Tag Archive | "Terence Lee"

Finance minister and Singapore Democratic Party come out winners in political debate

Finance minister and Singapore Democratic Party come out winners in political debate

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Worker’s Party played it safe, Lina fumbled, and what’s-his-name was plain horrible. And yes, the moderator said “Domination Day” instead of “Nomination Day.”

By Terence Lee

BEWARE, the gods may not be smiling on certain opposition parties this General Election, especially if the slip-up by moderator Melissa Hyak towards the end of the one-hour debate is any indication.

Some conspiracy theorists will insist that this was a deliberate attempt to “prove” the show was uncut, but let’s not go there.

The debate, screened on Saturday on Channel NewsAsia, lasted an hour, which was way too short for me. Candidates rattled off their points quickly, racing one another in a sprint to the finish line. It makes for fun TV, but a good substantive debate? I don’t think so.

But in all honesty, I think the extra time might actually hurt some of the opposition reps. Mohamed Nazem Suki, assistant secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), was a total embarrassment.

Unable to string together even a coherent sentence or two, you wonder how is what’s-his-name going to perform at the Rally or in Parliament, if he does get in by the slimmest chance?

Right now, I can’t even recall a single thing he said, and if I am a young voter getting introduced to the SDA for the first time, that’s a bad first impression.

Let’s hope he speaks better Malay.

Lina Chiam of the Singapore People’s Party emerged slightly better-off. The bad news is: She behaved like a slightly older Tin Pei Ling, the 27-year-old rookie PAP politician poked fun by netizens for her youthful exuberance.

Except that Pei Ling had more style, fashion-wise.

She often giggled nervously and sounded unsure, and there was even once where she appeared confused and zoned out. Melissa had to prompt her twice or thrice about the question of foreign workers before she rattled off a semi-coherent answer.

And God forbid, she attributed the quote “power corrupts absolutely” to her husband. Epic fail there.

To be fair to Lina: She did say some good things. But she needs a lot of polishing up if she wants to convince voters in Potong Pasir that she is a credible candidate.

Member-of-Parliament Josephine Teo comes across as being too… nice. While she has sure knowledge of the facts, she sounded like she was there to back Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam instead of standing on her own two feet.

Although she did okay at the beginning, she wasted her last two minutes of airtime going on a self-indulgent, off-topic ramble about the Singapore Story, and how it is co-authored by many people. Vincent Wijeysingha, assistant treasurer of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), questioned her assertion later on, remarking on how scores of opposition figures and activists were silenced unfairly.

As long as Vincent and Danny the Democratic Bear continue their outreach during the elections and after, I think SDP’s chances at the voting booth in this Election and the next will improve.

In a nutshell, Josephine might’ve been slaughtered if Tharman was not there.

On to Gerald Giam, a potential candidate for the Worker’s Party. True to form, he sounded like a foot soldier espousing the mantra of his party, starting every sentence with “The Worker’s Party believes that…”

I don’t think it’s awful; it’s just too safe. Which is what the Worker’s Party has become since Low Thia Khiang took the helm. Although he was calm and confident at the debate, much like Josephine, he could have spent more time talking about his party’s proposals on policy issues.

No doubt, he was right in saying that good Opposition is necessary in Parliament, but he seemed to have fallen back on that again and again, as if he had nothing else to say. Furthermore, he did not press home the point that despite having 33 percent of the votes, the Opposition only has three seats in Parliament.

I was also a bit surprised that he stopped his final ramble at the one-minute mark. Perhaps he felt he has done his job: Present Worker’s Party as a safe choice for voters. And by the way: We’re weaker than the People’s Action Party, we admit it.

Finally, we come to Tharman and Vincent. If I am the CEO of MediaCorp, I would allocate another one hour-show just for the two to slug it out, seriously.

While Vincent was the assertive bulldog raring for a fight, Tharman was the self-assured minister who appeared comfortable but not overbearing. He displayed some subtle command over the other candidates, exhorting everyone to think in Singapore’s best interest when it came to the issue of foreign workers. He reached out across the table to Gerald at times, praising the Worker’s Party for their views on increasing productivity.

