Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also the Chairman of the SG50 Steering Committee, gave his own report card for SG50 to the media sometime earlier this month.
“We did a survey over the months, and we found that practically everyone has heard about SG50. Eighty per cent of people felt that ground-up initiatives have created this sense that they’re part of Singapore, and 90 per cent of Singaporeans felt that SG50 events have made them feel an even stronger sense of national identity, and a sense that each of us can do something about Singapore’s future”.
We do not want to hurt anybody but here are a few questions on our minds:
1. What was the aim of the interview?
The interview reminds us of one of those debrief sessions you have to attend after the conclusion of a large-scale project.
If the aim of the interview was to highlight the impact of SG50, the SG50 Programme office could have issued a statement to mention these achievements. For instance, we know that 1.7 million people participated in the SG50 celebrations over the SG50 long weekend.
Some of the statistics that Minister Heng cited – S$10 million spent to support ground-up projects, more than 400 projects in total – can be included in the statement to the media.
2. How about getting two sides of the story?
If Minister Heng praised SG50’s impact, shouldn’t the media attempt to interview the man on the street or other SG50 stake-holders for another perspective?
Both Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia did not interview anybody except Minister Heng for the SG50 story.
3. Why was the interview done sometime earlier worth a front page news story for every paper in town?
It is rather strange for a dated interview to be the frontpage news of all the papers, isn’t it?
4. More details about the internal poll, please.
The poll, which Minister Heng cited, stated that 80 per cent of people felt that ground-up initiatives have created this sense that they’re part of Singapore.
However, both The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia provided sketchy details about the internal poll.
TODAY was a bit more specific, stating that it was “an internal poll of some 7,000 Singaporeans over 14 months”.
A few questions the journalists could consider asking Minister Heng:
1) Since the internal poll was conducted monthly since Nov 2014, did the poll experienced a rise during key moments such as the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the NDP, and GE 2015?
2) S$10 million was spent to support more than 400 ground-up projects. Did the internal poll experience a noticeable rise when there were more ground-up projects organised in a certain month?
3) $5 million was initially allocated to the SG50 Celebration fund to support the ground-up projects, but the fund was doubled. Did Minister Heng consider the money well-spent? Did the extra $5 million affect other SG50 celebrations (eg. the scaling down of other SG50 projects)?
4. Lastly, why did Minister Heng agree to be interviewed?
We do not need poor Minister Heng to cite a survey of an internal poll to justify the success of SG50.
By agreeing to the interview on Sg50, Minister Heng was placed between a rock and a hard place.
If he praised the organisation of SG50 initiatives, it will be seen as “self-praise”. If he criticised SG50, the readers would wonder why he did not do more to improve SG50 since he is the Chairman.
This was also highlighted by former Straits Times editor Bertha Henson.
Incidentally, we noticed that TODAY changed the headline of their article to mask what was perhaps a freudian slip by the SG50 chairman – it was changed from “SG50 became more than a ‘rah-rah’ celebration: Heng Swee Keat” to “Mr Lee’s death ‘cast sadness over SG50, but made celebrations profound'”.
Minister Heng used the word “rah-rah celebration” when he spoke about how the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has affected SG50:
“Because of the deep introspection and reflection that we were plunged into, and that shared sense of grief, it added a certain profundity to the celebrations. It added a lot more depth to the celebrations…So it was no longer just a rah-rah celebration, but I think it also got us to think very hard about what matters to us as Singaporeans, and how by coming together, we can beat the odds, do the impossible, and we can stay cohesive as a people.” Channel NewsAsia
Moral of the story?
Singapore is all the poorer for it if civil servants and journalists do not think critically about how they can perform their tasks better.
For the civil servants, they could focus on when and why a Minister should front a media interview before agreeing to one.
For the journalists, they would do well to remember why they become journalists in the first place.
Here’s a totally unrelated but equally interesting article:
Top photo from Heng Swee Keat Facebook.