Flak and some praise for Singapore Press Club’s Hall of Fame


By Ivan Lim,
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN  

SINGAPORE: An initiative by the Singapore Press Club in setting up a Hall of Fame for media personalities has received some praise, but the flak it drew was unhesitating because of its noticeably exclusive approach in choosing candidates.

Fifty people made the inaugural list, drawn from the Singapore Press Holdings stable of newspapers, state-owned radio and TV as well as public relations firms.  All are seen as largely pro-Establishment figures who had fallen in line with the government’s dictates on press policies.

Veteran journalist Tan Bah Bah described the club’s project as “excellent and timely”, and the award winners as “deserving”, but he added he believed other notable newsmen “who had never seen eye to eye with the establishment” should also be enrolled in the Hall of Fame.

“Any Singapore Press Hall of Fame would be suspect and incomplete without two big names – Ambrose Khaw (chief editor) and Francis Wong (editor) of the Singapore Herald,” he wrote in his weekly column, on June 12 for the website Independent Singapore.

The Singapore Herald had run-ins with the Lee Kuan Yew government over what is known as “black operation” foreign funding charges, and for its independent press coverage of sensitive issues like national service. The tabloid was closed down in May 1971.

Weighing in on the apparent discrimination in selecting Hall of Fame candidates, Prof Cherian George of Hong Kong Baptist Universitynoted there are “more glaring absences”

The former Straits Times journalist highlighted Mr Lee Eu Seng, the last publisher of the Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau, who was detained in 1973 by the government for alleged stirring of Chinese racial sentiments.

“(Mr Lee) resolutely defended the newspaper’s editorial positions and paid the price, with five years detention under the Internal Security Act,”Prof Cherian said in a Facebook post on June 14.

 He also alluded to Mr Said Zahari, editor- in- chief of the Malay language newspaper Utusan Melayu, a consistent advocate of press freedom, in the 1950s.

A journalist and editor at the Utusan Melayu newspaper in the 1950s, he entered politics in the 1960s. Said was arrested in 1963, accused of involvement in a communist plot and spent the next 17 years in detention

“Singapore’s 20th century press history had numerous other important and inspirational figures (Said Zahari?) who happened to pick the “wrong” side,” he said, adding it meant “they were pro-Singapore/Malaya in ways that were not in line with the PAP ‘s vision of an Anglicised, capitalist, developmental press that would subordinate itself to the agenda of the political leadership.”

The Press Club unveiled its Hall of Fame on June 10 at its 50th anniversary celebrations in the presence of Minister for Communications and Information, and Second Minister for Home Affairs, Ms Josephine Teo, and 400 members and guests.

Addressing the audience on historical government-press relations, Ms Teo recalled how S. Rajaratnam, an icon of the media and a founding father of the nation, delivered his Global City vision at the Press Club’s inaugural Eminent Speaker Series In 1972.

That vision has helped chart the independent city-state’s perilous journey towards modernity after its eviction from the federation of Malaysia in 1965.

 The late eminent foreign minister was not among the 50 past and present media figures honoured in the Hall of Fame for their professional excellence and impact on society.

Two of the luminaries in the posthumous roll of honour were Mr Yusof Ishak, founder and managing director of Utusan Melayu, and Mr Wee Kim Wee, editorial manager of The Straits Times. They went on to become the first and fourth President of the nation, respectively.

No one can rule out that the Press Club may, in due course, expand its Hall of Fame to honour non-Establishment or politically controversial media figures.

That is, if club officials pick candidates for the Hall of Fame based on their professional merit, not on their standing with the authorities. This would not be an easy call but tip-toeing away from it would affect the standing of the Press Club itself.

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