He did not address criticisms about ministerial salary and legal prosecution of Opposition members, but I’m not sure if it matters to most viewers. For the politically-disinclined, these things might just pass over their heads.

But Vincent will be the one to watch. He sounded eloquent and quick-witted. He was enthusiastic, and even promoted SDP’s Shadow Budget while criticising the mainstream media, all at the same time.

He even found time to raise the issue of exorbitant ministerial salaries at least twice, but the PAP reps have totally ignored that.

Sure, the SDP cried foul over how the debate was unfair because candidates who are not contesting are not allowed to speak. This meant that Dr Chee Soon Juan, who declared bankrupt, cannot appear at the forum.

But surely they realise that putting a fresh face on television will take the party one step closer towards rehabilitating their image in the eyes of the populace, especially how Soon Juan has been demonised by the media?

As long as Vincent and Danny the Democratic Bear continue their outreach during the elections and after, I think SDP’s chances at the voting booth in this Election and the next will improve.

For a summary of the key debates, click here.

Parachute politics in Singapore

Parachute politics in Singapore

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PAP brings in two new citizens as candidates for the upcoming elections. Will this move cost them?

by Terence Lee

Photo: PETER TAYLOR / Creative Commons

POLITICAL parties here have the nasty habit of springing surprises at the eleventh hour. Candidates are announced only weeks before Polling Day, and right now we do not know where most of them are contesting.

Recently, we were blessed to know that Tony Tan and Hazel Poa parachuted from a wobbly Reform Party jet and into the arms of Uncle Meng Seng, secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party.

He announced with great fanfare that his prized catch will be contesting in Moulmein-Kallang GRC, but even that is now uncertain.

Blame it on the short electoral time frame imposed by a government who would rather get on with business and leave behind messy politics, and messy opposition parties unwilling to reveal their cards early.

But the PAP recently gave parachute politics new meaning: Two of their new candidates, Dr Janil Puthucheary and Foo Mee Har, are new citizens. Janil, a paediatrician at KK Children and Women Hospital, came to Singapore in 2001 but only became a citizen in 2008. Mee Har, the global head of premier banking at Standard Chartered Bank, also became a citizen the same year.

Netizens have roundly criticised the commitment of these candidates, but Janil seems to be hardest hit because – gasp – he did not serve National Service. They also questioned whether new citizens like them truly understand the concerns of native Singaporeans.

I, for one, would not judge so quickly. It’s just like meeting someone at a speed dating event – don’t expect to know someone well within five minutes, let alone through a pithy soundbite or newspaper article. An atas Singaporean who has lived here for fifty years may have never interacted with the poor even once in their wasted lives, whereas a new citizen, concerned about the well-being of his or her adopted society, would volunteer at Meet-the-People sessions.

So time is no indicator of empathy.

But I wonder if everyone thinks the same way? Judging by calls for Dr Janil to pick up the SAR21 and shout “arty, arty, arty!”, maybe not. And I suspect this is a vulnerability the opposition parties will exploit during the hustings. Expect them to call out Janil for not being committed to, or understanding the country enough. Mee Har will not be susceptible because she has been in Singapore since 1989.

Citizenship, to some, is a fleeting concept. So is National Service. Why expect Janil to serve NS when many of us are happier without it? There is no point in making him suffer like us.

So, given the anti-foreigner and anti-immigration sentiments pervading Singapore nowadays, I cannot vouch that they will be readily accepted by voters.

But I can be wrong.

If I were them, here’s what I’ll do: To ensure that I get into Parliament, I would play it safe. Don’t start a blog, or have a Facebook page. Don’t make any controversial statements, or be overly aggressive. Toe the party line, at least until I get elected, or become a minister. Let the anchor Member-of-Parliaments I am contesting with do the heavy lifting. That’s what GRCs are for, ain’t it?

The other alternative would be to portray themselves as the rebel in the camp, but that seems unlikely to happen, given how kosher they have been in their interviews.

They should also keep harping on their credentials. Many Singaporeans who don’t really care much about politics will be hypnotised by the fact that Mee Har is some bigwig at a big bank. And don’t forget: apathetic Singaporeans have a significant influence on voting results (as Belmont astutely pointed out), since voting is compulsory.

