Here's hoping Today
doesn't become yesterday
One has to be careful how much credence to give to
bulletin board “news”. The story making the rounds this week
about a management shake-out in the newsroom of ‘Today’ is probably
exaggerated. The only thing that I know is definitely correct is that
Rahul Pathak has quit as Deputy Editor.
However, it reminded me of a slightly older story, dating from
November 2003, which, given the passage of time and corroborating
accounts, is in my opinion, largely accurate.
This one was about how the Senior Minister thrashed the news team of
‘Today’ for a report they made of one of his speeches.
point, I suggest you read the various boxed articles, to fill
in the details.
As you can see from Exhibit 1, Today wrote a story about
the Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew disparaging the UK health
But Exhibit 2, detailing the correction issued by the
Senior Minister’s Office, indicates clearly where the
offending point was - it had to do with the phone call made to
No. 10 Downing Street hoping for some intervention to move Mrs
Lee up the queue for a brain scan (I mentioned this in my
article Adding Value).
Exhibits 3 and 4 must be read with caution, being internet
postings, although Exhibit 3 does explain its source.
3 Nov 2003
by Val Chua
Emotions ran high on a balmy Sunday night as the
normally stoic Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly broke
down while recounting the ordeal his wife went through
in London recently.
The troubles that the couple faced - including
joining a queue in a free hospital - when Mrs Lee was
hit by stroke two Sundays ago, revealed how differently
two systems worked.
"I cannot tell you how restless and unhappy we
felt," he said at a community event in Jalan Bukit
"We run a (healthcare) system where you have to
co-pay ... but you get the attention. There, no
attention, just join the queue," he said grimly.
The first sign of trouble was that there was no
private hospital with CT scan facility at night in
London, he told residents and community leaders.
So, Mrs Lee had to go to the NHS hospital nearest to
the Four Seasons Hotel where they were staying - a free
facility called the Royal London Hospital - and join the
"We waited 45 minutes for the ambulance for a
10-minute drive," said Mr Lee in his first public
appearance since the couple returned on Friday.
"In Singapore, within half-an-hour, you would be
in SGH (Singapore General Hospital), TTSH (Tan Tock Seng
Hospital) ... and within one-and-a-half to two hours
flat, you'd know what went wrong."
When Mrs Lee reached The Royal London Hospital at
12.30am, it happened to have three cardiac arrest
Mr Lee was told his wife's brain problem was
"not as important" as the cardiac arrest
cases, he recounted solemnly. She would have had to wait
till 8am the next morning for her CT brain scan if 10
Downing Street had not intervened to get her early
attention. High Commissioner Michael Teo had sought help
from 10 Downing Street at 2am on Sunday and she received
treatment at 3.30am on the night itself.
"Once upon a time, it was a wonderful hospital.
But after 40 plus years ... the system cannot deliver.
There's no connection between those in the system and
the patients," he said.
But it's the way free healthcare systems work, he
added, noting that Singapore must not go down that path,
even though there are calls for free C class wards in
public hospitals here.
"It's how the system works ... They did not
discriminate against us," he noted of his London
This contrasted sharply with how quickly Singaporeans
- including national carrier Singapore Airlines -
reacted to the situation.
Even though doctors initially advised that Mrs Lee
stay put in London for three weeks, Mr Lee decided fly
her back once her condition stabilised.
And then there was the big worry that she would get a
spasm onboard, he recounted.
But he needn't have worried. Within 48 hours, SIA had
fitted out SQ321 with medical support of oxygen tanks
and other fixtures for a drip.
"No other airline would have done this," Mr
Lee said, looking visibly touched.
On board were also two Intensive Care nurses from
Changi General Hospital, two doctors, as well as
officials from SIA who made sure all the equipment
"Everyone knows his job," said Mr Lee.
"Within 12 to 13 hours, we'd reached Changi
Airport. It was a big relief," he said.
