Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Venerable Venereal Straits Times

I haven't wrote in a while. But today's headlines on the by-elections in Hougang in the venerable The Straits Times (Singapore) was sufficiently venereal to motivate me to awake from my slumber. 

Compared to another friend, who almost got a stroke reading the same news, my reaction is perhaps muted.

At least three websites, whose writers have, to some extent, informed insights into the workings of the Singapore Press Holdings, have addressed the coverage of The Straits Times. If you would like to understand my reasons for taking issue with The Straits Times, you can read this link, this link and this link.

What I want to write about is why I think this is happening and why it may be the return of an old normal that readers of The Straits Times should get used to.

If the general elections coverage of The Straits Times was the beginning of a new dawn for a newspaper under a valiant editor wanting to remain relevant to a readership disenfranchised with its less than objective coverage, the Hougang by-elections coverage of The Straits Times is the rehashing of an old story by an editor fearless in driving a blunt wedge through its readership, even if it means polarising a populace frustrated by a ruling party showing signs of complacency.

In February this year, The Straits Times replaced its former editor with the honourable Warren Fernandez. Warren believes he is a true son of independent Singapore. He has a written a tome about the founding father of the People's Action Party. He has gained immensely from the meritocratic system espoused by the PAP. He has waxed lyrical about the PAP's success in managing Singapore in columns aplenty, which I once followed as a young student. Read his book, if you would like a flavour of these insights.

It is therefore not surprising for someone like Warren to think that to be loyal to Singapore is to be loyal to the PAP in pushing the agenda of the PAP. I accept he owes a great deal to the PAP system for what he is today. After all, at least until he was invited back to The Straits Times, he may well have been working in a multi-national oil conglomerate bringing home twice his current annual salary in bonuses alone.

As such, I admire his deep-seated desire, willingness and ability to want to give back to our motherland.But there is a fine line between blind faith and good faith. The coverage today of The Straits Times was a display of the former.

In my view, there was something more important that was clearly more newsworthy and deserved the front page coverage. This, the solidarity of Singaporeans from all walks of life in that pelting rain in a cause they believed in.

I once said his book "represents Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. If, as a reader, you do not like it, ignore it. Alternatively, you can choose to be engaged and offer your own version in return."

Likewise, The Straits Times is fast becoming Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. Ignore it or embrace it.

Thinking about whether this is the kind of your newspaper you want to subscribe to in Singapore is allowed.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Singapore Parliament replies on its accessibility

This was a response I got from the Clerk of Parliament in relation to certain queries I made about parliamentary proceedings in Singapore.

Since then, I note MediaCorp now makes parliamentary recordings available to its viewers much quicker than before. I am not sure why should only MediaCorp be given the complete video footages. I wonder if any other media has applied to Parliament for such recordings, and how Parliament has responded to such request.

Dharmendra Yadav


The press has full access to parliamentary proceedings and speeches made in the House. For TV and online news coverage, MediaCorp also has the complete video footages of each sitting. As the extent of press coverage of speeches made by Members is entirely a media decision, Parliament does not interfere with the coverage nor impose any restrictions.

We currently publish the Singapore Parliament Reports containing the verbatim speeches of Members on LawNet, and on our website within a week after the end of proceedings.

We regularly review the feasibility of other avenues to make parliamentary proceedings more accessible to the public and will take your feedback, including their cost considerations, into our review. While video streaming of speeches is certainly something that is on the radar, the cost issues are not small and extend into tens of thousands a month for such a service.

We value your suggestions and wish to thank you for your interest in our parliamentary proceedings.

Ms Ng Sheau Jiuan
Clerk of Parliament

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Friday, January 06, 2012

Ministerial Salary Review in Singapore


I was asked what I thought about the benchmark of pegging ministerial salaries to the top 1000 earners in Singapore. Some of these remarks were published in The Straits Times on 6 January 2012.


It is really a “no-choice” benchmark.

