Bertha Henson on Journalism

Ex-SPH Senior Editor: Journalism Today Is About Being PAP’s Mouthpiece

By Claire — On 1 October, former SPH senior editor Bertha Henson published a Facebook post filled with scathing remarks about the current state of journalism in Singapore. She claimed that the industry has become a mouthpiece for the incumbent party in government.

This is so much so that it has become more of a “publicist” role than anything that could really land critique on anything regarding politics. Bertha Henson has claimed that journalistic standards in Singapore have been seen to deteriorate as time passes and become more of a means to an end instead of anything that could really bring about radical and sustainable change.

“Now it looks like you’ve lost the fight and are completely resigned to playing the role of publicist. Not only that, you seem to have forgotten basic journalistic principles and I mean stuff like grammar and housestyle and getting the 5Ws1H. You’ve descended to repeating press releases which are themselves badly written. I was very concerned with the deterioration of journalistic standards, the ability to write a story with a strong angle, clearly and concisely. I wondered if journalists forgot that the news is “out there’’, the need to build a network of contacts and how reporting is the basis of all your writing. I sure hope you don’t believe your own propaganda about how wonderful you are at your work. I will say you are clearly deluded if you think so.”

Bertha Henson

Though she does not seem to fault the ones that did in fact, ‘lose heart in the news gathering process’, she did in fact mention how current journalists seem to be afraid to “rock the boat’ and avoid difficult questions aimed at government officials. This, clearly can reduce the amount of criticism aimed at officials that can often aid in transparency and critique of certain policies.

Government Interference and Erosion of Trust in Media

Media censorship in Singapore is not a new phenomenon. We have a plethora of laws dedicated to ensuring that collective opinion stays as one. From local media being directly or indirectly controlled by the government, to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) as well as FICA (Foreign Interferance Countermeasures Act) opening up the possibility of abuse. It is hard for alternative media and voices to thrive in this small nation.

The government has shared that they will be providing SPH Media Trust with S$900 million funding. SPH Media Trust hosts a variety of well-known Singaporean publications ranging from Straits Times to Lianhe Zaobao. This has gravely sparked concerns on Singapore’s press neutrality and editorial independence. If all news outlets do is be the government’s spokesperson, there would be a clear damage to the field of journalism indeed.