Media’s Seven Deadly Sins – ST Displays One in NFK Suit

A friend yesterday sent me a mail listing the seven deadly sins of the media as highlighted by one of India’s top journalists, M J Akbar. One of the seven is playing up the triumph of trivia. In other words, exaggerating trivialities or the trivialisation of issues!

This is exactly what The Straits Times of Singapore did yesterday (and today) while writing about the withdrawal of the defamation suit filed against it by the National Kidney Foundation and its CEO, T T Durai. In fact, it can easily be dubbed a double sin because not only was it celebrating the triumph of trivia, it was in fact trumpeting its own success.

ST went overboard about how it was its duty to raise issues of legitimate public interest. If anything, by playing up the trivial issue it may have caused irreparable damage to charities in general, going by the needless public backlash against the NKF.

I don’t remember ST having successfully led any crusade of genuine public interest – for instance, if not against anything of political significance, at least against the pulling down of buildings of historical relevance?  Why will it do that when its parent, the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) group, was itself responsible for letting go the landmark Times House building to pocket a few million dollars?

But for a silly toilet issue it devoted several pages as if it had scored a major victory fighting for freedom of expression!  

Childish and Downright Silly: To me, the original ST report, about how the NKF was misusing its funds through installation of such bathroom fittings as a S$900+ gold-plated tap and a S$1100 toilet bowl, was puerile and downright silly. Even most housing board flats have toilet bowls that cost around S$500. So what is the big deal about a S$21-million building having a S$1100 bowl?

The ST report quite literally stinks. It even suggested that NKF gave up on expensive toilet fittings only after the contractor raised a stink! Come on, give me a break guys from this kind of inane reporting that the newspaper is becoming increasingly notorious for.

You cannot go about questioning everything for nothing. We may then even have to question why the National Library needs such a swanky new building when all readers need are good books and a fairly quiet place to study.

Equally Silly: But then the NKF reacted with an equally silly measure by filing a libel suit and then dramatically withdrawing it after ST’s senior counsel Davinder Singh turned petty by grilling Durai over the latter’s S$600,000 annual salary.

True, the NKF is an entity that relies on donations from the public for supporting its mission of reaching out to kidney patients, including those who could hardly afford the costs. But that does not mean you have to grudge the CEO’s salary, particularly when most of those in his grade in the employment stakes draw just as high or much more.

Reward for his Success: After all, no one can take it away from Durai that it was under his leadership that the NKF was able to accumulate around S$200 million in reserves, which was another silly bone of contention. Just because the reserves can last 30 years the NKF cannot be expected to sit idle without boosting it to serve the community even better.

But the NKF did err in saying that the reserves would last only three years. Even if the intention was noble, it was a lie and to that extent it is not acceptable.

That apart, highly successful CEOs can hardly be roped in for peanuts. He is paid for what he is worth for the organization he works for and it is not Davinder Singh’s business to question it.

Durai did not steal any money from the NKF. The money he got was his legitimate salary. The NKF has benefited by his leadership and has chosen to reward him for that. It being a welfare organization should not stop it from paying its staff well, particularly when it is in a sound position to serve its patients well. Will Davinder Singh offer his legal services for the common man on a small fee? Poor people also get into legal trouble and will he argue their case for a nominal fee?

However, I will have to agree that first-class flight travel was a vulgar display of extravagance on the part of Durai.

Recruitment Drive in India: The NKF is not above board always. It has been rightly criticized earlier when it recruited marketing folk from India. Surely, there must be enough people in Singapore to fill marketing positions. It did deflect such criticism away earlier by saying that the positions required specialized nephrology-related skills. But I am not convinced.

Moreover, its recruitment particularly from Bombay was itself not without controversy. The recruitment drive there required all applicants to fill up a form, with one of the questions on it reportedly being if “you break wind in public”. That really stinks, NKF.

The NKF even tried to hire many journalists from India for its corporate publications here. It conducted interviews in many Indian cities, including Bombay and Delhi a year or so ago. But it is not clear if they indeed go ahead with the recruitment of journalists. People could have been hired in Singapore itself for producing newsletters.

The Other Six Deadly Sins: Now, let me go back to the other six deadly sins of the media as presented by Akbar. They are:

¨       Becoming willing players in the game of business and politics on the part of the media owners and journalists

¨       Bias, which comes in various guises

¨       Pomposity, which leads journalists to think that they are more important than readers

¨       Generating boredom among the readers in the name of seriousness

¨       The idea of “news on sale”, which compromises the sacredness of the news space

¨       Ignorance, which is strongly prevalent among the new generation of journalists

I love the last one which is very true. Pseudo intellectuality is rampant among journalists.

–G Joslin Vethakumar


P.S.: I apologize for the long blog. I must admit it has gone a bit unwieldy. Somehow, despite all my years in writing, I am still to learn how to keep my pieces crisp!



