Media Singapore

Straits Times began with call for press freedom

The Straits Times is marking its 168th anniversary today with a cornucopia of gifts. Lucky readers stand to win among other things a trip for two to London while another lucky pair will go to Munich to test-drive the latest BMW. The birthday bash behoves a golden goose of a newspaper which as the only English-language daily newspaper of record in Singapore commands an average daily circulation of 389,700, according to its parent, Singapore Press Holdings. The big fat newspaper now, often running to more than 100 pages, is very different from the slim inaugural issue which had only advertisements on the front page (see below).

Front page of the Straits Times' inaugural issue, July 15, 1845
Front page of the Straits Times’ inaugural issue, July 15, 1845

The Straits Times launched with a clarion call for freedom of the press. This is what the historian CM Turnbull wrote in Dateline Singapore, the Straits Times’ official history published to mark the newspaper’s 150th anniversary:

The first issue of the Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce appeared on the morning of  July 15, 1845, published from No 7 Commercial Square. It was a weekly paper of eight folio pages, printed with new type and on “fine English paper”.

However obscure the origins of the paper might be, (Robert Carr) Woods was clear about his aims. The print run comprised only a few dozen copies, but he wanted to impress on his readers the grand design and lofty principles behind his publication. As his first editorial explained:

“Good morning to you kind reader… We proceed to declare our sentiments whilst we aver the honourableness of our intentions…

“We need not seek out arguments in support of the unfettered liberty which the Press should possess, because there are few in whose breast a doubt is entertained respecting the benefits derived and derivable from Public Journalism. The Press is allowed to be ‘the fourth estate’ and ought never to be wanting in an unequivocal and zealous maintenance of its object, since it embraces a defence of the immunities and privileges of a free people. A knowledge of the fact that the Press is free serves to deepen the conviction that its end is fulfilled so long only as it upholds fearlessly the integrity of national institutions, laying bare to the eye whatever abuses spring up or exist , and by its faithful advocacy of public rights secure to the governed protection against the innovations or misrule of the governing. These are the primary uses of the Press, to which the communication of intelligence and miscellaneous information are merely secondary… “

You can read the whole editorial online on NewspaperSG maintained by the National Library.

Editorial in the Straits Times' inaugural issue, July 15, 1845
Editorial in the Straits Times’ inaugural issue, July 15, 1845
Books Poetry Singapore

Blogs, Whitman, Singapore

Bloggers, feel free to write on about Singapore on your blogs and personal websites, the Media Development Authority has said on Facebook, clarifying the new rules that apply only to news sites.

So words will continue to pour into cyberspace documenting everything on this island until blogging becomes passé and people find other forms of expression.

Singapore World Today

Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher

An amazing parallel runs through the political careers of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the Republic of Singapore, and Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister. Both began their political career at the same time and stepped down as prime minister on the same day.

Both laid down their office on November 28, 1990. Both were succeeded by their deputies: Goh Chok Tong became prime minister of Singapore, and John Major of Britain.

Books Media Singapore

Cheong Yip Seng: Inside The Straits Times

Cheong Yip Seng
Cheong Yip Seng

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

Those lines from Julius Caesar certainly apply to Cheung Yip Seng, who loves Shakespeare. His musician father brought the family over on a ship from Penang to Singapore, where in 1963 Cheung, then 20 years old, got a job with The Straits Times.

Twenty-three years later, in December 1986, on a flight back to Singapore from Burma, the then deputy prime minister Goh Chok Tong asked him to become editor-in-chief of the English and Malay Newspapers Division of Singapore Press Holdings, The Straits Times’ owner and one of the most profitable media groups in Asia.

He might not have got the job, though, unless recommended by the man who later became  president of Singapore.

Books Media Singapore

Joseph Conrad and Singapore newspapers

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Straits Times mentioned in Joseph Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly. It’s at the beginning of Chapter 4:

That year, towards the breaking up of the south-west monsoon, disquieting rumours reached Sambir. Captain Ford, coming up to Almayer’s house for an evening’s chat, brought late numbers of the Straits Times giving the news of Acheen war and of the unsuccessful Dutch expedition.

It’s interesting because Conrad was writing in the late 19th century about a Dutch trader living deep in the jungles of Borneo.

Books Singapore

Chulia Kampong, Singapore

Chulia Street, Singapore
Chulia Street, Singapore

Looking at Chulia Street off Raffles Place and Boat Quay now, no one would know what it was like before. Chulia Kampong, unlike Kampong Glam, has vanished from the map of Singapore. So I was intrigued by the description given by the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh in his novel, River of Smoke. The book, set in the 1830s, is about the opium trade between India and China which used to pass through Singapore.


Lost and found at Changi airport

changi airport

After landing at Changi airport, I got into a taxi and was on my way home when I realized my laptop wasn’t with me. I asked the driver to pull over and opened the boot, but the computer wasn’t there.

With a sinking feeling, I then remembered I had put the computer bag down on a chair in the arrival lounge while rearranging my luggage on a trolley.

Poetry Singapore

Two lovely poems and a Singapore state of mind

People talk of a New York state of mind (below are the lyrics of the song by Billy Joel). Surely, there’s a Singapore state of mind, too.

Poetry Singapore

Gong xi fa cai! And a poem on Singapore

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Chinese New Year message says:

Ultimately we all want to make Singapore the best home in the world for ourselves, our families and our children. We all want ours to remain an inclusive, meritocratic society where every child has the chance to realise his dreams and aspirations. We all want our children and grandchildren to enjoy many opportunities in Singa­pore and beyond, even as they remain rooted by a deep sense of belonging in Singapore.

He could have been speaking for everyone in Singapore — and for everyone who loves Singapore.

Gong xi fa cai! It’s the Year of the Dragon from tomorrow.

“The Year of the Dragon is likely to see more uncertainty in the global economy,” said PM Lee. So, here’s wishing everyone good luck.

To sign off, what could be better than a poem on Singapore?

Books Singapore

Flash floods, Paul Theroux and loving Singapore

Waterlogging at Liat Towers
Waterlogging at Liat Towers

Flash floods hit Liat Towers and other parts of Orchard Road, reported AsiaOne, but PUB, whose tasks include flood prevention, begged to differ. No floods in Orchard Road, just “ponding”: Pub, said the headline in Today. “Flooding” did occur in a section of Cambridge Road/Owen Road, according to the PUB website, but not in the Orchard Road shopping district, where there was only “ponding”.”The affected areas are mainly low-lying areas,” Today reported, quoting the PUB, as if that explained everything.

I loved this quibble over words, it’s so like Singapore. I haven’t seen anything on the latest “flooding”/”ponding” yet on The Online Citizen or Singapore Daily, which takes a break on weekends, if I am not mistaken.

There were no blogs, of course, in the Singapore described by Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazar (published in 1975) which I happened to be reading again yesterday.

Theroux, who taught at the university, had mixed feelings about Singapore. “The North Star Night Express to Singapore”, the chapter on Singapore, ends with the words, “Like me — like everyone I knew in Singapore — he had just been waiting for his chance to go.” “I had felt trapped in Singapore,” he says, complaining about government control and press censorship. But he also admits: “I felt kindly towards Singapore.”

It’s impossible not to love Singapore.