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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Media bias

I am glad that The Straits Times editorial yesterday has prompted Low Thia Khiang to elaborate on his charges of media bias during the coverage of the Hougang by-election. I have never like unsubstantiated allegations – and actually wondered why ST would even print pot shots. I suppose if it didn’t, then the charge would again be of prejudice…But people who throw stones should be clear at what they are aiming at. So Mr Low Thia Khiang now elaborates. It had to do with a picture of himself, Sylvia Lim and Png Eng Huat looking grim, with the headline WP faces allegations of dishonesty.

Pictures and headlines have always been biggest complaints of newsmakers. They and their fans will of course prefer that a flattering picture was published. I guess a better picture in their view would be of the three sharing a light-hearted moment? If so, the reader will be asking if the WP is taking the allegations seriously. And it definitely WAS. Then it comes to whether the headline was accurate. It could have gone the other way I suppose with WP clarifies Png’s NCMP remarks, as Mr Low seems to suggest? I think the brickbats would be hurled from the other side as the complaint would be that it wasn’t really a clarification. Which is why headline writing is such a skill and the safest route for a sub-editor to take is to write what is known as a “label” headline – unfocused, ambiguous. So maybe a headline like : PAP and WP lock horns on Png’s NCMP comments…or WP responds to PAP charges.

Lest people think that only the opposition complains about headlines, well, the PAP does too but maybe not as publicly. I don’t know about this by-election or even the last general election, but I’ve had to face the ire of PAP heavyweights who complain about unflattering pictures or supposedly misleading headlines during past polls or the amount of acreage given to the opposition. Yes, the PAP complains too about media bias.

It’s no fun being in the traditional media especially during election time. (Some coffeeshops won’t even serve you when the laoban hears that you’re a journalist; you get sworn at; you take notes at rallies next to some policemen…) I sometimes tell the younger journalists distressed at how their profession is being taken down that we must be doing something right if BOTH sides complain.

I maintain that the mainstream media did a pretty job of covering the elections fairly. You can see that pages are split down the middle between PAP and WP, and reporting is so carefully calibrated so as to give each side equal space. Its a by-election, only two parties – it’s the right thing to do.

Thank you Mr Low for expanding on your charge and ST for its reply. As Mr Low said, let’s leave it to the readers to judge.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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