Monday, December 22, 2003

Straightening the Straits Times (3)

Are journalists here really up to the mark? Well, acting education minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam seems to think so.

"Our newspapers are not just responsible but informative too. They have objectivity and are clear that they play a responsible role in society," he said at the launch of the Straits Times Media Club.

Tharman added that inserting facts in the right context is one of the major challenges of journalism. Unfortunately, this is one challenge (amongst many others) that journalists have consistently failed to challenge, as illustrated by the example below. (Not to mention the earlier examples highlighted in this series.

Lesson in objectivity, or lack of
The Straits Times, as well as other local media, regularly adapt articles by foreign papers for publication. In the course of adaptation, some adjustments are made to the articles, for whatever reason(s). Compare the following report from AFP with the version subsequently adapted by AsiaOne (the online property of Singapore Press Holdings, which owns Straits Times) and you may be able to discern for yourself what those reasons could be.

The original AFP version:

SINGAPORE, July 24 (AFP) - A growing number of Singapore companies are imposing wage freezes and pay cuts, according to a survey out Wednesday pointing to deep pessimism about prospects for an economic rebound this year.

A poll of 333 companies, found 34 percent had slapped a wage freeze on their staff in recent months while eight percent imposed salary cuts.

The figures were higher than a similar survey six months ago, and "suggests Singapore is still in an economic recession," human resource consultancy Watson Wyatt said in a statement.

By comparison, the previous poll by Watson Wyatt found 22 percent of employers had instituted a wage freeze and seven percent had enforced pay cuts.

*The survey was released just two days after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was reported saying Singaporeans should snap out of their gloom and shift their attention to signs of "good growth" this year.

He said it was time to "move on" from issues such as recent public transport fare hikes which angered workers given the wage restraints they face.*

The Watson Wyatt survey found that of companies that have conducted a salary review for this year, the average increase across all industries is 3.6 percent, down from 5.2 percent in 2001.

The biggest beneficiaries were in the healthcare and medical products industry with pay rises of 4.9 percent, while financial service workers were at the bottom of the scale averaging 2.3 percent.

Going forward the picture did not appear rosy either, with variable bonus payments projected to average 1.4 months which is "not an optimistic reflection on the outlook" for the Singapore economy, the statement said.

"The situation is going to get worse before it gets better," Watson Wyatt managing director Kwan Chee Wei said.

**"We are unlikely to see any upturn in the employment situation before the end of the year. Companies are tightening their belts and cutting back on unnecessary expenditure till the economy recovers."**

***The pessimistic nature of the survey reflected the results of a Straits Times poll released last week in which people feared costs would continue rising before the economic recovery has been confirmed.

A total of 62 percent said prices would go up in the next three months, compared to 28 percent in a similar survey taken in March.

Only 22 percent saw the economy improving over the same period and 49 percent said the job market would get worse.***

The adapted AsiaOne version:

Wage freezes point to lingering recession in S'pore: report
SINGAPORE - A growing number of Singapore companies are imposing wage freezes and pay cuts, according to a survey out today pointing to deep pessimism about prospects for an economic rebound this year.

A poll of 333 companies, found 34 per cent had slapped a wage freeze on their staff in recent months while eight per cent imposed salary cuts.

The figures were higher than a similar survey six months ago, and "suggests Singapore is still in an economic recession," human resource consultancy Watson Wyatt said in a statement.

By comparison, the previous poll by Watson Wyatt found 22 per cent of employers had instituted a wage freeze and seven per cent had enforced pay cuts.

The Watson Wyatt survey found that of companies that have conducted a salary review for this year, the average increase across all industries is 3.6 per cent, down from 5.2 per cent in 2001.

The biggest beneficiaries were in the healthcare and medical products industry with pay rises of 4.9 per cent, while financial service workers were at the bottom of the scale averaging 2.3 per cent.

Going forward the picture did not appear rosy either, with variable bonus payments projected to average 1.4 months which is "not an optimistic reflection on the outlook" for the Singapore economy, the statement said.

"The situation is going to get worse before it gets better," Watson Wyatt managing director Kwan Chee Wei said.

The assessment:

* The context for the report was removed, perhaps deliberately to lessen its impact. This contradicts Tharman's view that "context is always important" because "facts have different meanings depending on context".

** The second part of Kwan's quote was removed, making it difficult to understand why he made that statement, and perhaps again, to lessen its impact.

*** The rest of the report was conveniently ignored as well, perhaps for the same reason.

The conclusion:

Going through the above example should make one wonder about Tharman's advice for journalist wannabes: "Always sit back and examine what makes sense and whose interest this serves."

I can understand traditional print media's need to edit an adapted article due to space constraint, but for an online property like AsiaOne, where is the justification?

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