When Shawn asked me if I wanted to write about why I don’t read The Straits Times, I said yes immediately. I’d never been a big fan of the paper, but I had never had the opportunity to really sit down and think about WHY that was, until now.
The Straits Times, affectionately known by many as The Straits Jacket, has been reporting news in Singapore since before our separation from Malaysia and subsequent independence. For many Singaporeans, it has been a part of our lives whether we like it or not.
When I was in school, teachers encouraged (and when I say “encouraged” I mean more along the lines of “forced”) us to keep up with the news by reading the newspaper at least two to three times a week. We would have to do newspaper clippings to stick in journals to prove that we had done the required reading up of current affairs.
Everyone would come to school with clippings from The Straits Times – and often even the same clippings – not because we were all copying off each other, but because there was no real alternative source for us to get our news (this is before all kids lived and breathed the Internet, by the way – am I showing my age?)
And because there was no real alternative, we had no option but to swallow everything The Straits Times told us whole.
As a kid I always thought that I didn’t like The Straits Times that much because the news was boring. It wasn’t until much later, when I began to explore and read from different sources online, that I realized that the news could be pretty damned interesting if you had good journalists who were unafraid to go digging for the truth and didn’t shy away from sparking intense public debates on issues that matter.
Contrary to my initial belief, “the news” was not an exclusive thing to be bandied about by authority figures and high-brow executives a world removed from myself. “The news” was actually about real things happening in the real world that I could have an opinion about, and that I could actually voice my opinion and maybe even help bring about positive change. It was a great revelation, one that I believe has helped me grow as a person and become more involved in the society I live in.
Unfortunately, I learned none of this from The Straits Times. In fact, I learned all of this from NOT reading The Straits Times, and searching for other sources elsewhere.
On the surface, The Straits Times looks pretty damn good. Articles are (mostly) in good English, the writers are all qualified or experienced, and the paper sells well. It has also won a bucketful of awards, locally, regionally and internationally. The reports don’t read too bad as well, until you look deeper and realize just how much information you’re NOT getting, or how skewed the information can be.
Take a recent ST article as an example: the one published on the 11th of June 2010, reporting on a press conference held at the office of the Malaysian Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur.
At the press conference, M. Ravi, the lawyer of Yong Vui Kong – who is currently on death row for due to drug trafficking – urged Malaysia to intervene in the case. He expressed concern with problems in the Singaporean judicial system. He claimed that his client was being denied an opportunity to appeal to the President for clemency, as statements made by both the former Attorney-General and the Law Minister had implied that the decision to grant clemency has been taken out of the President’s hands, and that the Cabinet has already been prejudiced against Yong. (More information can be found in the article on The Online Citizen
However, the ST article, ‘S’pore death row case: KL urged to act’, gave very little real information pertinent to the press conference. Instead of delving into reasons for M. Ravi’s actions and addressing his concerns by commenting on the remarks of the former AG and current Law Minister, the article chooses to rehash old information.
It focuses on Yong’s previous appeal for presidential clemency, although the real issue has since moved on. The words read well, but the real information is sparse. Reading the article makes you feel so detached from the issue, although it is something very real and in urgent need of public attention.
The detached, clinical way it reports the facts makes you feel like there is nothing that you can do or say about it, that the issue is out of your hands and none of your business. Just leave it to the big-wigs, you’re too small to have a part of play. But not asking important questions or discussing crucial points, the article subtly discourages involvement and participation, or any real reflection upon the issue. Instead, it further encourages the practice of blind acceptance and passivity.
And that is why I don’t read The Straits Times. When I read about what’s going on in my country, I want to feel like I am a part of it all, and not just an outsider looking in.
The writer is a Film and Media studies graduate who writes regularly for The Online Citizen. You can read her blog here.