Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan took a detour in his opening address at the fourth joint forum on infrastructure maintenance yesterday to take issue with the press.
He said he did not like the way the press had been covering the re-signalling project "because they have magnified the problem unfairly".
"Even the main media has turned tabloid. Yes, exciting and so on... frightening readers," Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, said in an oblique reference to newspapers like The Straits Times.
In his off-the-cuff remarks, Mr Khaw said re-signalling was "a very complex" task. But the media, he said, "thinks it is so easy... like holding a pen and writing a few articles, and get the signalling done. I wish it was so simple. If it were so simple, they don't need us. We can ask the reporter to run the train system", he said to laughter in the audience.
Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez said: "We are aware of the complexities involved in the re- signalling process even as normal operations have to continue. We have reported on that, but we also have to report on the difficulties that crop up along the way, and the impact they have on commuters facing disruptions."
Commuter Ashley Wu, 36, who has been affected by a number of breakdowns and delays, said: "It is not as if the press has been reporting things that are not happening. It is interviewing people who are merely expressing their frustration about how the breakdowns are affecting their daily lives. I don't see that as being sensational."
The sales and marketing manager, who uses the Downtown Line, said: "If he (the minister) says the press does not understand the complexity of the system or the operations, why not take a more educational approach, and have more updates from their side?"
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy research fellow Hawyee Auyong disagreed that the press had sensationalised MRT news. "The experience of many commuters recently is disruption on almost a daily basis," said Mr Auyong, a commuter himself. "If the press coverage doesn't match everyday experience, then the press loses credibility."
Economist Walter Theseira of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said: "Singaporeans expect a high quality of public transport. That being the case, I think newspapers naturally have a pretty low threshold of what makes news when it comes to public transport reliability."