AS a former newspaper editor, I am puzzled why the New York Times did not use its seasoned reporters and correspondents, and used instead contributors and pre-packaged materials to take part in the oust-Duterte conspiracy.
I am equally puzzled why Singapore has become such an international darling, when Lee Kuan Yew beat up and sued to submission the foreign press whenever it criticized him and his government. The man even declared that in a democracy, the rich and educated should have the right to vote twice, while the poor and ignorant should vote only once.
These oddities are the themes of my column today.
No facts, no regulars in NYT reports
It is a clear sign of dishonesty and fakery in NYT’s campaign against President Duterte and the Philippines, that the paper implemented the scheme through contributors and irregular writers. Not one report was the work of a regular reporter or correspondent of the paper, who pounded the Philippine beat for weeks.
Over the past eight months, the following names—Felipe Villamor, Fred Whaley, Daniel Berhulak, Richard Paddock and Vergel Santos—graced the bylines of critical stories on the Filipino President and the ongoing war on drugs. Berhulak bylined the text and photos of NYT’s December 2016 feature, “They are slaughtering us like animals,” (New York Times, December 7, 2016). Paddock similarly bylined the text and photos of NYT’s most recent feature, “Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Philippine Strongman” (New York Times, March 21, 2017).
None of these names can say that they are regularly employed by the NYT, if their life depended on it. Some may have been paid a fee by the paper for their contribution. Most were published for free.
This could explain why the NYT stories are uniformly bereft of facts. If the paper was unwilling to post a reporter in the country to research and investigate, it follows that it would not employ either a fact checker or investigator who will hunt down facts to confirm its allegations.
Why did NYT embark on the information/demolition campaign against Duterte, when it was unwilling to use its resources to finance it?
The answer, I believe, is that the NYT was persuaded to join an oust–Duterte campaign, on the assurance that it would be supplied with stories and solid, verified information on alleged crimes, misdemeanors and abuses of Duterte and his administration. The paper was very likely wooed by anti-Duterte political groups who seek to bring down the Duterte government. The paper was titillated by the prospect of interviewing real-life killers Edgar Matobato and Arthur Lascañas. They thought they would be reporting at last on real life.
Singapore beats up the foreign press
In sharp contrast to the Philippines, Singapore has been lavished with praise by the foreign press, even while two prime minister Lees—father and son—enforced draconian controls on the press. They have sued to submission every foreign media organization that dared to criticize Singapore’s government.
Singapore’s press policy is the mirror of Lee Kuan Yew’s policy on the political opposition in the country. Singapore sued to bankruptcy every politician who dared to criticize the government and the Lee family. The accused go bankrupt while defending themselves in a Singaporean court.
Singapore devised ways to mold the domestic press, and to manage foreign reporters.
With respect to the foreign press, its policy is clearly stated: “Foreign media are in the country as a privilege, not a right. Second, they have no right to interfere in the country’s internal politics.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has explained the policy further: “Foreign newspapers have no right to circulate in Singapore….
“Singapore… does not object to foreign correspondents reporting about [the country]in any way they choose to foreign audiences, provided they get their facts right… Their ideological biases or political slants do not matter to us… But when foreign-based journals with significant circulations in Singapore start to report on Singapore for a Singapore audience, the Government has to take care. We do not want such foreign journals to take sides on domestic political issues… The foreign press has no part to play in what should be a purely domestic political process.”
Some media professors and journalists have disputed this seemingly forthright argument. Professor Yuen-Ying Chan, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, has written: “In general, we cannot transplant … American standards to this part of the world, given its different culture, given its history. You need to adapt international standards to local realities…. The basic principles of journalism, I believe, are universal. There’s one journalism. There’s good journalism and bad journalism.”
Another critic leveled this pointed comment at Lee Kuan Yew: “The question arises, why does someone like Lee Kuan Yew fear this kind of reporting?… I can’t answer that question for him, but one of the concerns I have is that it reflects a fear of his own people. A fear of how his own people will respond to critical views of him.”
Singapore has long circumscribed the operations of Western news organizations with legal restrictions and punitive measures, such as circulation caps and libel suits. The foreign media have learned to steer clear of certain hot topics like race and corruption, and to be careful about sourcing potentially sensitive stories.
On August 1, 1986, with only two votes opposing, Singapore’s parliament passed an amendment to the 1974 Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. The revised law, which went into effect in September, obliged any newspaper published outside of Singapore to obtain the “prior approval” of the Minister of Information and Communications to be imported, sold or distributed in Singapore. The law also gave the minister the right to “restrict sale or distribution” of any foreign publication found to be “engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore.” The minister needed to give no reason for this determination.
Western critics immediately noted that the law was discordant with Singapore’s aspiration to become Asia’s information hub. The new law came at a crucial point in Singapore’s economic development. Attracted by the country’s technological advancement and the strategic location of its port, foreign publications—like the Economist, the International Herald Tribune, Time, and many others—set up printing presses in Singapore and used the country as a base for their regional operations. In the fall of 1986, Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), which relied heavily on Singapore’s domestic market, transferred 65 percent of its printing operations from Hong Kong to Singapore. FEER, owned by Dow Jones, published its final issue in December 2009.
There’s a cautionary tale of the FEER butting heads with Lee (father and son) over an article published in the magazine. Neither could let go of the argument. They both got exhausted.
Philippine policy of press freedom
In the Philippines, the government imposes no restrictions on the importation and sale of foreign publications in the country. It only demands that when they report or comment on events in the country, they should get the facts right. They must make an effort to check their facts and their sources.
President Duterte has argued with one or two foreign journalists at his press conferences. He may have also cursed some foreign publications, in the same way that he has cursed foreign governments and foreign leaders.
In the latest row with the New York Times over the paper‘s string of anti–Duterte reports and commentary, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella accused the American paper of complicity in a destabilization plot against the President.
There‘s no court action that the government can take against the paper, because the NYT is not circulated in the Philippines and does no business in the country.
Still, it could take action against the Times in the international community by exposing and documenting the paper‘s misguided and biased policy against President Duterte and the country. It could try to prove that a newspaper cannot only be biased and wrong, it can be harmful.