The only way for opposition parties to counter this would be to put on the pedestal someone more impressive, maybe the CEO of a bigger bank.

Ultimately, whether these two candidates will be a boon to the PAP depends on where their parachutes land. I suspect these characters will appeal to wealthier, cosmopolitan types – Singaporeans who spend plenty of time abroad to work or study. Much will also depend on how the opposition candidates attack their credentials, and how they deflect them. Soon we will know whether both candidates truly understand the concerns of Singaporeans.

Citizenship, to some, is a fleeting concept. So is National Service. Why expect Janil to serve NS when many of us are happier without it? There is no point in making him suffer like us.

So, in an increasingly cosmopolitan Singapore, it will matter less how much time a candidate spends in the country, and more how a candidate makes the most of his or her time here.

Message to Opposition: Don’t forget to whack the PAP

Message to Opposition: Don’t forget to whack the PAP

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NSP Sec-Gen Goh Meng Seng needs to stop scoring own goals; the enemy’s the other way.

By Terence Lee

Will Goh Meng Seng (third from left) still be smiling after the General Elections, or will his antics come back to bite him? Photo: TERENCE LEE

BACK in the good’ol days when Singapore football actually meant something, you wouldn’t see Fandi Ahmad tackle  Sundramoorthy on the pitch, even if the opponent were minnows. In fact, underdogs often raise their game when facing a far superior team.

Which makes the recent catfight between the National Solidarity Party and Worker’s Party all the more mind-boggling.

It seems that the People Action’s Party (PAP) was forgotten the week after the new electoral boundaries were made known, despite being the fattest sumo wrestler in the ring, and the most dazzling (or the most kayu) football player on the field.

Instead, you get a silly blog post by NSP Secretary-General Goh Meng Seng criticising the Worker’s Party and its arrogance, to which Low Thia Khiang, his counterpart at the WP, rebutted in Lianhe Zaobao.

Meng Seng, fresh off a press conference on Thursday when he announced NSP’s slate of candidates for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, is unapologetic.

“It’s just an emotional, sentimental post. But people mistaken it as an attack. It’s not.”

Really? Even when you said they have “lost sight” of their mission, or that they are thumbing down on other parties? Even when you insinuate that they are “arrogant”?

He continues: “When you speak your mind of course it’s going to be critical. If I don’t speak my mind I’m a politician. But when I write I’m not a politician, I’m a human.”

What shall I call you then? Uncle Meng Seng? Pops? Granddaddy? Koyok Seller?

So, here’s a veteran politician pretending to be a ranty emo-kid with a personal blog-plaything. He waved away my suggestion that he was trying to use his blog to pressure the WP to give up Moulmein-Kallang. Shrewd politician? Or am I giving him too much credit?

The usually smooth auntie-killer also trips himself up by saying: “There’s nothing (in the blog post that’s) critical about anybody. It’s just a very emotional piece. There’s nothing to do with arguing who’s right and who’s wrong.”

I rest my case.

The Opposition should start doing what they do best: Whack the PAP! Say anything, like how the Prime Minister is a pig, or how Lee Kuan Yew should go to a retirement village!

But let’s give Secretary-General Sir credit where it’s due. His party is the first to officially announce their candidates at any constituency, beating even the PAP. He has managed to attract credible candidates who left the Reform Party, which indicates some semblance of leadership ability.

His experience probably helped. While Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam comes across as a true noob with poor media management skills, Meng Seng appears slightly better.

He has another thing going for him: He looks like someone you can talk to. He’s not as dashing as PAP man Michael Palmer, but he’s cute, in a cuddly Teddy Bear kind of way.  He’s the uncle who sips kopi downstairs, Wanbao in hand. About as heartlander as you can get.

Ah Seng’s certainly someone who seems down-to-earth, or at least gives that impression. Kenneth on the other hand, seems like the opposite: He uses his poker face and impressive qualifications to hide his political inexperience.

