Dancer Goh Lay Kuan tells the story of a fly that got the people of the TV station at Caldecott Hill hot under the collar.
She tells Singapolitics: “Once, there was a fly when he (Lee Kuan Yew) arrived to give the National Day address. You can imagine how everybody reacted. Turn off the light!
“Ten minutes later, the light was turned on and they resumed. But the uncooperative fly came back. The light was turned off and Mr Lee was asked to rest in a dressing room. They had to do the recording a few times before it was finished.
“…It was just a fly, but everyone was so frightened, as if a whole army had arrived.”
This was sometime in the 1970s when LKY was at his rogue best and he was finding every trick — from laws to imprisonments to packing the media organisations with his sympathisers — to force the media to toe his line.
Even at that time, with the might of the man so suffocating, there were editors who did try to not only get their point of view across but also occasionally resist LKY.
How the editors succeeded in not publishing the full O level results of Chiam See Tong during the 1984 election battle that LKY wanted his candidate, Mah Bow Tan, to win is documented in former ST editor in chief Cheong Yip Seng’s book, OB Markers.
There was also an occasion when LKY wanted the Singapore media to follow the Japanese model, which would lead to correspondents being based in the various ministries. The editors felt that move would not be good for both journalism and government and for some strange reason, the former PM gave in.
Some of these editors paid the price by being sidelined or removed.
We don’t hear of such media people these days. Many of the present lot have been so conditioned to think like the ministers and civil servants that the products they edit are becoming boring and irrelevant.
So when researcher Cherian George says how media restrictions are beginning to work against the PAP, we need to also ask: What are the editors doing about these restrictions? Are they trying to convince the government that these restrictions can only mean the failure of journalism and their companies?
The writing is already on the wall with SPH’s advertising revenue, the life blood of any media company, declining by $11. 8 million in the last quarter.
Journalism standards are slipping. The language has become ponderous, the angling old-fashioned and the choice of stories predictable.
With the government in no mood to relax its control on media and the editors not wanting to initiate change, we have to leave it to market forces to force the pace.