Who said that ?!

I nearly choked myself to death laughing, when I read a certain letter from a certain civil servant about what the role of Singapore’s journalists should be. Shortly after finding a sharp streak of painful humour in her answer, I actually felt relief. Relief that while I am glad that my newspaper days opened many doors for me, I am so very thankful I am not a part of it now. I would have bowed my head in shame if I am still in the thick of it, with a Big Brother cloud hovering above me because of this:

“It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government’s standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.”

Press Secretary to the Minister for Information,
Communications and the Arts

Her name, imprinted so boldly in the letter published in the newspaper Today – rang a familiar tone. I think I have met her before in some party, if not cajoled my way to interview one of the people she fervently served. Right now, however,I am having problems dealing with how bold and incredibly ignorant a reply from an experienced press officer has been in giving retorts to the newspaper. I assume she knows full well that it will be read by many beyond the Singapore servants circle. There is life outside of servitude, Ms Bhavani. It is called Living.

Let me begin this way. About a decade ago, I had my first brush of nanny-dom when a news editor who interviewed me for a radio journalism job said with a straight face – “You have great potential. But let me remind you that journalism is not about championing issues. We just report.”

I nodded unknowingly, chiding my young mind at the same time for being a tad smart-alecky by choosing to vocalise my opinions unabashly about some global issues then. Unsolicited opinions is not well regarded in Singapore’s journalism, oops, I didn’t know.I am convinced that I would have gotten the job if only I had shut up.

I moved on, and eventually ended up with the national daily. Those were very happy days, especially when you have a band to jam with every lunch hour 🙂 But those were learning days too – because there were times when I was told to source for reaction views from the public after the premier’s speech on national TV, thinking that it was indeed for a reaction story. I realized later that it was for the editors to report to the premier’s office, not to the public. I didn’t know I was a double agent. I should have asked for extra pay then, stupid me.

I still have a few friends who are championing issues in the Singapore media, or at least who still think they are. Many have left. I was an inch close to diving back into the world of newspaper journalism when I returned from Canada in 2004,with the same newspaper who decided to suspend the blog of a particular Mr Brown after he criticised the rising cost of living in Singapore. Mr Brown’s entry triggered that Bhavani reply you see. It must have been difficult on a very individual level for the newspaper staff to embrace such a decision. For most of them are conflicted, yet drawn to the sexy,juicy life of having a journalist tag to their name. It is a very seductive power, albeit amassed in a messy clump of false confidence.

The day the letter was printed in the papers – it was a national slap on all our faces – us Singaporeans who were educated well, travelled the world, opened our hearts and minds and embrace what’s best for our beloved country. It was an insult to think that we will gulp that sort of reply and not think anything of it.

I never thought I would diss an industry I love, and one that I had grew very much on as an adult in my own blog. But that reply Ms Bhavani, is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I wish you never wrote it, because I love my Singapore and want to be proud of it even when I am thousands of miles away.


  1. hi bom..

    been reading ur blog silently..not really knowing when to actually say ‘hi’..

    but this piece does it..

    i’ve been shocked myself too..

    it was worse watching, a certain up and coming ‘young’ minister, speak up on the matter on national prime time news.

    i’m perplexed….not too long ago, it was tolerated, when young s’poreans could speak their minds freely, on national TV, somewhat ‘against’ the government?!..

    and then, there was this piece of Mr Brown’s writing that took on such a lashing..

    i’m perplexed..confused..

    here i am today, soon, going in to class to educate the young on issues of national education..and exhorting the virtues of this successful, albeit, young nation that i do love dearly..

    and yet, i felt compelled the other day to wear brown and hang out at the MRT station, in silent protest..

    so bom, i guess, u said it right..how could we s’poreans just sit and read Ms Bhavani’s comments?? how could we?

  2. mamagori: are you the A who did not see me before I leave?! Hah!! Kalau betul, jaga kau! Reading my blog in silent but didnt even email! Cis bedebah.

    Anyway, back to the post. Even the bears would come out of their hibernation for this one. I feel more sorry for the Bhavani too – servitude comes with so many perks, and so many misplaced confidence too.

  3. hehehe..yes..the one who is suffering in silence coz dont dare to incur ur wrath!!!

    yes! yes! shoot me tun, puan, tan sri, datin BOM for NOT being there b4 u leave..

    segala macam punya sembah aku kasi kat hang..maafkanlah patik..

    no excuses..

    so, bila kita boleh re-connect kiter punya cosmic, psychic, psycho-mumbo-jumbo?

    e-telepathy maybe? kau punya email apa har?

  4. kakteh: i look look stare stare, still nothing happens! Hehehe 😉

    mamagori: I am coming back in Sep (insya’allah) for a few mths – ALL my prata and mee goreng mama expense will be on you, gerlpren!
    My email is writeatzuzanitadotcom

  5. Babe, here is a ranting about this issue, albeit not as refined as yours. I just personally think that the authorities were genuinely shocked that this is the state of its citizens and these are the problems we face… “What worry about money?” who does that? Sure, when millions are peanuts. They don’t commute in our buses, definitely not the guys who actually raise the busfares, they travel in chaffeur-driven German cars.

    I honestly belief they were all just shocked… “what you mean not everyone can afford to play golf?”

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