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Is The Straits Times character-assassinating The Online Citizen?




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By Ghui
After I wrote my article yesterday in relation to what constitutes “friendly” websites, I thought it was time to perhaps give the Benjamin Lim case a little respite.
The family deserves the some time to grief without the constant media glare and given the importance of accountability as highlighted by this incident, it is vital that the public does not get fatigued by the constant deluge of reports on this and lose interest. Sometimes saying less is more.
However, this is a developing story with many angles. Just as I am about to lay my pen down, a new issue that I believe requires addressing arises.
The Straits Times has published an article headlined “The Online Citizen is now a one man show“. The article then proceeds to give an overview of how far the website has seemingly fallen. While the two incidents may well be unrelated, it seems to imply a forgone conclusion that the website is now on its last legs. The timing comes hot on the heels after Minister Shanmugam took it publicly to task.
Yet based on the number of “likes” on articles and comments posted on The Online Citizen’s (TOC) website, it would seem that it still attracts quite a number of readers. Why then is it presented as a forum that is about to meet its demise? Is the timing not a little curious?
Next, I read that the Media Development Authority (MDA) has requested for monies given to TOC by Monsoons Book Club over a year ago be returned. Perhaps it is coincidence but given the timing, it would appear that one after another, the government and all its affiliations have closed ranks against TOC, even if that is not the intention.
The Straits Times article also appears to be giving the impression that some of TOC‘s former editors may even agree with the remarks made by Minister Shanmugam.

“Former TOC editors are split over Mr Shanmugam’s comments.

Mr Philemon said there was a need for “appropriate moderation” and fairness in any commentaries that are published.

But Mr Choo and Mr Lee said Mr Xu had done his best to get all sides of the story and tried to seek comments from the Government.”

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I don’t see how Mr Philemon, Mr Choo and Mr Lee are split over Mr Shanmugam’s comments. From the quotations, I think that all the comments are pointed at the right direction – that it is important to present all sides fairly. How is that a split? It just appears like a weak attempt by The Straits Times to present TOC as a failing website whose own former editors are now also criticising when that is not the case? Well, not from the quotations any way.
More importantly, who decides that a website is no longer relevant? Is it the government, newspapers or the readers?
While I am sorry to once again have to invoke Benjamin’s name, it would appear that his death has highlighted so many important issues, chief of which are accountability and the limits to state power. Clearly, the Lim family wants some transparency too.

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