There are different categorisations of news content and a distinct separation between what constitutes news reporting and what makes up a commentary. As the label speaks for itself, news reporting is simply the unbiased provision of information while the latter comprises observations of a particular writer or publication. What is disturbing is when a particular article displays insidious opinion leanings while purporting to be a factual account of an event.
The reporting on the passing of former Solicitor-General, Francis Seow is an excellent example of such prejudices being conveyed as news reporting when it is clear that the writer concerned is expressing a viewpoint. While this may be unconscious, the delineation between news and commentary must be manifestly undiluted because we do not want the public to be clandestinely duped and influenced by what they think is news when it really is just someone else’s point of view.
Take the Straits Times’ report on the death of Seow for instance (“Francis Seow, former solicitor-general and opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88” dated 22 Jan 2016, by Walter Sim and Rachel Au-Yong). The entire report, whether deliberate or not was dripping with the writers’ standpoint while being published as news!
Seow was described as a “fugitive from justice” who “fled Singapore” and who “despite claiming he would return to face the tax evasion charges, never did and was convicted in absentia in 1991.” How is this a balanced report of someone’s passing?
Seow left Singapore because he believed that he would not receive a fair trial. Can he really be blamed for thinking that after being unceremoniously detained under the ISA pursuant to flimsy accusations of being part of a US led conspiracy?
Why would he return when he was utterly convinced that he would be charged and locked up based on trumped up charges? Seow was a highly intelligent man who was one of Singapore’s best lawyers in his time. While there has been no actual physical proof of a governmental agenda to lock him up, paranoia and unfounded fears would not appear to be compatible with a man of Seow’s credentials.
Given that there have been so many controversies surrounding Seow’s incarceration and subsequent flight, is it really fair or completely accurate to pronounce him a “fugitive of justice” so conclusively without any attempt to caveat that declaration?
To give the Straits Times, the benefit of the doubt, this may not be a calculated move to sway the public’s mindset. That said, the writer has allowed his own preconceived notions to seep into what should be nothing more than a factual account of Seow’s passing. A writer is of course permitted to air his views but such perspectives should be delivered as a commentary as opposed to a news report!
To limit the repercussions of smear campaigns, a commentary should be clearly classified as such so as not to mislead the public no matter how unintentional. The Straits Times should really be more professional in its conduct. This is especially crucial in the face of the mounting competition that it now faces – not just from independent online platforms but other big names such as Today or Channel News Asia which have all reported Seow’s passing in a standard that befits a national or regional news outlet.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is a commentary and not a news report. The viewpoints set out above are my own.
ST's announcement of Francis Seow's death – Unfair commentary presented as factual news
Differentiate Commentary from News Reports