OB Markers

Originally posted on Facebook:

If you read ex ST editor Cheong Yip Seng’s memoir OB Markers, you’ll hear some very interesting things about LKY’s perspective on the media. Two things come to mind:

1: When the Israeli PM Chiam Herzog visited Singapore, the Malay press in Malaysia was livid, and wrote very angry things. LKY was very angry that ST didn’t sufficiently address this- ST was guilty of NOT helping Singaporeans see just how volatile international relations could be.

2: He was upset when there was a photo of a large, happy family used in some caption or campaign, because he thought ST was promoting the idea that large family = good. This was when the whole “stop at 2” thing was going on.

There are many more instances, but the point I’m making is- LKY held the Straits Times to some really tight standards. He considered them responsible for influencing the impressionable minds of everyday Singaporeans.

On this point I am in complete agreement with LKY. A headline is never non-deliberate. Or to be more precise, no editor can ever use the “I never think” or “I wasn’t being deliberate” excuse for a headline, because every headline has consequences on the way people make sense of things.

So when I see something like “response to Anton Casey highlights negative online behaviour”, even if it’s just the headline of a “Voices” article, I see irresponsible journalism. Either the mainstream media has an agenda that’s eager to paint online behaviour as something negative (did you see the ridiculous “Tweet Storm” nonsense?), which is small-minded bias and makes Singapore a more divided space, or they don’t put a lot of though into how their work affects the way people think.

LKY argued strongly against both counts, and I bet my cats that if LKY were a young opposition member today (as he once was), he would say the same thing. When Mary Lee wrote about “the great paper chase”, he got her in trouble for it- not because he disagreed with her perspective, but because he felt it was irresponsible of her at a time where people ought to have been focused on technical abilities. Today, we’re facing the opposite situation- we need more Mary Lees. We need higher quality thinking and higher quality discourse from ALL sides of the table, and it’s scary how people would rather call each other names instead.

You could say that all of this is overly pedantic, and that it doesn’t really matter, but I think one of the most important lessons of history is that complacency destroys the greatest of empires.


PS: I know the caseygate and tweet storm cases might not be the best of examples, but i don’t have time to hunt own others right now. I’m sure you can think of more examples over the years- the picture of the malay boys acompanying the increase in crime stats, the “vox populi” article, etc etc.


We all need to hold ourselves and each other to higher standards