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The Big Quiz

Media and politics in the spotlight

Published on Jul 5, 2012 12:00 AM

Journalists spoke candidly to students of Temasek Junior College about working in the media, and how they dealt with constraints on July 4 at the fourth of six talks by Straits Times correspondents.

As part of its junior college outreach leading up to The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz, the broadsheet's deputy political editor Lydia Lim spoke to them about the elections and the democratic process, sharing her experiences of covering politics.

Then senior writer Clarissa Oon walked the students through censorship and regulations on the arts and the media, with examples of censored films and plays.

During the ensuing question-and-answer segment, they fielded questions on the topics of politics, media and the arts. They also compared Singapore's media model with the American one, as well as the more stringently censored China model.

Replying to student Zheng Yafei, 18, who asked if The Straits Times had been restricted by the Government in any way, Ms Lim said: 'It is not the case that somebody from the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts is sitting in The Straits Times newsroom reading stuff before it's published. But I would agree that the government has a fair amount of influence over what you would read in The Straits Times.'

Ms Lim noted that laws, like the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, allow the Government to have some say over the board of a newspaper company; it also licenses the newspaper.

Muhammad Haziq Mohammed Shahrin, 17, then asked: 'Does it mean that the news you report seeks to appease the Government and you only report favourable news of the Government?'

Ms Lim replied by reflecting on the balance between the Government wanting to see stories that make it look good - 'every government wants that from their media' - and The Straits Times' need to stay credible in order to be read and sell copies of newspapers.

Ms Oon added that her personal philosophy is to 'keep it real', and represent what a wide range of people are thinking and what is happening on the ground.

She said: 'When I write my columns, I'm not going to criticise the Government just for the sake of criticising the Government.

'But if there's something to be said, if it's something wrong with a particular policy, there's a particular group that's affected in a bad way by policy, then it's my responsibility as a journalist to reflect that.'

Students said they were satisfied with the responses they received, with Muhammad Haziq saying: 'I appreciate the fact that Straits Times takes care of news as whole, because they have to think about readership.'

He found the session enlightening, clearing up some of his misconceptions. 'Previously, I had the opinion that The Straits Times was more controlled by the Government, that everything published has been passed by someone in the ministry, but this has been clarified.'

Luo Wanyue, 18, said she now had different points of views on censorship and the media. 'It was good to hear the experiences from the journalists, their thoughts.'

Background story

On changes in media controls

In response to a question about how to loosen media controls on the media, Ms Lim said:

'Parliament is where laws are passed and where laws are changed. Many things in our society are the way they are partly because of the laws that are in place.

'In a democratic society...the route to change is through the democratic and political process. If you disagree with the government in power, what you are supposed to do as a citizen is either set up a political party or support an existing political party that has the ideology or stands for the change that you want to see in society.

'You support that political party and that party is supposed to fight elections so as to gain political power, so that they get into parliament, that is where they bring about change: by changing the laws.'

Wednesday's talk was part of The Straits Times' efforts to engage pre-university institutions in discussion on their burning questions. At the same time, the broadsheet is running a series of primers on current affairs topics every Friday.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is providing teaching resources on these topics that General Paper (GP) teachers can use in classroom discussions.

The talks, articles and lessons address current events issues - including sports, education, politics and science - and will culminate in the Straits Times-MOE National Current Affairs Quiz - or The Big Quiz - in July and August. Competing teams will face off in a general knowledge showdown.

Teams from 23 pre-university institutions - including Millennia Institute, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), School of the Arts, and NUS High School of Mathematics and Science - are expected to participate.