ST's Journalist of the Year takes joy in the buzz and discussion generated by his stories

Straits Times' senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan was named Journalist of the Year at SPH's annual awards ceremony on March 22, 2017.
Straits Times' senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan was named Journalist of the Year at SPH's annual awards ceremony on March 22, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When plans for the new Cross Island Line were announced in 2013, it sparked heated debate that came to a head last year (2016).

Environmental groups had launched a petition protesting 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 last February - gave thought to the needs of the everyday commuter, and argued it would be counter-productive 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're going to serve four km of emptiness, and that's not good for taxpayers, that's 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 is what saw him walking away with the Journalist of the Year award at Singapore Press Holdings' annual awards for its English/Malay/Tamil Media (EMTM) 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, also writing car reviews and for magazines. In 1995, he began reporting on transport for BT. He joined The Straits Times 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 had initially refused to provide answers 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 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 that we put out."