Filed under Media

7 responses to “Media’s Seven Deadly Sins – ST Displays One in NFK Suit

  1. Unknown

    Do you have standing to make comments?What is your nationality?First, is it right of Durai to brow-beat members of the public with defamation suits? The Law of Defamation is due for reform.Second, did the Defendants say the right thing? Did he use donors’ funds for personal travel? Did he jet here and there on first class? Did he get the donors’ permission? How come Durai so quiet?What about the Interested Party Transactions? Are these transactions at arms’ length? Are these transactions made according to the established protocol of large organisations? Answer the Public, Durai, where are you hiding, eh …Donors only consent to the use of their donations for the patients’. They never agreed to let their $ be used to enrich Durai.They might have agreed to reasonable remuneration but they would not agree to their funds being abused until 10% of every dollar goes to patients.This can’t be tolerated !!! Ma Ma Mia

  2. Unknown

    Now, what ST did wasn’t triviaIs it trivia to expose:(1) Remuneration that’s way above certain benchmarks??(2) Backpaying(3) Giving certain female employees pay increments and Golden Handshakes when they were going to leave NKF(4) Entering into agreements that were not in the interests of NKF. If it were, why would the new NKF management reject it(5) How come no OPEN TENDER???(6) How come the terms are not the USUAL COMMERCIAL TERMS FOUND IN EQUIVALENT CONTRACTS in the Commercial Sectors???Point is would Durai use the money the way he did if those $$$ were his??? Did ST have the right to protect public donations ???Now Durai earned about $6.6 million according to the Press.If Durai thinks his actions are so justified then let him bring out all his $$$ and pass it to a FUND MANAGER who will operate the funds the way he did.Would Durai agree??? Come on answer the PUBLIC

  3. Unknown

    Yes, ST have done the right thing.IF A MAN WHO CAN’T BE TRUSTED WITH THE SMALLEST OF THINGS, HOW CAN HE BE ENTRUSTED WITH THE HARD EARNED MONEY DONATED BY POOR SODS OF SINGAPOREANS. THESE POOR SODS’ SWEAT AND BLOOD HAS BEEN DESPISED AND CALLED PEANUTS!!!Hello, Donations are meant for the kidney patients.The Hard Earned Peanuts are not meant to make the people running NKF rich.Not the Receptionists. Not the Staff. Not the Fund Raisers. Not the Nurses. Not the Board. Not the Management.If most of it were to go plonk into the pockets of Durai & his Gang of Four named in the papers, then have the Donors been deceived?This is aptly said by Rockson : "I do not hate charity organisation, I think people must help other poor and sick people. But fuck lah, you mean when on the tv the people who earn $1000 a month donate and the number on the NKF tv show jump $100,000 to $200,000 to $300,000….. when reach $600,000 of donation, is only cover this CEO salary?"You mean 90% of the funds raised aren’t going to the Kidney Patients but diverted away for other purposes. But do the Donors know??? If they were to know, would they have AGREED??? If they wouldn’t agree, had they been deceived???High time to apply the precedent case of The Church v Joaquim KangAnswer the Public … Answer the Public … Answer the Public …. Answer the Public …By the way what’s the basis for paying Durai so much, taking into the consideration that the higher the remuneration the LESS THE KIDNEY PATIENTS GET. Eh …Is Durai a brand name like MR DAVID BECKHAM??? Are Real Madrid justified in paying Mr David Beckham a king’s ransom. Yes!!! Mr David Beckham raises the PROFILE OF REAL MADRID in Asia.Do people donate because of Durai – hands up, ma ma mia!!! Evidence pointing against it is ample and irrefutable:(1) If the heartlanders loved Durai so much, why did he need to rely on MediaCorp Artistes?(2) If the heartlanders loved Durai so much, why did he need to generate publicity through TV Charity Shows?(3) If the heartlanders loved Durai so much, why did he need to bring the poor suffering patients out in those TV Charity Shows.Answer the Public …. Obviously, Donors donated out of sympathy.

  4. Joslin

    As one having been born and bred in a country that cherishes democracy and freedom of expression, I have the strength to accept divergent points of view with a sense of equanimity. So I am perfectly comfortable with your viewpoints. I only wish you have the same courage to question the huge salaries that Singapore’s ministers get (several times more than what Dorai got). That is, after all, also from the sweat and toil of the people!Also, while I have no problem with your line of argument, I must say you have no business to question me on my nationality or standing to offer my comments on the issue. As long as one does not infringe on other people’s rights, everyone has the right to comment on anything he or she deems fit. But then Singaporeans are not used to free speech which is a fundamental right of people in a civilized world. So I am not surprised at your comment.

  5. Amanda Tracy

    I agree completely with what Joslin has commented and it does make sense . NKF is successful today largely due to an efficent team of staff headed by a leader with much talents and innovations that enable the center to run effectively and perptually providing healthcare support to the kidney patients . Many have indeed benefited from it . We need highly talented people to run organisation- following government’s propaganda . And what are the perks that draw these people in ???? Is money —- so it is  logical to pay them for what they contribute – be it in the governement  or private sector , let alone NKF .
    I like to comment that Michelle Goh may have the right of speech nevertheless she has no right to judge Durai . And no right to challenge .

  6. Amanda Tracy

    continued….Joslin’s comments . On the part of 1st class travel – there is nothing wrong if one can afford and answer to it . Especially for Durai – a business minded man  though extravagant – He makes an effort to buy the 1st class airtickets from India instead from Singapore knowing that it will save a great deal . So i urge Michelle to think further instead of making judgements based on reports from the media as many of the times it maybe greatly exggerated and especially in this case – ST would be writing infavour of themselves by pointing out the negative aspects and the mishandeling of funds by Durai and his team . Has the public dispel all the good works done by his team after all these years ????
    Fm – Amanda

  7. Joslin

    Thank you very much, Amanda, for your comments.

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