24 Apr 2005

Climate control in the Singapore Press

 Posted by Hello

I'm sitting in the tiny office of Cheong Yip Seng, editor-in-chief of Singapore's The Straits Times. And he's waxing lyrical about the paper and its contribution to the tiny South-East Asian nation that he's seen leap from Third World slum to First World wonder.

Cheong, 57, has been with the paper since 1963. He's proud of the paper and its contribution to modern Singapore. And he's proud, too, of the former intelligence operatives in his newsroom.

There's Chua Lee Hoong, the ST's most prominent political columnist. She might be Singapore's Maureen Dowd, except The New York Times's Dowd didn't work with the secret police for nine years. There's Irene Ho on the foreign desk. She was also an "analyst" with Singapore's intelligence services. So, says Cheong, was Susan Sim, his Jakarta correspondent.

And there's Cheong's boss, Tjong Yik Min. From 1986 to 1993, Tjong was Singapore's most senior secret policeman, running the much feared Internal Security Department, a relic of colonial Britain's insecurities about communism in its Asian empire. Now Tjong is a media mogul, the executive president of SPH, Singapore's virtual print media giant, which controls all but one of the country's newspapers.
I ask the affable Cheong, as the "journalist's journalist" he says he is, if he's comfortable having such people in powerful positions on his editorial staff and, indeed, running the company. "Why not?" he beams. "These guys have good analytical minds . . . they are all kindred spirits."

What's wrong with this picture? For many Singaporeans, nothing. After 42 years of comfortable living in a near one-party state, and a wealthy one at that, it's what you've come to expect.

Walls may not have ears in Singapore, but many locals aren't fully convinced they don't. And so they've affected this curious idiosyncrasy, which I call the Singapore Swivel.

to continue reading this article written in 2001 click here...

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