Lee Bee Wah’s “bring up awareness” is perfect case study on how media works in Singapore now

Did Lee Bee Wah/CNA see the train wreck coming?

By Jonathan Lim | February 21, 2017

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced during his Budget 2017 speech that water prices will increase 30% come 2018.

Prices haven’t been raised for 17 years and the official explanation for the increase was due to the rising costs associated with supplying water — such as building desalination and NEWater plants and laying deeper pipes in Singapore’s urbanised environment.

Things get more expensive so someone has got to pay, fair enough. Not to mention, Singapore really doesn’t have a large enough natural source of freshwater to sustain itself, yet.

Indeed there weren’t really any pitchforks raised two weeks ago when Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli alluded to the fact that water prices were going to increase.


Then Lee Bee Wah happened

Enter People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Lee Bee Wah.

She has managed to single-handedly turn a non-issue into a pain point for people who usually don’t give two hoots about budget speeches.

Channel NewsAsia uploaded interviews with several MPs about their views on Heng’s budget speech, including Lee’s.

Despite Lee praising the budget for offering help to companies and individuals, CNA helpfully highlighted Lee’s final point about water prices:
cna edit history lee bee wah1


People read headlines/captions only

In an age where people do not bother to watch videos without subtitles, CNA’s caption ensured that Lee’s comment – “I think the increase in water prices is just to bring up awareness of the importance of water” – would be a viral sensation.

By the time CNA edited the caption to add in more context, the viral ship has sailed.

Netizens completely ignored whatever Lee said before and after the “bring up awareness” and latched onto this faux pas:
cna edit history lee bee wah comments


Online media sites respond first.

And other media sites quickly followed up, because it was a big open goal:
lbw water

Then mainstream media found ways to either ignore the matter or stick the knife in

Obviously Fortunately, mainstream media websites did not continue the coverage on Lee’s comments.

It is interesting that Lee’s comment was subsequently ignored by sites that belong to CNA’s parent company Mediacorp. Nothing from CNA. Nadda from TODAY online too.

Except Asiaone, owned by Singapore Press Holdings, Mediacorp’s competitor.

In one of those rare moments between competitors, Asiaone was nice enough to highlight that the “scoop” with Lee was done by CNA.

Source: AsiaOne website.
Source: AsiaOne website.

Well at least the silver lining for CNA is that the video garnered 293,000 views.

Other videos interviewing MPs on the budget speech barely hit 50,000 combined.

Too much political videos in a day? Check out these local films right NAO:
5 actually watchable local films to check out right now… for free


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About Jonathan Lim

Jon is thankful that Singapore is interesting enough to keep a website like Mothership.sg up and running.

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