But as much of a veteran as he is, I think the blog post is ill-timed and poorly conceived; a symptom of a deep-rooted problem within the opposition camp: Rampant egos. Calculated move or not, there is no room in politics for undisciplined emotional outbursts. It distracts both opposition parties from the real fight against the ruling party. It gives the impression of a fractured Opposition. It could be a tool used by the PAP against him.

And there’s no guarantee WP will be pressured to give up Moulmein-Kallang, despite NSP’s shenanigans and media posturing. Which means we could be headed for a three-way fight.

In fact, both parties seem to be so focused on their petty squabbles that they literally ignored PM Lee Hsien Loong’s recent jibe: “It seems to me rather exciting day-to-day changes, transformations, quarrels, squabbles, new friendships and old enmities all surfacing at the same time. I look forward to the next installment.”

Perhaps opposition members are suffering from guilty conscience. So I related my concern to a person within the NSP. And guessed what he told me? Be patient. Sure, you can tell me that, but try saying it to the thousands of first-time voters who have watched every episode of this oddball family drama, and who actually appreciate what the government has done for them so far, despite the rising costs of living. Voters are not stupid.

But as far as I’m concerned, there’s still time to get their act together.

The Opposition should start doing what they do best: Whack the PAP! Say anything, like how the Prime Minister is a pig, or how Lee Kuan Yew should go to a retirement village!

Anything but criticise your fellow opposition member in public, and pass it off as a touchy-feely moment. Even Singapore Democratic Party man James Gomez’s horrible piece on how Singapore will experience a revolution akin to the Middle East will suffice, although it sounds like empty election rhetoric that signals how out-of-touch with the ground he may be.

Yes, I’m that desperate.

More New Nation content on GE2011 here.

The Online Citizen will carry on

The Online Citizen will carry on

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But the prospects of registering and being gazetted is a reality they will grudgingly accept.

By Terence Lee

Red is hardly the right colour to use if you want to tell readers to stay calm. So we changed it to blue. Taken without permission.

YOU KNOW how it’s like to work under a terrible paymaster. You’re only staying on because you believe in the work you’re doing. Just ask the journalists at the Singapore Press Holdings or MediaCorp, who frequently grumble about the censorship that occurs within the newsroom.

The analogy, while imperfect, describes the situation facing The Online Citizen, a prominent socio-political blog in Singapore. Just today, they announced that they will carry on despite being gazetted by the Prime Minister’s Office. They will also register with the Media Development Authority.

But TOC is still taking a combative stance: They have written to the Prime Minister requesting to reverse his decision. If that fails, they will demand further explanation from him.

“We believe that the decision to gazette was unreasonable, arbitrary and incorrect, and was borne of political paranoia,” said the press release.

It added: “We are not sure what his response will be. While we remind the Prime Minister of his promise for a more open Singapore, we will not hold our breath.”

P N Balji, the former editorial director at MediaCorp, does not see registration as a death knell for The Online Citizen.

“If TOC believes in what it is doing, then it should not give up. It will face a squeeze on funding. But that is life in Singapore,” said the veteran journalist, who used to run The New Paper and later Today.

He also believes that TOC can still continue operating as usual, including reporting about the upcoming General Elections. They might have to watch their backs though.

Registration might bring an eventual end to this unofficial blacklist against TOC, since it has acquired some form of legitimacy as a result. The government may become more willing to engage in an organisation that has legal presence.

“I see this as a warning sign,” he said of the government’s actions. “It is a signal to TOC that it will act if it has to.”

Balji acknowledged that the government’s message may have been flawed. And people will invariably ask: Why is TOC targeted and not others?

As if on cue, TOC’s latest press release raised the same point.

“These are issues everyone in Singapore talks about; things we all care about. If the very act of providing a platform, on which these topics can be given a good airing, is considered a jaunt into politics, then everyone in Singapore is a political association, every kopitiam on the island a political platform,” it mentioned.

So far, TOC is neither registered as a business or society. In fact, when it tried applying as a business in 2009, the application was rejected, and it was asked to register under the Societies Act instead.

Since then, they have not done so.

Attempts by TOC to reach out to the government have often been turn downed or gone unacknowledged. Most recently, when it invited the PAP to its Face to Face forum, they did not show up.

