In the year 1982, I was a participant of a Pre-U seminar held at NTU where Pre U students discussed social issues of the day. In those days during my time, those presenters had to camp in the hostel for few days. It’s usually held during the school holidays.
Recently, a 17 year old Pre U student made waves when he rebuked our leader who had attended the seminar. Prominent public figures from the public and private sectors are usually invited as guest speakers to address the participants.
I remember vividly how our late Mr S Rajaratnam, DPM and foreign minister who was one of the VIP speakers addressing the participants then. He was talking about the free press.
Mr S Rajaratnam started his speech by relating a story to us. He said that an eminent archbishop was found in a hotel room with a half naked woman. It was headline news. It was a fact and the truth. But when the reader read further, the woman was actually his legally wedded-wife.
Mr Rajaratnam said that if the media had reported the news as the archbishop was with his wife in a hotel, no one would be interested to read. But when it was reported that the respectable archbishop was found with a woman in Hotel 81, circulation figures soar. People just love to read juicy scandals especially if it involves an archbishop with a woman in a hotel!
In both instances, the media was reporting the truth but only half truth with a mischievous slant in the second scenario! In this case, to boost up readership figures.
Former DPM and foreign minister S Rajaratnam was an accomplished journalist himself before he became a politician. He knew what he was talking about. The power of the media and the printed word can make or break a man’s integrity and reputation indeed. In those days, there was no Internet or New Social Media. The main stream media was king.
Today, it’s different. There are many other sources of news besides the traditional main media. For more than thirty years, it’s my normal routine to religiously read ST without fail. Not anymore. Of course, the two mosquito tabloids are no go due to their penchant for sensational reporting. I have also removed all the related iPhone apps. I now depend on online yahoo news which is more reliable. I also read BBC or Guardian and many others which are more balanced and professional in their reporting.
By now, we have read about the on going spat between WP and the main media on the Hougang By- election coverage. Is the main media biased or not, the readers ought to know very well. If it’s a spade, it’s a spade. Nobody can fool everybody all the time.
Look at the latest statement from our newly minted Hougang MP Ah Huat. He claims that the media has misled readers by half truths. Of the eight companies he closed down within twelve years, only three were directly related to him. The fourth was a dormant company. The other four were all under the NTUC umbrella of companies. He just made a statement of facts without much fuss or accusations except to say “The Pen is mightier than the sword and the media has a duty to wield the pen responsibly and not present untruths or half-truths.”
I forgot to mention that Mr Rajaratnam asked the Pre U seminar participants back in 1982 – about 30 yrs ago, why when you go to court to give evidence, you will have to swear or take the oath of “telling the truth, the whole truth nothing but the truth?”. He remarked why not just swear to tell the truth but why the need to emphasize “the whole truth, nothing but the truth?”. That’s because the court doesn’t want half truths or heresay from witnesses. The court wants the whole truth nothing but the whole truth. As simple as that.
Is our local media practicing precisely that? Do they have a moral conscience and social responsiblity? The readers know best. In today’s instant Internet information, the mainstream media risks getting irrelevant if it continues with its half truth and mischievous slant reporting ethics.
The main stream media can talk or deny until the cows come home. It’s the readers that matter. They will know what’s happening. Why then an ex SPH editor of 30 yrs experience set up a FB to rally all to boycot the SPH? Its obvious that they didn’t fulfill their role well.
Do we need to say more? Let the readers be the ultimate arbitrators.