The Straits Times grows some balls

(Edit: The original first graf was a bit inflammatory; I chopped it and rewrote it. Also, added a link to the very first ST article about the AWARE saga; it’s worth a read.)

JRE has had harsh words for the Straits Times in many, many blog posts over the last two years, for all sorts of different reasons. When they do something right, then, it’s only fair to shout it from the rooftops and give Singapore’s media the praise it deserves.

So it warmed my heart to open Saturday’s ST and read, spread across pages 2 and 3, the editor of the ST staunchly defending his paper’s reporting of the hijacking – and subsequent retaking – of AWARE, a Singaporean womens’ rights organisation.

The AWARE saga itself is long, divisive and complicated; this wrap from the stinky leftoid hug-a-rainbow hippies at DailyKos has all the gory details, and is worth a read. The short version: the executive committee of AWARE was deposed (in a classic branch-stack) by a team of fundamentalist Christians convinced that AWARE was trying to turn their daughters into lesbians, and were themselves thrown out a month later after a raucous seven-hour EGM in front of two thousand people.

The ST’s reporting was uncritical at first, but they were the first to prove the link between the coup team, who’d previously claimed they didn’t know each other despite all attending the same church. They sank their teeth in deeper after the press conference where respected lawyer Thio Su Mien outed herself as the ‘feminist mentor’ behind the coup. You could even argue that their coverage caused the sudden surge in new memberships which led to the new executive being thrown out on their ear.

(Update: here’s the original story from the ST back in March. It comes achingly close to uncovering the real story behind the coup and the common thread among the new executive committee. If they’d dug a little deeper on this story it would’ve been a genuine hold-the-front-page clear-a-space-for-the-Pulitzer scoop.)

This week, two Members of Parliament took issue. On Tuesday, MP Thio Li-ann (Thio Su Mien’s daughter) claimed in Parliament that the ST had refused to print her mother’s side of the story (despite two days of front-page coverage of her press conference). And on Wednesday, MP Sin Boon An used Parliamentary privilege to accuse the ST of biased reporting, religious discrimination, and “hobnobbing with the homosexual fraternity”.

And the Straits Times stood up and said “bring it on”.

Mr Sin wondered if ‘the press would have been so quick on the take if it were women from another faith who took up the cause instead’.

He ought to know better than to use the religion card in this fashion. If Mr Sin is accusing The Straits Times of being in favour of some religions against others – a very serious accusation against a newspaper with 1.4million readers of every religious shade – he should substantiate his complaint.

The ST has delivered a few pieces of truly great journalism over the years, most recently when they exposed the rampant corruption and theft at the National Kidney Foundation charity. But Singapore is full of stories like the NKF scandal and the AWARE coup – stories that need to be told – and the Straits Times is the only newspaper that can tell them.

So how about it, Mr. Han? How about letting your journalists write some real news, instead of yet another boring piece about the ructions in the Singapore Table Tennis Association? How about encouraging them to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Go on. Make us proud.

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