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News Reports

The amazing coyness of the ST/PAP

I read the ST articles on the PAP’s internal protocols this morning and I don’t know if I should be upset with ST or the People’s Action Party. Both, I guess, for such a lame report/response to something which the courts have brought up – whether it’s appropriate for MPs to write letters to the courts on behalf of their constituents.

I guess I am upset because:

  1. ST decided to downplay the MP who wrote the letter, although this is the first thing that any reader would want to know. The introduction of the story should be: The MP in the centre of a controversy involving a petition letter to the courts has been identified as Dr Lam Pin Min of Seng Kang West single-member constituency.
  2. Then it would be important to tell readers HOW he was identified. In its “identification’’, ST wrote innocuously that it was “according to the letter that Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min wrote’’ but we know that the judge never revealed the name of the MP according to news reports. So did ST get hold of the letter from the court or the accused’ lawyers? Or did Dr Lam come forward or did the PAP name him?
  3. It would have been useful to tell people if Dr Lam was a new MP who might not know the ropes. But this background is missing: He has been an MP since 2006. ST can add that he is also Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport – although the retort can be that his official position has nothing to do with his duties as an MP.
  4. A lot more questions should have been asked of Dr Lam.

ST  has four pars on Dr Lam which are problematic :

First par: Dr Lam told The Sunday Times he had sent a letter of appeal to the Traffic Police last February on behalf of Tang, when she approached him at his Meet-the-People Session (MPS) to appeal for a reduction in charges.

(So she has ALREADY been charged? And this is the first time he ever saw the resident? It’s a good thing he wrote to TP instead of AGC because according to the PAP’s protocols: /The MP may write to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) under these two conditions – if charges have not yet been brought against a person, and if the MP is appealing for the AGC to not pursue charges./)

Second par: “She shared with us the circumstances leading to the accident and that she was regretful and intended to plead guilty,” he said.

(In Dr Lam’s letter, he said that Tang Ling Lee – whose appeal against a week’s jail term for colliding with a 27-year-old motorcyclist was eventually dismissed- had only “accidentally brushed a motorcyclist resulting in the motorcyclist sustaining some injuries”.

But the victim, Mr Vikaramen A. Elangovan, suffered multiple fractures requiring a dozen operations in two months and was warded in hospital for 69 days after he was hit by the car Tang had been driving.

“These statements are regrettably misleading if they correctly reflect what she had conveyed to the MP,” said Justice See in judgment grounds issued last week.

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So Dr Lam would have known by now that she lied to him about the circumstances which were far more serious. What does he think about what he did now? After all, the judge had called it troubling)

Third par: On April 18 last year, Tang saw Dr Lam again at his MPS and said she would be charged in court on May 2.

(So she WASN’T charged yet? There’s a contradiction here)

Fourth par: Dr Lam said an appeal letter for leniency was given to her by hand on the same night in a sealed envelope, addressed “to whom it may concern” at the State Courts, as there was “some urgency” since the case would be mentioned in two weeks’ time.

(According to PAP protocol, urgency is defined as “in the next few days’’ not in two weeks’ time: / In urgent cases, such as if the court hearing is in the next few days, MPs may sometimes use their discretion to give letters by hand to residents to be used in court./)

5.   Other questions for Dr Lam include:

  • Did Dr Lam know about the PAP protocols such as how he should be writing to the Law ministry instead?
  • Is this the first time he has written to the courts on behalf of his constituents?
  • What exactly is in the letter?

Maybe the questions were asked but not answered or some kind of pressure was brought to bear on ST to downplay identification and highlight the existence of protocols. Some questions that could have been asked of party whip Chan Chun Sing:

  1. Are these internal protocols made known to MPs? If so, how did Dr Lam, MP for more than a decade, not know?
  2. Has Mr Chan spoken to Dr Lam about the matter and is any disciplinary action being considered? Or is Dr Lam’s action acceptable to the PAP?
  3. If MPs can write appeal letters to the courts for urgent cases, how is this different from attempting to influence the judiciary in sentencing which for the layman would have constituted subjudice?
  4. Does the PAP have guidelines on what sort of appeal letters to the courts can be written? MPs in the past have written character testimonials, for example.

These are questions which any journalist would ask. The fact that they were not, leads to questions about the news instincts and professionalism of the paper. If they were and ST was somehow constrained in reporting the answers – or given non-answers – then this looks bad for both ST as well as the PAP. It will only add to the cynicism surrounding traditional media: that it will treat the PAP and the G with kids’ gloves but come out charging if the subject had been a member of the Opposition instead.

I know what some people will say: That it is good enough to have any kind of story on the issue. After all, the MP was identified and the PAP talked about its protocols.

No, it is not “good enough’’. We must demand more transparency from the media and politicians or we will soon be satisfied with reading official pronouncements or corporate PR spiel. And worse, we will be speculating about the gaps and be accused of “fake news”.

In the era of fake news, we need more information, not less.

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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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