“Were they helping to clarify and reject online rumours, or were they helping to spread them or even create them?” Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim asked on 9 July 2013 in Parliament.
He was referring to what he described as “prominent members of the online community” and some online postings during the period when S’pore was covered by the haze. (See here.) He cited several examples of “rumours” being propagated online to justify the government’s introduction of new Internet censorship regulations.
I wrote a piece to rebut the minister. Read it here: “Yaacob Ibrahim’s opportunism and cheap shots“.
Taking pot shots at the online community has been quite the norm, compared to the government’s attitude towards the mainstream media. As far as the mainstream media are concerned, ministers heap praises on them. Former minister for Information and Communications, Lui Tuck Yew, described the mainstream media as “a trusted source” which is “accurate, timely and balanced in its reporting”. (See here.)
But there are enough instances to show that Mr Lui’s praises of the mainstream media are not as deserved as he might think.
In June, the government mouthpiece, Straits Times, and its owner – Singapore Press Holdings – were issued a “stern warning” by the Attorney General for conducting an illegal by-election poll.
On 12 July, the Straits Times again contradicted its own report on Yaacob Ibrahim’s accusations against blogger Ravi Philemon. Questions were raised about the report – see here – but there has been no response from the reporter or the paper.
Also on 12 July, this report appeared in the Straits Times. It was a report of a blog post by the National Development minister, Khaw Boon Wan. (Read his full blog post here.”)
The report’s headlines said: “‘Overwhelming response’ from locals applying to be crane operators”. But all that the report said – and indeed Mr Khaw’s blog post said – was that the “overwhelming response” was actually “enquiries” by “Singaporeans eager to find out more about the job.”
Being eager to find out about a job is not the same as applying for the job, as the headline claimed.
This is what the Straits Times’ report itself said:
“In his blog, Mr Khaw said the Building Construction Authority received “an overwhelming response” of more than 1,200 enquiries from Singaporeans eager to find out more about the job.”
There have been many instances of such shoddy and below-par standards of reporting by our mainstream media in recent times, especially.
The latest incident happened only 2 days ago, when the double-murder of a man and his son took place in Kovan. As the police were investigating the incident, the Straits Times put out this report with this headline:
The report said:
“A “short, fat” man in his 50s could be the person police are looking for in connection with the Kovan double murder.
“Chinese morning daily Lianhe Zaobao said on Friday that the suspect was a man in his 50s. Evening dailies Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News also said the suspect was in his 50s, and added that he was “short” and “fat”.”
The rumour was also carried on other Straits Times portals – such as STOMP:
The report was repeated on another of the Straits Times portals, entertainment site Lollipop. (See here.)
The suspect, Mr Iskandar Rahmat, is 34-years old.
He is neither “short” nor “fat”.
Here is a picture of Iskandar (with head bowed):
What we have here is then this: a rumour was apparently started by the Chinese press – these were Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily, according to what the Straits Times said.
The rumour was then carried and propagated by several Straits Times portal, including its main website, and its satellite sites, STOMP and Lollipop.
Does this not strike you as awfully similar to what Mr Yaacob Ibrahim charged blogger Ravi Philemon for having done – reposting a “rumour” about the haze? (See here: “Ravi Philemon spreading rumours? Or ministers trying to score political points?“)
Ravi was castigated quite publicly indeed – with the minister mentioning him twice in his attacks on Ravi during a speech the minister was making in Parliament.
In the same speech he made, Yaacob Ibrahim said:
“[We] expect high standards in the physical world of news reporting. Why are we not expecting the same standards from those reporting news online?”
If Yaacob Ibrahim means what he says about expecting “high standards in the physical world of news reporting” – which I presume he means the mainstream, professional media – then he perhaps should put his money where his mouth is and speak up as forcefully as he did – when he attacked Ravi and the other “prominent members of the online community” – when the mainstream media falls short as well.
The reach of the mainstream media is much wider and more far-reaching than many of the blogs of these so-called “prominent members of the online community”. In any case, Yaacob Ibrahim had already introduced and rammed through new censorship regulations to stifle the reach of these blogs.
Instead, Yaacob Ibrahim should show that he is fair in his treatment of the media – whether new or traditional.
But will he?
Will we see him speak up on how the Chinese papers and the Straits Times had spread the false rumour about the Kovan suspect? Or the many other times when the press here fell way short of the “high standards” Yaacob Ibrahim expects of them?
In Yaacob Ibrahim’s own words:
“Were they helping to clarify and reject online rumours, or were they helping to spread them or even create them?”
We did not even see Yaacob Ibrahim speak up when the Straits Times broke the law and conducted an illegal by-election poll.
Thus, I’m not holding my breath that the minister will speak up when the mainstream media put out false information.
And oh, yes, that illegal by-election poll? It was also inaccurate and in fact wrong.