue to do so. Leopards do not change their spots

  12. Andrew,

    On balance, I think the ST journalists have tried their best in this article. There is one thing I see more than the headline in an article, and that is the picture. This one had a gentle, mild and smiling Soh Lung talking to young people. This one picture contradicts the main accusation of the government then, that the alleged conspirators were capable of violent overthrow of the government.

    You are never going to get ST to actually accuse the government of dishonesty or wrongful detention. I think this is about as good as it gets with ST, and probably as far as the conscientious journalists can push their editors. Personally, I am already quite happy with this article. It could have been a lot worse.

    Jimmy Lee

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