How do you know when you have got it right?

One of the things that we tend to forget in our current “polarized” world, is the fact that “balance” and objectivity are supposed to be the Holy Grail of good journalism. A journalist is not supposed to take sides when reporting the news and even when he or she writes an opinion piece, there is supposed to be a certain amount of objectivity involved (ie, although my opinion is x,y,or z, I’ve only reached this opinion by coming to a,b and c facts).

I grew up in a part of England where your social status was pretty judged by the newspaper you read. Hence, when a business partner’s former employee mentioned that a former supervisor was a white Englishman who read the Daily Mail and talked a lot about the good old days when the White Expats ran the show, I just rolled my eyes and said that he couldn’t be anyone’s superior because, well he was a Daily Mail reader.

To be fair to the Daily Mail, it is what you can call the paper read by the people who are married to the people who run the country. Sure, the Mail wasn’t something that you’d take pride in being known to read. However, it wasn’t something that would make you cringe if your friends saw you with a copy.

That label was reserved for the Sun, which remains the top selling paper in the UK. The process of creating the Sun is masterful. However, it wasn’t a paper that people who took pride in having a year or two of former schooling would want to be seen reading. The old joke says that people read the Sun, don’t care as long as there are tits on page three (back when page-three of the Sun featured a topless girl). To put it crudely, the news that the average Sun reader was focused on was the pair on page three.

What made the difference between the “intelligent” papers like the Times, Telegraph, Financial Time and the Guardian and the “plebs” paper like the Sun, Daily Sport and News of the World? The answer was in headlines. The headline of the first group were inevitably more toned down. Even if there was a different political slant (Telegraph is proudly conservative and the Guardian is intellectually to the left), the political bias reflected by the paper was always subtle.

There is no pretense of objectivity when it comes to writing headlines for the second group. The slant of the paper is inevitably obvious. A sample of the Sun’s headlines can be seen below:

Leaving aside whatever biases and snobbery that I have, it’s the second group that actually wins elections. The most famous example was in the 1992 General Election which was barely won by John Major, who had spent most of the election trailing in the polls. After the election, the Sun made its role in the Conservative party election quite clear: [LINK]

This was something that the opposition became aware of and prior to his landslide victory in 1997, Tony Blair made it a point to court the Sun’s owner, Rupert Murdoch into ensuring that the Sun switched over to Mr. Blair’s “New Labour.”

The role of the Sun in the British election process is merely an example of the role that the media can play in the political process. In his book, “From Third World to First,” Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made it very clear that the media would always be subservient to him. There would never be a version of Rupert Murdoch coming out of Singapore. Mr. Lee’s classic line with the media would always be “Who Elected You?”

Generally speaking, Singapore’s media has given the veneer of being like the British Broadsheets. There’s never been room for sensationalizing headlines in the way that happen in the British Tabloid edition. The New Paper, our original tabloid did cover a few interesting stories like the one I was quoted in below, but nothing came close to the stuff that the Sun comes up with: [LINK]

However, the problem that many journalists found was that, the “subtle” slant in the Singapore mainstream was never really subtle. Editors in Singapore have been trained to be “responsible,” and news, as Lee Kuan Yew fully intended it to, was designed to serve the national agenda (which if you work on the premise that he was the government ……)

Then, when “online” media came into being, there was the other extreme and government was officially branded as something to be “wacked” as often as possible.

My own journey as a published writer has been about trying to ride between these two forces. In my early days in public relations (PR) one had to be exceedingly careful about not offending editors and, incidentally, the first paper to publish me was Today, which at the time was considered an “opposition” paper because Singapore Press Holdings didn’t own it. The key to getting published was to be questioning enough to be interesting but not to an extent that the editors would not want you near them.

Then, as more of my writing ended up being my own blog, I had a bit more freedom to express myself (since I am the final arbitrator of what goes onto the blog). Never thought much of the blog until one day I noticed that people were reading and then larger websites like TR Emeritus and Independent Singapore started picking up my pieces.

As I wrote more and got published more, I had two surprises. One was branding or at least the type that raises a few eye brows. I remember someone who was trying to start a newspaper saying that his biggest worry about engaging me was the fact that I was known as a “political writer.” That was astounding to me. I didn’t know that I was known at all. Interestingly enough, I would have a similar conversation with a potential client who thought me of as being “anti-establishment.”

Interestingly enough, I developed a peculiar fan base on TR Emeritus, which claims to be the opposite of the mainstream. However, this time, I wasn’t known as a “political writer,” but as a troll from the ruling party’s internet brigade. My favourite young Muslim politician who grew up as PAP groupie takes delight in calling me up to tell me about all the funny accusations against me from the online crowd, claiming that my ability to give b***j*** in the ruling party had brought me a substantial fortune (which would be OK as accusations go if I actually had a substantial fortune and didn’t need to ask people for money).

Being “branded” by these parties has been educational. It makes you understand that if you are in “nobody’s camp” in a known way, chances are you are not going to have any friends.

