Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Readers Question: Mr Brown Incident

In the past few days, some readers have wrote to me with various questions about the incident involving Lee Kin Mun or Mr Brown and Singapore's media regulators. Here is my consolidated response to the questions.

Do you think the column written by Lee was partisan?

Many people have applied various standards in deciding what is partisan. And looking at the standards the media regulators have applied to the word "partisan", many would be partisan!

To reframe this issue, a better question to ask is if the piece by Lee was balanced. To me, a balanced article is one that provide both sides of the story to enable the reader make an informed conclusion. An author can also provide his own thoughts briefly as he concludes. On this basis, I feel that the article in question was not balanced.

What would I have done if I was on the management of MediaCorp?

I would have published Lee's column, not in the Voices section of Today but in a less serious section of the newspaper. For example, this could have gone in Today's humour section since I found the article quite cheeky. I would also not have suspended him.

If this happened in the financial services industry, I would have clarified my regulator's intent for chiding a member of my team and found a win-win solution to the issue. In my dealings with regulators, I have found them to be reasonable people.

Will I stop writing for Today?

I will only stop writing if I feel I have been unfairly managed. I have now been writing for Today for about 4 years, and the newspaper has not given me any cause for complaint. Today has featured views, news and perspectives that one may miss out in other newspapers.

While it has at times incurred the wrath of certain influential persons in society, it is still a credible read. In fact, I like the paper so much I pay $10 every month to ensure the paper is delivered to my house. You should subscribe too!

What is my reaction to a gathering where fans of Lee appeared in brown T-shirts in a public place to highlight their anger about the issue and to support him?

This gathering achieved nothing apart from the unfortunate attention of the police and media mileage - resources which could have put to better use elsewhere.

Wearing the same colour, especially on a Sunday, is also quite boring and like going to school all over again. I know many young people who'd abandon their school uniforms any day so that they can look different!

Plus, the laws governing illegal assembly are very widely crafted in Singapore. In a recent case, the court punished a few persons for appearing in T-shirts which questioned some august institutions in Singapore.

To be more helpful to society and to work within the law, I would have secured the necessary approval to sell brown T-shirts to help raise funds for charity - perhaps in aid of autistic persons or Today's adopted charity - and the Singapore Press Club.

The persons who buy these T-shirts can wear them at home or when they go out, so it looks less like a school uniform.

Dharmendra Yadav

What You Can Become Matters

Today, a cousin told me how she is regretting some of the decisions she has made previously. She said that this was not the first time she was regretting such decisions. She plays these decisions in her mind regularly. And at the end of it, she sighs, "If only..."

What a regretful way to live life, isn't it? It's like waking up daily and having someone throw a pot of boiling water at you. With each passing day, the pain gets worse and worse.

We make decisions all the time. We are not always right, and it is quite foreseeable that we will take some unfortunate turns in life. But these wrong decisions are not something to fret about.

We should make the most of the destinations, where our turns lead us. When we do so, it means we are learning and growing as a person. Each journey to new and unknown places will bring us equally refreshing lessons. These lessons help us evolve as persons or perhaps even as a society.

A leader of my country once inspiringly said, "For life to have emerged from matter, matter must have had the potential for life. And for consciousness to have emerged from life, life must have had the potential for consciousness. And for human ideals to have emerged from consciousness, consciousness must have had the potential for those ideals. We wouldn’t dream unless those dreams are capable of fulfillment. It is not what you are that matters; it is what you can become. That process never ends."

Let's live the present to savour the happiness and warmth of today and the potential of tomorrow, rather than the cold, dark regrets of the past.

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, July 07, 2006

Letter: Press Club Can Help Troubled Journalists


I am writing to you concerning a recent incident involving a freelance journalist, Mr Brown or Lee Kin Mun, and our media regulators. For more information, see "The inutility of speaking truth unto power".

As a result of this incident, his column in a newspaper in Singapore has been suspended, and the journalist has described it as a "trying few days" for those around him and himself.

You have stated that the role of the Singapore Press Club "is to foster camaraderie and fellowship among media professionals". And you have invited "involvement, input and guidance" plus suggestions and views.

I encourage the Singapore Press Club to look into issues where a journalist's livelihood is affected due to such unfortunate circumstances. The Singapore Press Club can help such journalists cope with these testing times. This is not unprecedented.

