Cherian George questions SPH's editorial independence but silent on wife lifting a leg up for Chinese propaganda

May 09, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

In an opinion piece published on Friday (May 7) in South China Morning Post, media professor Cherian George questioned if the restructure of Singapore Press Holdings into a not-for-profit entity would truly be a step away from the clamps of State involvement.

The Hong Kong Baptist University Journalism Professor said: "(The restructure) is a rearguard action to preserve the ruling party's dominance over mainstream media".

Recounting how former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew enacted the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) in the 70s to indirectly eliminate headstrong publishers not aligned with government interests, Cherian suggested that the overhaul of SPH is not a break away from Government influence, but a continuity of it.

Op-ed published in South China Morning Post - a news outlet known to be devoid of editorial independence

The irony of Cherian's article comes on the back of its publication in South China Morning Post (SCMP), a news outlet known to be influenced by China's political leadership - the same outlet where his wife Zuraidah Ibrahim works as a Deputy Executive Editor.

Cherian's colleague Rose Lüqiu Luwei, also a professor of journalism at the same university said: "I think the top management is already indirectly controlled (by the Chinese Government)" when asked to assess SCMP's level of editorial independence.

The paper has steadfastly rebutted allegations that its coverage isn’t impartial.

“SCMP remains committed to serving our global readers with independent journalism and in-depth analysis, as we have for over 117 years. Our newsroom does not shy away from tough stories, as our entire body of work shows, and we stand by our balanced and objective journalism,” said an SCMP spokesperson.

But current and former SCMP journalists that Quartz spoke to say that it is at the edges where censorship comes into play, like editors such as Cherian's wife Zuraidah quietly nudging reporters away from sensitive topics, tweaking phrases and headlines, or playing down stories related to China’s top leaders.

“I do feel like I am not encouraged to do investigative pieces...and sometimes editors quibble over wording and angles of pieces that are on a gray line,” said a SCMP reporter who spoke under condition of anonymity.

“You can’t tell if it’s censorship, and it’s not egregious enough to keep protesting about, but you’re not entirely proud of the end product.”

The art of subtle propaganda

When it comes to China, the SCMP’s overall coverage remains far from Communist Party mouthpieces such as China Daily or Global Times.

However, nine current and former SCMP employees told a reporter from The Atlantic that the lines of editorial independence were often far less clear.

Nearly all pointed to Yonden Lhatoo, the SCMP’s chief news editor.

Members of the newsroom were particularly unhappy with a story Lhatoo wrote last October pushing a theory popular among pro-Beijing figures that there was a “silent majority” in Hong Kong that was against the Hong Kong protests but had been scared into silence.

They were concerned enough to request a meeting with senior editors after the story’s publication to discuss their concerns over Lhatoo and editing more broadly.

Chow Chung Yan, the executive editor, and Zuraidah Ibrahim met with disgruntled staff, but “there was no attempt to try and reconcile anybody,” one person present at the meeting told the Atlantic. “It was just, ‘This is the situation; if you don’t like it, there is the door.’”

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch tweeted: "...SCMP's problematic but subtle editorial decisions are precisely the point - it makes the unsuspected think they are reading real news when they are actually primed to absorb Beijing's views."

Cherian George makes a fair point in throwing shade at SPH's editorial independence but in the same context, he also needs to look no further than across his marital bed at night to find out if he has been cowering under a shade of hypocrisy all along.


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This commentator thinks MCI ad should not have featured poor Malays

May 12, 2022 | 🚀 Fathership
A Hari Raya advertisement by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) was 'cancelled' by certain netizens online for depicting lower income Malays according to reality.

"Message for Syawal", a two-and-a-half-minute video published last month (Apr 30) captures moments in the life of a low-income Malay family living in a rental flat.

Storyline


Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"

The video, which is peppered with Malay proverbs, shows the family moving out of their rental flat to a new home several years later where they celebrate Hari Raya.

The father of the family works as a mover while the mother is a housewife.

Their young son, Syawal, skips school to earn extra income for his family before a teacher flags his absence from school to his parents.

The mother in the video later decides to return to work to alleviate her family’s financial difficulties while the father gets a new job.


Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"



Why some netizens are outraged

The video sparked backlash online, with some viewers saying that it contained stereotypes about the Malay community.

The stereotypes:
  • The father works as a mover - commonly perceived to be a low-income job
  • The mother is jobless
  • The son plays truant
  • The family lives in a rental flat for low-income earners

Commentator implied that poor Malays shouldn't be portrayed in public to prevent stereotypes


Pictured: Screenshot from Homeground Asia video

A video commentary by The Homeground Asia went further by criticizing how the video propagates the narrative that Malays are poor and lazy, and that the ministry should have created a video that is more relatable to both the less fortunate and the more affluent Malays.

Adi Rahman, one of the interviewees in the video went further by making sweeping assumptions that the ministry lacked cultural intelligence and did not consult the community on the narrative.

Ironically, in talking about inclusivity, Adi implied that the realities of poor Malays should not be shown in public.

For example, his rationale suggested that the video contained characters (the mover, jobless mother and the son who skips school) that contribute to the problem of other races seeing the Malays in a stereotypical and reductive light.

In other words, show the good stuff but not the reality.

Adi even accused the ministry for not consulting the Malays in the vetting of the video narrative.

His accusations were without merit, however, when the Ministry said in a statement (Apr 30) that Malay-Muslim viewers - presumably a focus group - had seen the video prior to its release, and perceived the story to be heart-warming, although some expressed reservations.


Pictured: Adi Rahman - one of the commentators in Homeground Asia video



Stereotyping or masking reality?

The ministry said last month (Apr 30) the video was meant to show "a family’s journey of resilience in facing challenging circumstances and how mutual support and encouragement could nurture the process”.

Other netizens felt it was an overreaction and that low-income families shouldn't be dehumanized in a way that they are removed from the conversation. They felt that the video was a call-to-action for those from the underprivileged to strive for a better life through hard work and seeking help that's already available.

The only missed opportunity in the MCI video was perhaps the suggestion that Malays in low income families living in a rental flat could not celebrate Hari Raya unless they get a flat on their own.

But of course, like Homeground Asia, that is also a sweeping assumption.