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The Straits Times and the language of a jilted lover

The Straits Times and the language of a jilted lover

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Well, it appears that our national broadsheet is not getting anybody’s love and attention these days.

By Belmont Lay

Leslie Fong's commentary in The Straits Times' on April 28, 2012. He sounds like a jilted lover.

The above piece, published on April 28, 2012, is written by Leslie Fong, who used to be the former editor of The Straits Times.

He is now the Singapore Press Holdings’ senior executive vice-president for marketing, which means that he got promoted.

Nonetheless, after reading it, there are at least three things that can be said about Leslie’s commentary.

1. Leslie has adopted the language of a jilted lover.

He basically devotes 72 square column inches to wailing out loud about how PAP ministers these days are bypassing The Straits Times to make announcements directly on social media, such as Facebook.

And he reasons this will kill effective governance in the future.

This turn of events is completely new and somewhat alienating for the flagging national broadsheet: The Straits Times suddenly realises that it is the baggy-breasted, unwanted and unloved wanton subject it always was.

Imagine that! After all these years of being subjected to the ruthless thrusting of the ruling regime! And now spurned!

Well, very rightly so. Because with Facebook showing up on the scene – 18, legal, nubile and able to do splits- she is a game changer.

Very simply, Facebook lets ministers communicate what they want, when they want. They don’t have to fear their message end up distorted.

I mean, who’s to blame?

Put yourself in the shoes of the ministries, Leslie.

In the past, ministries could only rely on the mainstream media to get their message across.

And the ministries obviously have always got their own little agenda to propagate.

But whenever they pass the message to The Straits Times, you guys think it is your duty as reporters to rewrite their press releases beyond recognition, and hence, miss their point.

You used to get away with doing this a lot because there was no other means for ministries to get the message across otherwise.

Yes, I do admit, I’ve seen some of the ministries’ press releases. They do indeed look like they were written by people who are long-winded and spend their time clutching pencils between their buttocks.

But I would say, you folks at The Straits Times probably did the rewriting ever so often partly because it was your bargaining chip to ensure that ministries cajoled you guys a bit once in a while, no?

And if the ministerial decision now is to bypass The Straits Times, it’s probably because the ministers think you guys always had the tendency to make a hash out of everything.

Fair game, I say.

2. Second, the basis of Leslie’s argument is simple enough to follow: The Straits Times, as part of traditional media, has a reach that fragmented social media doesn’t.

Hence, The Straits Times is instrumental in getting everybody on the same page with its agenda-setting capabilities.

Sounds nice and tight, no?

Well, unfortunately, no.

Because if Leslie prides his readers as being the sophisticated sort, he should realise by now that
a. sophisticated people either don’t read The Straits Times or
b. sophisticated people read The Straits Times on top of other newspapers, magazines and blogs that come through the Internet or otherwise.

The Straits Times is only good for preaching to the converted who buy the whole two-bit, nation-building, consensus-based, communitarian, nation-before-self hocus pocus.

Therefore, brought to its logical conclusion, Leslie’s thesis is but an unconscious insult on the intelligence of the people who consume only traditional media fare.

The point is, anyone who reads The Straits Times exclusively is dull and simple-minded and prefers to be unmolested by the richness and complexity of real world information that is streamed through other sources, particularly the Internet.

3. Last but not least, the idea that The Straits Times is where national debates about important issues take place is a load of crap.

Remember what happened with the casino debate?

Oh yes, that was forgettable. Because after all that was said, the casinos were built anyway.

And remember the big CPF debate? The one where people were speculating whether CPF monies belonged in the sovereign wealth fund?

Oh wait… I’m sorry, my bad. That didn’t happen because The Straits Times is not very accommodating towards investigative journalism…

So, that means, there wasn’t any debate at all.

But what happens if The Straits Times increasingly cannot serve the interest of the ministries?

Will they turn on each other?

I don’t know.

All I know is that The Straits Times has overstayed its welcome as an institution.

It has monopolised news coverage for too long mainly because of an arcane press law that made the barriers to entry obscenely high for other media companies to enter the market.

Competition is not necessarily good. But neither is the situation we’re in right now.

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