Is The Straits Times averse to publishing Forum letters that are critical of the Government or government policies? How are Forum letters selected for publication? Why should people continue to pay for newspaper content?
Questions like these dominated a lively question-and-answer session at the ST Forum Writers' Dialogue last night, the 15th annual gathering for letter writers, at the News Centre auditorium.
About 200 attended the session, which was moderated by social media editor Daryl Chin, and featured ST editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, digital editor Ong Hwee Hwee and Forum editor Mathew Pereira.
In response to a question, Mr Fernandez said ST is not averse to publishing letters that are contrary to the Government's views. "In fact, that's the whole purpose of the Forum page - to reflect views across a range of positions," he said.
He cited the example of a letter that was published in March which told of how a writer's 73-year-old mother was handcuffed and put in leg restraints when she was moved between the police station, Changi Women's Prison and the court.
In her letter, Madam Gertrude Simon called for law enforcement officers to exercise flexibility in their treatment of elderly folk. It prompted a response from the prison service and police force, saying that standard operating procedures were followed, and sparked public discussion about the treatment of elderly suspects.
Number of readers' letters The Straits Times received from January to September this year.
Number of these letters that were published.
From January to September this year, ST received about 19,000 readers' letters, and about 2,700 were published. Top topics included bike-sharing, terrorism, the Oxley Road dispute and Singlish. Mr Pereira said he has seen an increase in the number of responses from government agencies - "an indication that the letters are getting taken seriously".
Ms Ong said writers should not think that there is a difference in reach between Forum letters that are published in print and online, and cited a number of online letters that had gone viral, including one from Mr Patrick Tan Siong Kuan that said the Land Transport Authority and train operator SMRT should take the blame for the flooding incident in an MRT tunnel last month.
"It was hard-hitting and took a life of its own when it was published online," said Ms Ong.
Nanyang Girls' High School student Raena Leang, 16, who has had four letters published in the Forum page, said the session gave her a better idea of the efforts that the paper put into presenting balanced perspectives.
"The question of whether the media is biased is something that we had discussed in school, and I learnt more about this issue from this dialogue, which was informal and relaxing."