Keen eye for key issues helps transport veteran bag 2 awards

SPH Deputy CEO Patrick Daniel (left) presenting Journalist of the Year Christopher Tan with his award at the SPH English Malay Tamil Newspaper (EMTM) Division Annual Awards ceremony.
SPH Deputy CEO Patrick Daniel (left) presenting Journalist of the Year Christopher Tan with his award at the SPH English Malay Tamil Newspaper (EMTM) Division Annual Awards ceremony. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

When plans for the new Cross Island Line were announced in 2013, it sparked heated debate that came to a head last year.

Environmental groups had launched a petition protesting against the negative impact of the proposed alignment, which could run through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The authorities said an alignment that skirted the reserve would lead to higher costs and additional travel time.

But The Straits Times' senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan, 57, felt something was missing from the debate.

"Everyone was talking about the environment, (but) I looked at it from a transport perspective." His commentary - "Cross Island Line debate misses elephant in room", published in February last year - gave thought to the needs of the everyday commuter, and argued it would be counterproductive to have the line traversing an unpopulated, forested area. Instead, the line could be routed in a way that serves the masses.

"If you went through the forest, who will you serve? You are going to serve 4km of emptiness, and that is not good for taxpayers, that is not good for the country," said Mr Tan, who has covered developments in transport since 1995.

His experience and ability to lend depth and breadth to issues in transport are what saw him walking away with the Journalist of the Year award at Singapore Press Holdings' annual awards for its English/Malay/Tamil Media group yesterday. He also won for Commentary/Analysis of the Year.

But Mr Tan, who has three children aged 17 to 23, said he is not one who "works for awards".

"I take joy in my work, the stories I produce and the buzz and discussion it generates out there. That, to me, is daily affirmation." Mr Tan began as a sub-editor with The Business Times in 1983, and also wrote car reviews and for magazines. In 1995, he started reporting on transport for BT. He joined ST in 2003.

He acknowledges that his beat, which touches on bread-and-butter issues and affects everyone, can be a political powder keg. But he has no qualms about writing critically about important issues, such as the implications of a fatal SMRT train accident last year, in which two maintenance staff were killed.

Though the train operator was tight-lipped about its safety protocol, he highlighted how multiple safety lapses must have taken place. Last month, SMRT pleaded guilty to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees in accessing train tracks, and was fined a record $400,000.

"Clearly, if (safety protocol) had been followed, no one would have died," said Mr Tan.

In a fast-paced age of information overload, it is important for journalists to uncover the truth and disseminate information with as little bias as possible, said Mr Tan. "I think we must all strive to add value to the information we put out."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Keen eye for key issues helps transport veteran bag 2 awards'. Print Edition | Subscribe