Featured News Singapore National Union Of Journalists: Curious Case Of A Disappearing Union

Singapore National Union Of Journalists: Curious Case Of A Disappearing Union

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Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

In a just-published book by a group of former Times House journalists, two chapters caught my attention. One was on The Curious Vanishing Act Of The SNUJ (title mine, the original was “The SNUJ Bites The Dust” by Ivan Lim, its former secretary-general). The other was “The Day The ISD Walked Into The BT News Room” by Margaret Thomas, a former BT journalist. Another title could have been “What Happened To Tharman Shanmugaratnam In 1992”. Tharman, as we all know (unless you are out of wifi range, still carrying a non-functioning 2G Nokia phone or in comatose), is aiming to be our next President. 

But first, the SNUJ. For those who are unfamiliar with the local non-MediaCorp press, SNUJ was the Singapore National Union of Journalists representing journalists in other than the broadcasting industry. It was very much alive when I was in Times House. In fact, the union which was handed over to Ivan Lim was in fairly good shape. It participated actively in pay negotiations with Straits Times Press/Singapore Press Holdings. It was the go-to people for any professional grievances to be taken up with management. Past SNUJ committees had built it up to a decent level. It collaborated with regional newspapers in the Confederation of Asean Journalists. And the CAJ had such a reputation and clout that it usually had no major problem finding funding for its programmes which included bilateral conferences to exchange views and strengthen its position as a voice for the regional press.


Past SNUJ committees, especially the late Ismail Kassim, Straits Times Kuala Lumpur Correspondent, had worked hard to make SNUJ/CAJ quite respected. Ivan Lim took over at a difficult, inopportune time. Things were starting to stir within the People’s Action Party as Lee Kuan Yew began paying more attention to the local press, especially The Straits Times. I will elaborate on the relationship between the government and the media in my own upcoming book. In particular, Lim spoke about his struggle to prevent the NTUC from appointing an “adviser” to the SNUJ, a move which would undermine the independence and credibility of the union. 

The sad demise of the SNUJ was a matter of time. The union was deregistered in 2015 along with the SPH Employees’ Union. Ivan Lim offered this epitaph: “Both were amalgamated into the Creative Media Publishing Union (CMPU)”. What a sad way to go – to be amalgamated into something. It was like disappearing into a Black Hole. 

Next the ISD story.

It involved Tharman, then 35, and director of the economics department of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. It also involved Patrick Daniel, BT’s editor, Manu Bhaskaran, economics research director of Crosby Securities, and Raymond Foo, a Crosby analyst. Kenneth James, BT economics correspondent, was also questioned. 

So what happened? BT carried a story on 29 June 1992 saying that official flash estimates suggested Singapore’s economic growth in April and May that year to be below the first quarter rate of 5.1 per cent. More than a month later, on 13 August, Internal Security Department officers appeared in Times House, waving the Official Secrets Act at Daniel, James. Margaret Thomas and Anna Teo wrote the 22 June 1992 story.  They searched the BT office and brought the journalists for questioning.  The flash estimate was a state secret and the government was trying to find out where the leak was. 

To cut a long story, the case went to court and various penalties were meted out. Apparently, sometime in June 1992, Manu and Foo had a meeting with Tharman and some other MAS economists at the MAS building. According to Margaret Thomas: “Tharman had with him a sheet of paper that had the latest flash estimates.” The paper was not in a file and Manu had at some point got a glimpse of it perhaps by accident. That 4.6 per cent estimate then made its way after going through various stages to BT.

It was an accidental leak.  

Once Upon A Times House is published by TRCL. 

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also the managing editor of a magazine publishing company

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