Speaking at the annual Straits Times (ST) Forum Writers’ Dialogue yesterday (11 Sept), Warren Fernandez fielded questions on editorial independence and said:
“The Government engages us and we engage them, and we have debates all the time. But I think everyone recognises that the media need room to operate, so that we can be credible. If we lose credibility, it’s in no one’s interests.”
Mr Fernandez is the editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) English, Malay and Tamil Media Group. One of the editors of ST – SPH’s flagship English newspaper – Mr Fernandez also serves as President of the World Editors Forum.
Questions on SPH’s editorial independence are not new, given the close ties between the Government and the media organisation and given public perception that SPH and ST are the “mouthpiece of the Government”.
There are instances where the Straits Times has failed to cover news about individuals like Lee Wei Ling or Lee Hsien Yang – the estranged siblings of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – while being the first to cover the Government’s actions against Lee Hsien Yang’s wife and son.
There are close links between the directors of SPH and the Singapore Government. S. R. Nathan, Director of the Security and Intelligence Division and later President of Singapore, who served as SPH’s Executive chairman from 1982 to 1988.
SPH’s first President (1994–2002) was Tjong Yik Min, former chief of the Internal Security Department. The immediate former Chairman of SPH, Tony Tan, was Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1994 to 2005 and President of Singapore from 2011 to 2017.
Dr Lee Boon Yang is the current chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. Former Chief of Defence Force Ng Yat Chung is the current CEO since 1 September 2017.
A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks several years ago caused a stir after it quoted former ST bureau chief for the US as saying that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”.