The Prime Minister had to deliver on a promise made in the heat of the general election: an announcement to cut political salaries. His announcement caught many by surprise, including those within his own party.

The Committee reviewing ministerial salaries was limited by its terms of reference. This was due in part to what the Prime Minister would be able to push through within his own political party.

Look at how the whole announcement on the review of ministerial salaries was carefully managed. The Prime Minister went to his own party MPs to prepare them before the committee responsible for the review was able to make public its recommendations.

The Prime Minister would have faced a lot of trouble selling the changes within his own party if the cuts had been deeper. It could have thrown the party into chaos, with possibly some ministers resigning.

As it is, we are already seeing warning signs within the party ranks. Consider what Grace Fu said recently and Lim Wee Kiak said last year.


Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State: "When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."

Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament: "If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister's ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity."


It’s really the kind of people the PAP has attracted. When the party asked all these people to join politics, they said that we are going to pay you a competitive salary, come and contribute. Now you’re turning the story around and telling them, it’s public service so you have to take a discount. Any benchmark that would have been too far away from this principle of paying a competitive salary would have been unpalatable.

If you want another benchmark, it is not going to happen with the PAP at this juncture.

Maybe, if the PAP starts attracting a different talent pool - those driven by public service rather than money - we could see further cuts in future, or even a different benchmark. But it is not going to happen now.

Plus, the PAP Government is not going to adopt any other benchmark now because that is what the opposition parties are advocating. And the PAP has never been known as a party that looks to the opposition for solutions.

If you are unhappy with the changes and want another benchmark adopted, you will need to vote in a different government because, like it or not, it is not going to happen with the PAP.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Racist remarks indefensible


On his own Facebook page, your comrade and the honourable Member of Parliament, Seng Han Thong has reportedly said: “The staff are not trained for this emergency preparedness, they know how to prevent terrorist but even this one, they are not prepared so they follow a very strict kind of SOP, so they have to be flexible, and especially to deal with different kind of emergency whether it is terrorist attack or internal, system flaw. They are not ready. I notice that the PR mention that, some of the staff, because they are Malay, they are Indian, they can’t converse in English good, well enough, so that also deters them, from but I think we accept broken English.” (emphasis mine)

I am reminded of the time when another comrade of your political party, the dishonoured Choo Wee Kiang, abused the privileges of his august office to make similar remarks in Parliament.

Your party leaders at that time were happy to be indulgent and to condone such insensitivity, which strikes at the fabric of what it means to be Singaporean. Choo remained in office, and went on to be a criminal.

Seng has suggested that his comments “were mis-interpreted”. I am not sure how. Whatever way you construe it, his remarks are downright racist.

I still take the MRT. The lack of communication skills is an observation that cannot be limited to particular races within the workforce.

Seng is a highly-ranked member of the labour movement. I am concerned that his remarks will have an adverse effect on the inclusive work policies of a listed company like SMRT.

Seng should resign from his position in Parliament and the labour movement, notwithstanding his constructive contributions to date. These should be no places for harbouring a racist.

I hope, as my Member of Parliament, you will stand up and make this request, rather than follow the example of your predecessors to tolerate such insensitive leaders.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Make Parliament More Accessible


Parliament sat to debate the President's Address from 17 October 2011 to 21 October 2011. It has been [about] five days since the debates ended. It is clear that the mainstream media has failed to provide comprehensive coverage of the debates.

For example, Parliament provides a link on its website to a special page for Parliament on Channel NewsAsia. Yet, when one accesses that link, one finds many speeches or exchanges involving Members of Parliament over the week are not even there.

From alternative sources like the Facebook pages of relevant Members of Parliament, it is clear that a good number of Members of Parliament received almost little or no coverage.

Either the editors of these mainstream media outlets felt that such speeches were not newsworthy or it was just impractical to do so (more likely the latter).

As an aged lawyer and Saint, you must appreciate the value of providing Singaporeans unfettered access to developments in the highest law-making organ of this country.

