“It would be a great disservice to Singaporeans if we were biased” – ST editor Warren Fernandez tells Select Committee on online falsehoods

Senior editors of The Straits Times and Mediacorp addressed the parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods (DOFs) today and said that it does mainstream media outlets no justice to be pro-Government since the public have a wider variety of new sources, in today’s age of social media.

The editors expressed their views after panel member, Nominated Member of Parliament Chia Yong Yong suggested that trust in mainstream media “is still high but not as high as it used to be”. Noting that there is a perception that the mainstream press is pro-Government and this has led to the “erosion of trust” in the press, she said:

“On the ground, there would have been some erosion of trust. There is a perception in certain quarters that the mainstream press is pro-ruling party, or pro-Government, and in some quarters they say mainstream media has now swung the other way.”

Mediacorp’s editor-in-chief Walter Fernandez responded that the wide array of news sources that are now available have caused readers and viewers to have “moved on significantly”. This has caused the mainstream press to “fight to earn their trust on a daily basis”, he added:

“Before the social media advent, there were far fewer brands of news sources. These were larger, more dominant and enjoyed a higher degree of trust.
“The significant fragmentation of the audience has left them with a significantly wider choice … We are judged now quite differently by the expectations of an audience that has moved on significantly, and we have to fight to earn their trust on a daily basis now.”
“In that sort of environment, against that sort of landscape, it does us no justice to want to be ‘pro-A’ or ‘pro-B’ in that sense.
“Our fundamental premise is we have to provide accurate, contextual and timely information to audiences and allow them to make up their minds.
“Ultimately … (in) moments of crisis, we see people coming back to mainstream media. That speaks to the trust there is within our organisations and the trust Singaporeans hold up the two mainstream media companies with.”

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez echoed these sentiments and said that it would ultimately be a disservice to Singaporeans if they were biased:

“Over the last five, 10 years we’ve tried extremely hard to be fair, balanced and objective because we see our role as not trying to play up one party or the other, but to give our readers as much information as they can to make decisions for themselves.
“If we were biased, we would be clearly called out on social media. It would backfire and affect our credibility, so we wouldn’t be inclined to do that. I don’t think it does anybody any service if we tried to … it would be a disservice to our readers, a disservice to our journalists, and ultimately I think a disservice to Singapore.”

The senior editors’ comments come as Singapore maintains a low position in the annual World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders each year. In 2017, Singapore took the 151st place, amid persevering beliefs that the mainstream media has links to the Government and the ruling party.

On the topic of censorship, the ST editor told the Committee that a crucial distinction must be made between the “exercising of judgment by editors, and censorship or self-censorship”. He said:

“Before we publish anything, we would want to assure ourselves that the content we are putting out is not libelous, unfair or biased…it’s us exercising responsibility.
“We recognise it’s a duty, and we make judgment calls and we take constant feedback from many sources – newsmakers, readers, organisations…that’s the critical role a responsible media organisation would play.
“If you’re going to have a meaningful exchange and debate, you need informed decisions. It’s not a matter of every view being put out there, and have a slugfest, and expect sweetness and light to emerge.”

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, another panel member, asked the editors to shed light on how they internally handle falsehoods and mistakes.

Channel NewsAsia’s chief editor of digital news, Jaime Ho, shared that in such cases, there would be “full transparency” in explaining why the mistake was made and in reporting the actual truth, while Walter Fernandez added that there are multiple checks within the newsroom for potential errors.

Asserting that there is “zero tolerance” for falsehoods, “whether low or high impact”, he added: “If we do want to differentiate ourselves from the other social media players; the other purported news organisations; one-man operations and stuff like that – we have to take a single position.”

ST’s Warren Fernandez added that the publication does not take such mistakes lightly “because we know the trust earned from the public is precious”. He said:

“We take mistakes, inaccuracies and wrong information we put out extremely seriously. We would want to check and find out what happened and why, and take remedial action.
“The sense of angst felt in newsrooms when something like that happens is tremendous – because we know the trust earned from the public is precious, and not to be taken lightly at all.”

Interestingly, netizens called The Straits Times out for allegedly publishing errors or misleading statements in three separate articles within the span of this one week:

Netizens call The Straits Times out for errors in three separate articles within one week

75 COMMENTS

  1. ST and MediaCorp, please show us incidents where your organizations speak up against government policies and ministers. Then we might believe you are not bias

  2. Between actual disservice to Singaporeans on one hand and perceived disservice to the dishonourable and the snaky congenital on the other, it doesn’t require a brain to figure out his leaning

  3. Gundu, many times bitten ,trillion times shy. My standard is not much then one time I get bitten by ants. But you are King Cobra

  4. Where are the unbiased independent investigative reports on national issues and topics that we used to have ions back. You don’t have to be anti govt to do this. Just report as is with independent opinions and analysis. Is that very difficult??? Take a look at the ST today. A load of trash and rehash of foreign reports. Pages of foreign sports reports. We are interested to read local sports and local events!!!!! The latest ranking of local newspaper says it all. If nothing is done to improve its contents ST will be history!!!!