"Twelve to 13 hours. Your heart stops beating
sometimes. We landed at Changi Airport. Great relief. I
had my granddaughter (Li Xiuqi) with me. She is very
fond of her grandmother. She was so relieved."
Mrs Lee was whisked off in an ambulance to Singapore
General Hospital, where she is recovering.
"I think this experience has changed my
granddaughter's view of Singapore," Mr Lee said.
The overseas ordeal has made him even more assured
that Singapore has what it takes to succeed, despite the
downturn. "It's how we respond in an emergency that
determines how we fight back. And I have enormous
confidence that we can fight back."
The Singapore system - with its efficiency and
fighting spirit - must be kept, he said.
"You slacken, you choose the easy way, and you'd
be finished," he said.
Choking back tears, he added: "I have immense
confidence that in an emergency, our people respond ...
If we can do that, we can succeed."
4 Nov 2003
Singapore's Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, admitted
Wednesday he was mistaken to claim that British Prime
Minister Tony Blair's office intervened to ensure his
wife got quick treatment at a London hospital.
The elderly Lee caused a mini furore when he told a
public gathering here at the weekend that 10 Downing St
helped ensure his wife was given a brain scan four and a
half hours earlier than doctors had initially said they
Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, 82, was taken to the state-run
Royal London Hospital at 12:30 am on Sunday October 27
after she suffered a stroke while the couple were
travelling on official business.
Lee, 80, initially said Singapore High Commissioner
Michael Teo had called 10 Downing Street at 2:00 am and
asked them to help ensure Mrs Lee was given the CT scan
"Because of 10 Downing Street, the CT scan was
done at 3:30 am. And then the blood clot could be seen
clearly," Lee told the weekend community event,
adding the incident highlighted the problems of
Britain's free health care system.
But after the Royal London Hospital denied on Tuesday
it ever gave preferential treatment to anyone and his
comments made front-page headlines in Britain, Lee's
office issued a short statement clarifying his comments.
"Mr Lee Kuan Yew regrets he was mistaken that 10
Downing Street had anything to do with his wife getting
a CT scan at 3:30 am," the statement said.
"Earlier, at 2:00 am, he was told that it would
be done at 8:00 am because they had cardiac patients to
"The hospital authorities may have decided on
their own that they could do the scan for Mrs Lee
earlier and she was scanned at 3:00 am, completing it at
The Royal London Hospital is part of Britain's huge
state-run National Health Service, which guarantees free
health care to all but suffers long waiting lists,
excessive red tape and a shortage of doctors and nurses.
Lee's weekend comments that were critical of
Britain's health care system compared with Singapore's
part user-pays method also caused controversy.
"We run a system where you have to co-pay... but
you get the attention. There, no attention, just join
the queue," local media reported Lee as saying.
He described The Royal London Hospital as a
"wonderful hospital" a long time ago.
"But after 40 plus years... the system cannot
deliver. There's no connection between those in the
system and the patients."
Lee also praised Singapore Airlines for fitting out a
plane with two intenstive care nurses, two doctors,
oxygen and a drip to bring his wife back to Singapore,
despite a British doctor telling them it would be better
she stayed in London to recover.
"We weighed the odds and decided to take the
risk," Lee said.
Mrs Lee is recovering at Singapore General Hospital
20 Nov 2003
From bulletin board of Sammyboy
Here's the lowdown on what happened at Today newspaper
after it reported on the stroke that Mrs LKY suffered in
I checked with my client at Mediacorp, which is the
largest shareholder of Today.
LKY's press secretary summoned Shaun
Seow, Mano Sabnani,
Rahul Singh, Bachchan Singh and Val Chua for a tekan
session at the Istana. He chided the newspaper for running
provocative stories that are out of bounds.
Today was asked to explain what service it does to the
nation and why it shouldn't be closed down. Mediacorp was
ordered to supervise Today more closely or it will be
punished too. Also, all reports on local news must be
written by locals, no foreigners allowed.