When a journalist's life was threatened last year, the Singapore Press Club did not run away from its duty to aid the media professional. It highlighted its "deep concern [about] the detention in Beijing of Mr Ching Cheong, an outstanding Straits Times journalist".

Based on this precedent, the Singapore Press Club can certainly do more for journalists based in Singapore.

Perhaps, a fund could be set up to help them with loss of income. An assistance scheme could be established to help such journalists find other ways to express themselves.

This challenge is an opportunity for the Singapore Press Club, and I hope it will rise to help one from its own brethren.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independent Law Reform Body For Singapore


OVER the past year, there have been calls for law reform in several areas of law.

There have been suggestions that the Films Act needs to be updated to be in synch with our developing society and its norms. Arguments have also been put forward that various aspects of our criminal law be reviewed so as to give better rights to a defendant, especially one arrested by mistake or through entrapment.

For example, lawyer Thomas Koshy argued in Today recently on the need to provide a wrongfully accused person the right to recover his legal costs from the state.

These aspects of law reform could have a profound impact on the legal rights, liabilities and duties of many, if approved by Parliament.

Yet, these calls have been met with silence from the two bodies that bear the important burden of law reform.

The primary entity for law reform in Singapore is the Law Reform and Revision Division (LRRD) of the Attorney-General's Chambers, whose two-fold mission is "to review and reform the law to meet the needs of Singapore and its people in the 21st century" and to revise legislation "to consolidate, modernise and simplify them".

The secondary entity is the Law Reform Committee (LRC) of the Singapore Academy of Law, which makes recommendations to the Government on the need for legislation in any area of law; reviews any legislation before Parliament; and publishes selected reports available online.

Not many laymen seem to know of these two bodies. They seem to be under the impression that law reform comes under the purview of the ministries or the statutory bodies responsible for the areas of law that they enforce. As such, people write to these government bodies directly or through the Feedback Unit.

Even fewer are aware of the fact that anyone can write to the LRRD's Principal Senior State Counsel to make a suggestion for law reform. The civil servant, like all other public servants, is duty-bound to consider this suggestion and reply.

So why have both bodies not responded to issues discussed in public of late? One could consider various possible reasons.

The most obvious could be a sheer lack of resources.

A search of the Singapore Government Directory reveals that the LRRD is very lean. It is comprised of 10 persons and probably a few more unlisted junior officers. The LRC is made up of some 24 talented individuals, but each juggles multiple responsibilities and, thus, is already stretched.

Hence, these bodies have to be picky about the areas of law proposed for reform, and focus on the ones they see as important to Singapore. Inadvertently, economic priorities take precedence.

A statement on the LRRD's website seems to signal its current focus. It notes that a database is maintained to track legislative and reform efforts in other countries' jurisdictions, "particularly in the areas of financial services and corporate law, technology law and commercial law in general".

It could also be the case that the LRRD — as the in-house legal team of the Government — takes into account various political considerations in deciding what law reform to champion.

For example, changes proposed to the various aspects of our criminal law may have the effect of making the job of state prosecutors more difficult, even though their high level of competence is not in doubt.

This is not to say that reform in these areas of law will never happen.

The work of the LRC is relevant here. One of its reports reveals that, since 1994, it has championed numerous papers for consideration, and in 11 instances, outdated legislation was amended or repealed and new legislation introduced.

One of these was a paper that led to the amendment of the Women's Charter to include provisions on domestic violence and recognition of marriages of sex-changed persons.

But it is a cause for concern that some 10 papers are still pending consideration from the relevant ministries, without conclusive reply.

It is for these reasons that some commentators take the view that there is an opportunity here to establish a better-equipped and independent law reform body with a higher profile — much like the Law Commission in England and Wales.

The Law Commission is a statutory independent body to keep the law under review and to recommend reform where needed.

Its aims include helping to make the law as fair, modern, simple and as cost-effective as possible; conducting research and consultations and making recommendations to Parliament; and codifying the law, eliminating anomalies and repealing obsolete legislation.

In Singapore, this independent law reform body could combine the work of both the LRC and the LRRD. It should also more appropriately report directly to the Chief Justice who, unlike the Attorney-General, is independent.