Without meaning to disrespect your wisdom on this front, I only wish to add that the benefits of such access far outweigh the costs associated with it.

In this regard, while I note and appreciate that members of the public already have hassle-free access to the public galleries of Parliament, I have a number of suggestions that I hope you will consider:

a. Set up a channel on Starhub, Mio TV or the Internet to provide live streaming or coverage, when Parliament sits;

b. Make available uncensored recordings (preferably with subtitles) of Parliamentary proceedings on parliamentary website within a day of any Parliamentary sitting; and/or

c. Publish parliamentary reports on the Singapore Law Watch website as soon as these become available.

I hope your team and you can look into these possibilities, among others, of making parliamentary proceedings more accessible or connected to lay persons like me.

Notwithstanding that you were the current Prime Minister's second choice as Speaker of Parliament, I am hopeful that your legacy as Speaker will be a Parliament of many firsts.

Dharmendra Yadav

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Monday, October 24, 2011

REACH needs new chief


A few years ago, there was a rebranding of the government’s Feedback Unit. Led by a new chief then, the Honourable Member of Parliament Amy Khor, it became Reach.

Reach plays an important role as an arm of the Executive. In its own words, its role is “to feel the pulse of the ground and keep the government apprised of key issues of concern amongst Singaporeans”.

This year, through its different leaders, the government conceded that it had failed to comprehend the concerns of the people, and it had misread the pulse of the ground on key policies.

If nothing else, this showed that Reach had failed miserably in that mandate. The only reach that Reach achieved in its restructuring was its sheer lack of reach.

Reading the speech of its chief to support a motion to thank the President for opening Parliament, one can perhaps understand why.

Khor remarked, “Online engagement will increasingly become more important with the growing number of digital citizens. It is simply impossible to engage on all sites. The government could engage on sites which allow for reasoned and constructive debate and gain traction. Netizens themselves who desire rational discourse should support such sites or else start them. They should not be afraid of being labelled 'pro government.'"

In essence, Khor seems stuck in a time-warp. She is merely reiterating a past strategy of government that has failed: we deal with online media, on our own terms, with persons who will bravely wear the badge “pro government”.

In doing so, Khor has only shown why she is a better politician reaching out to her exclusive die-hard white-wearing fans rather than a feedback chief desiring to be inclusive, regardless of how critical the views may be of government. She seems to have no misgivings polarising the digital citizenry by labelling them as irrational and destructive. Her sentiments perhaps reflect that Khor may have passed her ‘use by’ date, and why one would be hard-pressed to justify her relevance as the face of Reach.

Contrast Khor’s remarks with the more enlightened and practical approach highlighted by her colleague, the Honourable Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng.

Baey shared, “All communication media are neutral and social media is no exception. It is just another milestone in the evolution of media landscape. It is up to us to adapt and leverage on them.”

He then suggested, “The government does not have to rebut every single rumour or set the record straight for every misrepresentation made, even on the platforms it chooses to engage. Sometimes, it is better to leave the discussion open and not jump into defence too quickly or even at all. Firstly, it is not possible. Secondly, the time, money and effort expended would not be justified. Thirdly, the government should also trust in the public’s ability to make logical assessment of the information they encounter online. The government has to accept that it cannot and should not try to have the last word on every debate. Whether we like it or not, civic engagement in cyberspace has to be treated with the same level of respect and care, planned and delivered with the same competence we wish to achieve in our physical domain. Netizens expect their government to engage with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity.”

Baey speaks from the heart. He is a media veteran, in light of his track record as an artiste and communication professional. It is no surprise therefore that his views resonate with many in online media circles, including veteran journalists like Cherian George.

Being the natural charmer that he is, he has the potential to reflect the face of a government capable of engaging its citizens ‘with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity’. It is time for Baey to replace Khor as chief of Reach.

Dharmendra Yadav

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