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!