Past attempts to include the voice of the ruling party in its articles have also been rejected.

Registration might bring an eventual end to this unofficial blacklist against TOC, since it has acquired some form of legitimacy as a result. The government may become more willing to engage in an organisation that has legal presence.

Besides, clamping down further by suing TOC’s pants off may cost the government too much political capital.

Or maybe they are just waiting till after the General Elections.

Finding Farquhar’s backyard

Finding Farquhar’s backyard

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Archaeologists race against time to excavate a nondescript alley, hoping to uncover the home of the first Resident of Singapore.

Photo story by Terence Lee

  • Volunteers spend the entire day digging in the pits looking for artifacts. Displaced soil are swept into buckets and dumped onto sieves to ensure that nothing is missed out.
  • Artifacts are categorised in an abandoned room in the Old Supreme Court so that they can be processed more easily later on.
  • 03: This artifact, according to Chen, could be a Buddhist statuette from the Temasek era.
  • All the dug-up soil had to go somewhere: Aaron Kao, 31, loads earth onto a wheelbarrows and drops them off in a pile to the side. The deeper the pit gets, the larger the pile.
  • Puddles of water form at the bottom of the pit after heavy rain, which is a frequent dampener to the archaeologists’ efforts. Sometimes, Chen and team would cease early and come back the next day, since digging has to end by 7pm.

RAIN BROKE from the evening sky, drenching archaeologist Lim Chen Sian as he scrambled to get up from the pit. The ragtag team of artifact hunters huddled under a makeshift tent, competing for space against wheelbarrows, baskets, and seives.

A packet of soon kway was passed around, leftovers from afternoon tea. Soothing operatic music blared from a stereo set.

Once again, their excavation work in a small alley between City Hall and the Old Supreme Court was halted.

“So, what do you want to talk about?” said Chen, weary from a day’s work. His white shirt was soiled in mud, a spade in his backpocket. Surveying the situation, he decided to call it a day as the sky was darkening.

“No money to afford floodlights,” quipped the 34-year-old.

Chen’s work here was almost done. His team was about to conclude a one-month dig that started on November 2nd. They were well within the deadline, before the twin buildings will be redeveloped as the National Art Gallery.

This place was chosen for a special reason: Historical documents and title deeds indicated that William Farquhar, the first Resident of colonial Singapore, lived around this area.

Although Chen’s hope of landing right in Farquhar’s backyard has dissipated, they still uncovered over a thousand pieces of historical artefacts: Coins, ceramics, and figurines.

The items date from 14th Century Singapore onwards, up to colonial Singapore when the area was designated as bungalows for wealthy European merchants. But those gave way to the Grand Hotel de l’Europe, then a rival to Raffles Hotel, which still stands today.

Now, a huge gaping pit is all that remains in that small strip of land. An excavator guards the mouth of the alley, ready to fill her up with soil.

More work remains for Chen and his team of 6-15 local archaeological enthusiasts. Research will be conducted on the discovered artefacts to determine their place of origin, and how they ended up here. Facts can then be inferred about the lives of historical Singapore’s inhabitants.

“Everyone knows Sir Raffles,  Lee Kuan Yew and all these big, famous people. With archaeology, we’re stripping away all these to find out how was life like for a normal person like you and I in past eras like the 1960s.”

“There’s actually plenty to dig for in Singapore. Modernity keeps moving forward.” – Lim Chen Sian

Such archaeological digs are valuable in uncovering additional layers of history about old Singapore, he added, especially the period before it was colonised. Lessons from the past could teach us about our future and perhaps shape our national identity.

“There’s actually plenty to dig for in Singapore. Modernity keeps moving forward,” said Chen. He explained that present day Singapore could become the subject of future archaeological expeditions.

But more can be done to support archaeology in Singapore, he added.

“Let’s say if you file your taxes, you fill up various forms and its quite straightforward: you tick it off and that’s it. Over here, archaeology is still pretty much in the grey as there are no established rules for it.”

Delays are caused when there are negotiations between various stakeholders, a process which could be sidestepped with clearly-established rules found in many developed countries and even China.

