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Former BBC journalist calls out Mediacorp for biased hiring practices, claims one of its editors had said “viewers did not like watching darker-skinned presenters”

"I was astounded by how unapologetic he seemed when he made his comment about 'darker skinned presenters'", she wrote.

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Singapore A former BBC journalist Sharanjit Leyl called out Mediacorp in a radio programme aired on the BBC World Service over the weekend for alleged biased hiring practices that discriminated against her because of her race and skin colour.

She alleged that one of Mediacorp’s editors had said “viewers did not like watching darker-skinned presenters”.

On the show, Ms Sharanjit spoke about her experience working for an American financial news agency that provided currency updates to a local television channel – purportedly Mediacorp – and said: “They told my bosses they didn’t want me doing TV updates for them.”

She said: “Had I been born Chinese, my life would have been a lot easier. It started with applying for jobs when I returned from North America in the 1990s, armed with a master’s degree and broadcast journalism experience in Canada. I struggled to get my foot in the door at the local news broadcaster”. 

She later “confronted the man who (now) runs the newsroom of that same TV channel, who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean” on the topic of Indian and Malay presenters. According to her, the man replied that viewers “didn’t like watching darker-skinned presenters”.

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In response to Ms Sharanjit’s allegations, Mediacorp said on Wednesday (Aug 11) that it was committed to equal opportunities and diversity in hiring.

“Our hiring policies and practices are based on merit, i.e. having the relevant skill sets that the role requires,” said Mediacorp in a statement. Mediacorp added that its dedicated news channel, CNA, has a diverse group of presenters.

Some 30 per cent of CNA news presenters are from minority groups, it said. As for the channel’s documentaries, specials and commissioned programmes which feature a presenter over the past two years, 60 per cent were presented by a person from a minority group.

Across the entire CNA newsroom – including reporters, producers and editors – 40 per cent are from minority groups, the broadcaster added. “This is significantly above the national average,” it said, according to a Straits Times online report.

In a Facebook post on Thursday (Aug 12) morning, Ms Sharanjit wrote that she had been “dealing with all sorts of fallout from the report last week including being bullied about it by certain official quarters”.

“I can honestly say that the person mentioned in the report has not been honest about the conversation we had at the media dinner. I remember it distinctly because I was astounded by how unapologetic he seemed when he made his comment about ‘darker skinned presenters'”, she wrote.

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Ms Sharanjit also felt that the statistics cited were also skewed as she referred in her report to presenters anchoring the English news channel, not reporters or producers.

The man is understood to be editor-in-chief Mr Walter Fernandez.

In its statement, Mediacorp also said: “We would like to clarify that Mr Fernandez did not make such a statement”.

“To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin colour at all in our conversation,” Mr Fernandez said.

“What I did speak about was the number of Singaporeans with relevant skill sets who apply to be presenters, the rigorous selection process which includes written and on-camera tests as well as interviews with several senior editors. I also made the point that I was not part of the interview panel,” he added.

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TISG has reached out to both Mediacorp and Ms Sharanjit for comment. /TISG

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