Sunday, May 22, 2005

Straits Times Ethics Committee Issues Guidebook For The Public

Singapore, Singapore-- The Ethics Committee of the Straits Times today issued a guidebook for the public to educate them on the proper procedures to follow in the event that they are approached by journalists who want their opinion.
"Contrary to popular belief, our newspapers do have a Code of Ethics, and we take our commitment to fairness and accuracy very seriously," a spokesperson from the Committee said.
"Recent events have shown that we might not have reached those standards. We are seeing an increasing number of instances where sources claim they are quoted out of context or misquoted. As a result of the complaints that we have received, we would like to educate the public on steps they can use to protect themselves when the situation presents itself."
The 20-page, colour guidebook entitled "The Straits Times and You" contains sections such as issuing press statements, fielding telephone calls from journalists, and strategies to choose the best photo to present oneself to a readership of 1.23 million. Among other things, the section on communicating with journalists includes the following:
"For the purposes of full disclosure, it is now standard company procedure for all our journalists to issue the following 'statement of rights' to potential sources before they are allowed to obtain any information from them."You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in our newspapers and websites. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during the interview. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to remain silent."
A journalist with the Straits Times who wished to remain anonymous applauded the Committee's initiative. "For far too long, innocent people have been misinterpreted, misconstructed, misconstrued, and misunderstood when their words appear in our newspapers. This is a small, but bold, move to raise our standards."

John Lim, who felt he has been misquoted before, agreed. "Yeah loh, last time I got interviewed by this reporter, and when I see the final article, I was, like, "When did I ever say this?" Then hor, yes, I remember that I did say such things. Then I look back at the article again, and I wonder, "When did I ever say this?!" It's all very strange. The newspaper seems to have a special power over people... don't know exactly what."

A senior editor at the Straits Times disagreed. "Don't get me wrong, I think its essential for any media company to have an Ethics Committee. But I don't understand what they're saying. Quoting our sources out of context? What does that mean? A quote is a quote is a quote. We present the quote AS IS. All quotes that appear in our newspaper actually came out of the mouths of our sources. It is up to our readership to make an informed judgment on the validity of the quote. We try to remain objective and balanced. I'm sorry to say this, but I think the Ethics Committee has misunderstood us this time round.

A representative from the Ethics Committee could be reached for further comment, but he declined to comment further.

Context: SingaporeAngle, SingaporeInk, me.