SPH: An insider speaks

I had no illusions about the independence of the local media when I first started my job  in StraitsTimes, under SPH.

I knew that my work would be edited, and possibly censored for political safety, and I was mostly fine with that – no media channel anywhere in the world is entirely free from some form of editorial trimming, after all. But there is such a thing as a free press but certainly not one in Singapore.

What I didn’t bargain for was individual self-censorship, unspoken policies and rules, and the stoutness with which people swallowed their journalistic dignity and integrity (because it does exist, even strongly, in some places) to toe the company line. Incredible as it seems, reporters in Singapore do have the same fierce pride in their work as reporters anywhere else; only pitifully and sadly they cannot demonstrate their beliefs. After all its a job.The omnipotence of the CPF.

Its on the cards that there will be a general election in 2010. It’s hard for me to swallow the indignation I feel whenever I see the local media doggedly ignoring its news sense. We have seen it all before. We will see it again. And again. We see it every day.

Articles and TV programmes are edited to balance out pro-opposition views; awesome camera opportunities – like the opposition rallies – are studiously left out of media coverage; banal and unfair quotes and tactics are highlighted and headlined simply because they are tools of the ruling party and the lap-dog media will comply.  But the truth will out. The voting public are not as blind as they seem. For those that WILL get the chance to vote, that is.

There are many things journalists see that the eyes of the public are not privy to, and that we would like to report on but can’t. Please remember that when you read an article or watch a broadcast that seems particularly, emetically subjective.

And help spread the word that a lot of us in the media are sorry that we can’t do the job we want to. It may not mean a lot to you, but it sucks for us that for every day, people’s opinions of us plummet – despite the fact that we work our asses off in 14-hour days with no breaks on weekends or public holidays to bring you OUR (or it THEIR) version of the news. We are just doing a job..for THEM.

And for those who think it’s as easy as quitting your jobs and following your conscience – grow up. This is a job. It puts food on our tables. We can all get up and leave, but it’s ridiculously easy to replace us with more party-line-spouting drones. And it’s also likely that we’re doing something about it, in our own little ways, even if it’s as small as writing about and expressing our dissatisfaction with the system from the inside. But we cant tell you about it.

After all, walls have ears inside here too. And some of those ears are positioned to hear everything, sometimes for some who want to just get on with company at the expense of dobbing their own friends. But that is another sad story.

Clearly the pressure coming from the head is overwhelming, and it is no surprise whatsoever that that pressure should translate down the chain, so that the executives chastise the editors, the editors chastise the journalists, and so on, if anyone steps out of line, and that perpetuates self-censorship because ‘you might as well mutilate your own article before they get to it, and in any case there’s no point in drawing attention to yourself’.

Will it make some people squirm after reading this.

Doubt it. There is no soul.
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This was originally published on Gayle Goh’s blog here

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