More importantly, you find that basic objectivity is going to be offensive to somebody or other and in a day and age of the internet, they’re bound to let you know.

The third point is that, if you want to have your name in the public, you’re going to have to expect people to take issue with you. If you don’t like people taking issue with you, you have no business being in the public.

Generally speaking, I guess I must have hit the right balance of being pro and anti-establishment when I get branded for belonging to the other party. I take joy in the fact that in same part of cyberspace, I get scolded and praised as I did when TR Emeritus picked up my piece on God-Kings.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




11 Responses to “How do you know when you have got it right?”

  • Sexual pervert:

    With a load of narcissistic self-praise, he wanders to the pair on Page 3 of Sun, with zero relevance.

    GD Star Rating
  • Almost everything is fake:

    The Hard Truth now is:
    Almost Everything under the Sun is Fake.
    What Holy Grail there is. What fair news is there left.

    The Trick is: Cannot Convince, Confuse!

    Yes! Confusionism is The Endtime Religion.

    All waiting for the 2nd Coming of Jesus (Isa ‘alaihissalaam), The Son of Mary. Peace be upon Him and Joy to The World when He descends…

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  • theforgottongeneration:

    Reaching out to the public as some widely circulated national platform is very different from reaching out to an audience who may visit a blog or social site. The degree of accountability and responsibility is very different, any self-verification of a “right balance” is only self-justifying. Look at SPH/Mediacorpse – obviously they think they are the “most trusted” media year in year out but internationally (i.e. externally evaluated) they are ranked 160th in the world.

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  • Soccerbetting2:

    Reported on Straits Times :Quote-”

    Najib’s wife Rosmah free to travel to Singapore after court allows temporary release of passport

    Rosmah Mansor is currently on trial for graft.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
    KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, has been allowed to temporarily take back her passport so that she can travel to Singapore to visit her pregnant daughter who is expected to give birth soon.

    The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Friday (Oct 15) allowed the application by Rosmah, who is currently on trial for graft, for the temporary release of her travel document after it was informed that the prosecution was not objecting to it.

    Justice Mohammed Zaini Mazlan made the order for Rosmah’s passport to be returned to her on Friday and that it must be returned to the court before or by Dec 6.

    According to the notice of motion seen by The Star, Rosmah was seeking the release of her passport to visit her daughter Nooryana Najwa, who is eight months pregnant.

    Ms Nooryana, 33, has a history of high-risk complications during childbirth and is due to deliver her second child soon in Singapore.

    Earlier, the court was informed by Rosmah’s lawyer, Datuk Jagjit Singh, that Rosmah would be returning to Malaysia by or on Nov 24…”Unquote.

    Response :”How do you know when you have got it right “????

    Sure,got it right one ! No need to doubt.It will only be a mystery if Singapore is not opening its gates for Malaysia Rosmah to enter Singapore soon ! So it is confirmed that Singappre is opening its gates for more Malaysia to come in too since Rosmah is definitely coming here ! Is it rightfor Singapore to open its gates for more Malaysia to come in when the covid figures in Singapore us still rising ? Opening for Rosmah to visit her daughter who is giving birth soon ? At the mercy of more potential covid spread and death to Singaporeans ?
    Why Malaysia never send another another helicopter to send Rosmah to Singapore and fetch more “papergoodsbankdeposits$$$$” on their way back to Malaysia ????

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  • xoxo:

    A bit of modesty is good for the spirit.
    But speaking the truth is not exactly as trying to be seen as *not taking sides*?
    You are either on the side of truth or you are not.
    Black is black,white is white.
    All shades of *GREY* tend toward CONfusion?

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  • Tryst of a monk & Spder demon:

    Sexual pervert:
    With a load of narcissistic self-praise, he wanders to the pair on Page 3 of Sun, with zero relevance.

    Yep, a “dumb testosterone tentpole” raising the bar of journalism writing to the level of “voyeuristic trash”

    GD Star Rating
  • Connive&Deceive tilludropdead:

    (Psalm 52:3,4)

    You love evil more than good,
    Falsehood more than speaking what is right. Selah!

    You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue!

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  • Tryst of a monk & Spider demon:

    It isn’t everyday a “dumb testosterone tentpole” gets cracking wise on “My Penis Monologues” that is obviously flaunting and that can only be classified as seeking attention …. desperately. …lol

    It is the same old sin that the Bible described as infecting Sodom.

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  • Geronimo:

    This writer spends his time writing a lot of long-winded stories! By the time you reach somewhere in the middle, you won’t know what you have already read. So, please cut it short, go to the point and you’ll find more readers responding!

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  • #08-193 Toilet Bowl Mouths:

    Today is a more condensed version of the Straits Times. The headline / major content is somewhat similar.

    Don’t see Today as an alternative. Just if you don’t want to buy the Straits Times, just pick up Today for free. There was a time they even deliver to your doorstep.

    GD Star Rating
  • #08-193 Toilet Bowl Mouths:

    Brit paper Page 3 is known for their Page 3 girls.

    GD Star Rating

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