Convincing skeptical stakeholders about archaeology’s value is another challenge that Chen faces. Economic issues like jobs and healthcare are topmost on the civil servant’s minds, which may make archaeology a tough sell.

“The good news is that we have the support of the National Heritage Board and the National Art Gallery people. A lot of them are very enthusiastic about this project and most sympathetic about our cause,” he said.

Plenty of passion also comes from the endless supply of volunteers that support Chen’s team. Students, teachers, and even the random passer-by can be seen digging with spades and pick-axes. But relying on them can be tricky because they come and go. When new people come in, they have to be retrained.

But despite the growing support, Chen remains measured in assessing the strides that archaeology has made in Singapore. There is yet to be a full-fledged archaeological institution here, which he hopes will be set up within his lifetime.

“Things doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere since 2002, but maybe I’ve nothing to complain about because I’m still digging. Nobody’s shutting us down, so that’s the good news right?” said the lone full-time Singaporean archaeologist.

If you’re interested to volunteer for future digs, drop Chen Sian an email at shien [at] seaarchaeology.com.


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Skype to acquire phone app company Qik; Singaporeans lent a hand

Skype to acquire phone app company Qik; Singaporeans lent a hand

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Local NUS interns contributed to app development during their stints at Qik office in Silicon Valley.

By Terence Lee

Elisha Ong tests out the Qik app at the Yosemite National Park with his Russian colleague. Picture by ELISHA ONG.

FOR Elisha Ong, 24, the moment felt zen.

The Singaporean was in Yosemite National Park, California, making a video call to a Russian colleague in Moscow. Awakened by the cold at 5am in the morning last May, he wore thick layers of jackets, a beanie and headed out.

He showed his colleague around the Park, while the Russian showed Ong around his office.

“That moment displayed the tremendous power of video communications in breaking geographical and time boundaries,” he said in grandiose terms.

No big deal, you would say. But considering that Ong was the lead designer for Qik, which was the app he used to make the call, he had every right to feel ecstatic. It was his baby.

Today, he has another reason to feel like a proud father: Internet phone giant Skype has entered into an agreement to acquire Qik, which was also the name of the company he interned at together with five other NUS students. The deal, according to one source, is said to be worth over US$150 million (S$194 million).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demonstrated Qik at the National Day Rally Speech in 2008.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demonstrated Qik at the National Day Rally Speech in 2008.

“Skype and Qik share a common purpose of enriching communications with video, and the acquisition of Qik will help to accelerate our leadership in video by adding recording, sharing and storing capabilities to our product portfolio,” said Tony Bates, Skype CEO.The move was announced at the second day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Qik is a phone app for all major mobile platforms that allows live video streaming and video calls. From just 600,000 users at the beginning of last year, the figure has ballooned to more than 5 million.

While Ong was there, he led a team to redesign Qik’s user interface to incorporate video calling, then a new feature. He was also involved in marketing campaigns and overhauling the company website.

Scott Png, 23, the only one still in Silicon Valley, is a customer support specialist who resolves problems for querying users.

Both are a part of NUS’s Overseas Colleges programme, which has been sending students to Qik since 2008. Under the programme, NUS undergraduates get a chance to study entrepreneurship courses in locales like Beijing, Sweden and Bangalore, and of course, Silicon Valley. At the same time, they get valuable work experience at start-up companies.

Three others interns assisted in Qik’s social media campaign under the NUS-MDA Singapore Hollywood Attachment Programme. They are videographer Farkhan Salleh, 25; and social media specialists Liyana Sulaiman, 22, and Farhan Hamid, 24.

In their own ways, Singapore’s home-grown talents are already contributing to the success stories of technology companies abroad.

The challenge now is to replicate these same breakthroughs at home and egg on Singapore’s technopreneurs to create the next Big Thing.

Straits Times’ reach dropping

Straits Times’ reach dropping

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But print newspapers still dominant despite high Internet penetration rate.

ByTerence Lee

News speak

Circulation: A newspaper’s circulation refers to the number of newspapers that are distributed each day.