    • ST could not be like NYT, which projects its liberalism onto the world stage. It also does not have the savvy touch of SCMP in reporting about China. It only has a bunch of mediocre, uninspiring foreign reporters. The assessment that more foreign reports would save ST in 2016 is awfully wrong.

    • Second-hand overseas news and tabloids are safe bets to keep easy rich salary.
      The paper is now a bedrock of loads of useless lifestyles articles.

  5. You are not just biased. You are 151 downright biased compared with the rest of the world. We have the world’s best airport and the world’s worst scum media.

  6. Laughable!! The fact speak louder then his words! Ranking 151 in the world standing and loosing readership due to propaganda and one sided news!

  7. my next 2 dogs will be named Walter and Warren. Hopefully they would be as obedient as their namesakes.

  8. Lip service and test balloons. Maybe I should be honest to my helper on why we don’t have any newspapers at home.(she needs it to wipe our glass panels btw)

  9. Don’t forget the OB Markers wf, what you said is definitely different from what you (shittytimes) published. It is absolute hypocrisy,having known the reality yet telling and doing otherwise.
    It is open knowledge that the organization is a crucial part of PAP propaganda machineries, gathering test balloons, then selective publishing and withholding, to hoodwink and shape the publics perception that helps to advance PAP’s self serving, evil and greedy agenda, to further PAP’s absolute control on this country. Absolute power leads to rogue government and corruption. The signs are very clear. Shittytimes is an accomplice to the rapid decline and downfall of this country. Investigative journalism is a crucial part of any well functioning democracy, to keep slippery politicians in check, to keep them accountable to the people. Yet shittytimes under the old man has never once performed this important function. The bottom ranked 154th position in the world already tells a lot. wf, you are paid obscenely, you will do whatever to take those money, so stop feeding us your hypocritical crap.

  10. I simply love our newspapers, I used it to clean my windows, pick up my dog poo, wrap the fishes when I when fishing and most importantly I get to step on the picture of our garmen and I can tell you the euphoria that I get after stamping on it. Try it and you will start to love your papers my way of handling trash!

    • Not a very bright guy this Fernandez. Don’t even know how to lie convincingly. Like all stooges, don’t really need much brains. Just need to know how to say YES to the BOSSMAN!

  11. Online falsehoods if any is inversely related to the press freedom and directly related to state control.

    Don’t blame social media, blame your control over media in Singapore for not having a trusted source of information. The more controlled is our media the more people will go to social media to find out the truth.

  12. How they have been objective and critical with the government had been hard to see.

    With Ng Yat Chung as CEO of SPH and one time prospective PAP candidate Warren Fernandez as chief editor, the greater prospect would be the press becoming even more biased and docile towards the govt.

    Fernandez, as someone who could’ve been a PAP MP, is not doubtful his loyalty will be towards PAP. He could’ve been kept at Straits Times as a bigger service to PAP by ensuring friendly news coverage.

    Ng on the other hand was someone given a huge second stab at running a GLC. It is likely that his dominant feeling would be of gratitude. So it’s rather doubtful how he could steer SPH towards more neutral and less fawning coverage of PAP and the govt.

  13. “We take mistakes, inaccuracies and wrong information we put out extremely seriously. We would want to check and find out what happened and why, and take remedial action.”

    Prove it by conducting an inquest on your reporting of Charles Chong’s allegation against Workers’ Party during GE2015. Talk is cheap.

  14. Responsibilities of social media are user security, content posted are not obsence not racist, user behaviour are proper and so on.

    There are many types of content like health remedies, exercise tips, science, history, arts and collectible. How can social media be responsible for falsehood of all the above?

    Users of social media usually go to a trusted source to verify if what he or she read is true or false. The problem in Singapore is that many do not trust our government and our media as they are all controlled.

  15. What a wayang besar! Any well informed Singaporean can list a 1000 issues which the Shitty TIMES investigative reporters will not work on to get to the truth for the simple reason that heads at the top like this fake F guy will roll of the floor!

  16. Stop reading the straits times for a long long time. Even the SBC news are sometimes very bias and not telling the whole truth. JOURNALISM is just a political tool.

  17. haha, notice the ‘rebranding’ of fake news as ONLINE deliberate falsehoods. While no doubt there’s a lot of it nowadays, the biggest purveyors of fake news have been those of the non-online category since the birth of the nation!

  18. Why are you 151 in the ranking?
    The whole world knows you are doing a disservice just like the PAP. Hypocritical!
    You liar!

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