Perhaps Singapore will look into this eventually. But for now, citizens can take satisfaction in the fact that they can write to the LRRD and hope that, one day, their suggestion will find its way into our legislation.

Dharmendra Yadav

Monday, July 03, 2006

Letter: Partisan Commentaries In Newspapers


I read your team's letter providing various guiding points on what your team might consider "partisan" columns or commentary in newspapers:
- articles that "offer no alternatives or solutions"
- articles hidden behind pseudonyms
- articles that dress up "polemics" as "analysis"
- articles that "distort the truth"
- articles of a "partisan player in politics", who "presents himself as a non-political observer"

I have included your team's letter at the end of my letter below for your convenience.

Your team did not indicate if all these points are needed before a piece is considered partisan or if at least one point is necessary. In this letter, I have applied the latter, which is the easier test to implicate one.

If this is the case, with all due respect to your team, I find your team's criteria partisan and subjective.


Firstly, please help me to appreciate the methodology used by your team to decide these criteria since your team's letter did not indicate the objective basis of such criteria.

Your criteria appears expand the natural meaning one tends to associate with the word "partisan". Vernacularly, it is arguable if the word "partisan" and "column" can co-exist since the phrase could well be redundant.

Secondly, I would like to point out the great injustice this criteria would do if it were to apply carte blanche to our newspapers.

Immediately, we will not see excerpts of speeches by our national leaders running in our newspapers.

It also does a disservice to the heritage of independent Singapore since one of our founding fathers - Mr S Rajaratnam - wrote some of his more robust published commentaries under the shadow of a pseudonym.

Your rather sharp rebuke of the commentator also goes against the respect for plurality of views, which the current government has championed on many an occasion.

It also seems to go against the spirit of diversity that readers today seek from the press in Singapore.


For these reasons and in the interest of "constructive criticism", it is also my view that these criteria need to be reviewed and subject to a consultation. Sadly, the irony here could be that mine may well be a view which your onerous criteria above perhaps class as partisan.

Nevertheless, your team owes the public a duty to show that these criteria is in synch with the current accepted standards of commentaries that our society seeks from its media.

Furthermore, since your team has welcomed alternatives, I would like to propose one.

Please allow our newspapers to carry a section called "PARTISAN", with an appropriate disclaimer. This section could then feature views that an independent committee of readers - perhaps approved by your team initially - might consider partisan. After all, it is your team that has recognised that one "is entitled to his views" and I encourage your team to translate this entitlement into a measurable outcome.

In the long run, this can be a useful outlet for featuring articles caught by your onerous and subjective criteria of partisan articles. I hope your team will consider my ideas.

Dharmendra Yadav

Letter from K Bhavani, Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, published in Today (Singapore) on 3 July 2006.

Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Making A Good Cuppa Tea

Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, specifically Ceylon tea, around the world. The Sri Lanka Tea Board desires to "make Ceylon tea the leader in the international beverage industry".

But what is the secret of making a good cup of tea?

I learnt these five simple rules from Manilal Pereira, Chief Executive Officer of Sanasa Insurance in Sri Lanka, after he, to his great horror, observed I had broken all the rules of making good tea!

These are the five simple rules he shared:
- Use good tea leaves, in particular Ceylon tea.
- Warm the cup you are using.
- When pouring water in the cup, bring the cup to the pot, rather than vice versa. This to ensure that the water in the pot stays hot.
- Let the tea brew for at least three minutes.
- Once brewed, tea should ideally be drunk without milk and sugar; this enables one to savour the real taste of tea. However, many add milk and sugar for taste.

Interestingly, George Orwell shared something similar in the Evening Standard, London, on 12 January 1946 in his essay, "A Nice Cup of Tea".


1. Use Indian or Ceylonese tea.
2. Make tea in small quantities in a china, pewter or earthenware pot.
3. Warm pot beforehand.
4. Use strong tea.
5. Put the tea straight into the pot.
6. Take the pot to the kettle, rather than kettle to the pot.
7. Give the pot a good shake.
8. Drink out of a good breakfast cup.
9. Pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea.
10. Pour tea into the cup first.
11. Drink tea without sugar.

Go on then, make yourself a good cup of tea!

Dharmendra Yadav