The chief editor, Mano
Sabnani, has been demoted. He
still holds the title, but he must now report to Shaun
Seow, CEO Mediacorp Channel News Asia. ...
[personal remarks snipped]...
The deputy editor Rahul has also been demoted to night
desk to be together with the other night editor Bachchan
The reporter Val Chua now writes advertising features
for DBS and other banks. Her press pass is withdrawn and
she cannot report news. She keeps her job and now reports
directly to an old ex-Reuters editor hired in September by
Today to consolidate operations.
Today has been told it has crossed the line and the
media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way
as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public
Now, what the **** is happening?
Was Val Chua's report factually wrong? Was it
slanderous? Was it biased?
Nothing. She reported what SM said at the Tanjong Pagar
makan session, straight reporting, no twist. She added
some background about the healthcare system and how
different Singapore and UK are, mentioned by SM in his
A young girl's career is ruined when she did no wrong.
Where is justice?
22 Nov 2003
Exclusive: SM Lee Vents Anger at TODAY
SM Lee Vents Anger at Newspaper for Report About His
Singapore Libertarians is concerned about news that a
Singapore newspaper was taken to task for reporting on
the incidents that recently occurred in London over the
treatment of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew when she suffered a stroke
Singapore Libertarians was informed that last week SM
Lee had summoned the top brass of a Singapore daily,
Today, after the paper published a story that indicated
his wife had received preferential treatment in a London
Mr Lee met with senior staff members of Today Mr
Ernest Wong, Group Chief Executive Officer of Mediacorp
(which publishes the newspaper), Mr Mano Sabnani (Editor
of Today), Mr Rahul Pathak (Deputy Editor of Today) and
Ms Val Chua (a journalist with the newspaper).
The meeting took place around noon on 5 November
2003. It was learned that the above mentioned staff
members of the newspaper were reprimanded for publishing
the article "SM Lee and the eye opening trauma in
London." They were also warned against writing any
articles that were risqué.
If it is true that the meeting between Mr Lee and the
newspaper staff actually took place, the incident
constitutes a grave breach of journalistic practices in
Singapore where newspapers are expected to report the
truth freely without undue interference from the
Singapore Libertarians is concerned about the effect
this meeting has on the media in Singapore. It is a
clear indication that not only has the liberalisation of
the mass media not happened in this, but also that Mr
Lee Kuan Yew has no compunction about putting
journalists on a very short leash when it comes to
reporting on his family and the PAP.
The government must rectify this unethical and
unhealthy situation immediately. It has to clearly
separate the interests of the ruling party and the
demands of the Senior Minister from the those of an
independent media. Singapore's media organisations must
not be used by one man or one party for their own
agenda. They should have the right to perform their
duties without fear or favour.
We also urge the management of Today to stand firm on
its principles and serve the interests of the public.
In Singapore, all local newspapers, radio and
television stations are owned and controlled by the
government or its agencies and foreign publications are
subjected to defamation suits and various laws to ensure
compliance with the ruling party's views and policies.
For further information, contact us at:
Late January, I heard this
story again from two sources. One was a
friend whom I consider a very reliable source, who in turn had
heard it directly from one of the persons involved. The other
source more or less confirmed the general outline, on top of
which he added that the press who were at the Tanjong
Pagar event listening to the speech were told by officials
what not to report of it. Today, however, did not abide by the
instruction. I haven't had confirmation if the last part is true, but
most of the rest of the story appear to be corroborated.
This whole episode makes a sorry
commentary on the way our media are expected to meekly abide
by whatever instructions are given, and the way our ruling
politicians feel they can bully their way through. If you look
carefully at exhibit 1, you'd hardly think it a scurrilous
piece of journalism begging for a reprimand.