Readership/reach: Readership figures, which are usually higher than circulation, measures how many individuals read a newspaper, either on a daily or weekly basis.

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“I prefer print newspapers because all the news is already presented there already, I don’t need to look for them elsewhere. Anyway, looking at the computer screen for too long is a bit tiring also. But since the hall I stay in has no newspaper, so I’ll read online.” — Mr Martin Koh, 24, engineering student at NTU

“Reading news online is more convenient for me because I’m online everyday, so I can open a new tab on my browser and visit the Channel NewsAsia website to read. With the actual hard copy, I actually have to spend time to find out which page to flip to.” — Ms Tan Xiangwei, 20, marketing assistant


HERE’S a story you won’t see on the pages of The Straits Times: Singapore’s flagship paper has been on slow decline in reach and circulation over the past decade.

While the paper engages in an annual exercise of using the Nielsen Media Index to boast about its fantastic readership figures (typical marketing spiel, no doubt), a deeper analysis gives a more nuanced picture.

From 2002 to 2010, Straits Times’ daily reach among Singaporeans over 15 has dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent, according to the Index conducted through the years.

Circulation figures, revealed in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH is Straits Times’ parent company) annual reports, also showed a decline from 390,363 at the turn of the millennium to 365,800 this year – hardly flattering.

But no doomsday scenario is forthcoming. Journalists in the mainstream papers more or less have secure jobs, unless they mess up big time or piss off some big shots in government. Nice bonuses seem to be on the cards for them too, judging by the healthy economy.

While a smaller proportion of Singaporeans are reading the printed copy of the Straits Times, raw readership figures have held steady. The Index reported that daily readership has ballooned from 1.32 million five years ago to about 1.4 million in 2009.

“…it tells you about their priorities. Condo – important. Information? Well, if it defaces my condo marble, I’ll say no.” – Ang Peng Hwa

This phenomena of falling circulation and reach versus rising raw readership can be explained by population growth. The daily paper might have seen more readers, but the growth is not bigger than the change in population.

Despite the apparent stagnation in print readership, the latest Index revealed that only 27 percent of Singaporeans read online news daily. This is a paradox considering how wired, or wi-fied, Singaporeans are.

Some observers have noted a lack of online publications that does thorough news coverage as a reason why readers are not flocking online. But this does not account for the fact that even mainstream media websites are struggling to capture eyeballs on the Internet.

The Straits Times website, for example, only received visits from 4.3 percent of Singaporeans last year.

Comparing apples with apples, general Internet use in Singapore pales in comparison to other wealthy countries like South Korea and Japan, said Professor Ang Peng Hwa of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University.

He cited the statistic that nine out of ten condominiums were more concerned about the appearance of the residences than getting the Next Generation National Broadband Network.

“So it tells you about their priorities. Condo – important. Information? Well, if it defaces my condo marble, I’ll say no. So I’m a little bit puzzled by the high percentage of people rejecting that,” he added.

Ang noted, however, that no study has been done on this phenomena locally. But he highlighted some general trends.

“Broadly speaking, high Internet use in a society is linked with strong civil liberties or how much people trust one another,” he said.

Culture also has a major influence. South Koreans, for example, have a tendency to help one another on the Internet. That trait probably contributed to the success of OhMyNews, a citizen journalism website where readers double as reporters, often without monetary reward.

For now, it seems that the newspaper industry in Singapore is still healthy. Today newspaper, a daily tabloid run my MediaCorp, has seen rising readership and reach over the past few years, although it is still nowhere near the level of The Straits Times.

And while other SPH papers like The New Paper and Lianhe Zaobao are losing ground, new bilingual publication Mypaper is picking up the slack, registering strong growth.

Overall, daily English newspaper readership has held steady at about 50 percent over the past decade, although daily newspaper readership as a whole has declined 15 percent, from 87 percent in 2002 to 73 percent now.

Could all this change with the introduction of tablets like the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab? Each of them have sold over one million units globally within the first month of their respective launches, signalling the arrival of the next computing revolution.

If Singaporeans pick up the habit of reading news on these devices, then perhaps we can finally witness a shakeup in the newspaper industry over the next few years.