This brings to a crunch the
problems that Today has faced since the very day they
launched. These have to do with how it can be positioned and
succeed as a serious newspaper when the Straits Times so
dominates the landscape, and when the rules of the game are so
* * * * *
Let's ask ourselves, how would
one establish a new newspaper against the Straits Times?
The first problem to crack has
to be distribution, and giving it out free the way Today has
been doing is probably the only way to achieve that quickly.
It brought immediate returns in that getting circulation
rapidly brought in advertisers. But now they are trapped in a
vicious cycle: having been given away free, how does one
persuade subscribers to pay for it?
What I might have done differently would be to
have two versions of it: a "lite" version given free, and a
full version that carried a price tag. The lite version would have
carried abridged stories, and perhaps an index of additional stuff
available in the full version. Lite would be good enough for a quick
read on the metro or over lunch, but it would also give the reader the
assurance that he would get stuff that interested him if he paid a bit
for the full version from the newsstand.
After a while, readers might be confident enough
to sign up for home delivery of the full version.
If distribution is a big problem for a newspaper
start-up in Singapore, the editorial challenge is head-crackingly huge.
As a resource-short David against a well established Goliath, it stands
to reason that Today has to choose certain niche areas in which to
The Straits Times has pretty good foreign
coverage, partly because it's an area (other than sports) with the least
governmental interference, stories about Malaysia excepted.
Its weakest area is local politics, and therefore
this is where a new brand can distinguish itself. Related to that is
also the fact that it's the one area where the market is hungriest for
interesting stuff. However, to satisfy the public's appetite, there has
to be critical writing and the courage to carry trenchant rebuttals by
the government's opponents, or by independent voices.
This can tie in with sharper reporting of home
news. Singapore can do with a lot more investigative reporting about
official cover-ups, bureaucratic bungling, errors of judgement in our
government-linked companies and scandals both public and private.
The third area where Today can differentiate
itself is the type of third-party commentaries it carries. The Straits
Times' choice of commentaries is characterized by safe positions argued
by the same names seen over and over again.
Their local op-eds try very hard for
"balance" (which I put in quotation marks because what is
"balance" in the establishment's eyes looks awfully contrived
in others'). I have respect for some of their columnists as they try to
strain at the leash, but they will be the first to tell you, I am sure,
that strain is sometimes what they have to do.
The imported op-eds in the Straits Times often
give a depressing appearance of propaganda. I mean, has it not struck
you why they all seem to buttress the government's preferred way of
seeing the world? The message seems to be, "see, all these worthies
are saying the same things as your PAP government about the global
economy, the rise of China and the evils of Muslim extremism. How can
you not be convinced that the Singapore government is right?"
But then, have you seen any articles in the
Straits Times lately about the evils of Christian extremism? Or the
perils of a headlong rush to globalisation?
There is lots of room for more argumentative
commentaries staking out unconventional positions, particularly about
domestic affairs. There are plenty of local voices wanting to be heard
on issues close to Singaporeans' hearts. If Today sets out to develop a
working relationship with those among them who can write, the newspaper
can find this to be rich source of free content (unlike the costly
syndicated columns the Straits Times carries) giving a fresh,
alternative, and maybe younger tone to Today. This may lay the
groundwork for capturing the loyalty of the new generation.
* * * * *
All the above is not difficult to envision, and
I'm not in the least suggesting that Today didn't think of them. Who am
I, to quote that earthy Singaporean phrase, to teach a grandmother to
(Don't ask. I have no idea about the origin of
What I hope to achieve by sketching out this
"business development plan", as it were, is to show that from
a purely business point of view, there is a reasonable way for another
serious newspaper to emerge in Singapore. Those who have been suggesting
that Singapore is too small a market for 2 serious papers are making too
hasty a judgement.
At the same time, what is also obvious from the
above sketch is how impossible the plan is. Can you imagine any of these
ideas being carried out under the present government policies?
To close, let me put the problem succinctly: How
do we have two newspapers when we're only allowed one point of view?
© Yawning Bread