CNA: Not worth the screen you watch it on?


Are our TV channels better or worse than our print media – to deserve Singapore’s 151st Press Freedom ranking in the world? 

I refer to the “Commentary: A minimum wage isn’t the answer to inequality” (Oct 13).


It states that “The minimum wage has a life of its own, and will face pressure to increase over time. Once introduced, it will be extremely politically and economically difficult to remove, and does nothing for social mobility.

My view is that in introducing a minimum wage, one may be tackling the symptoms rather than the root causes of poverty and inequality, of which one is the low value-add and productivity of low wage-workers”.

In this connection, arguably, the obvious is invariably, often never mentioned.

To what extent does the unlevel playing field between foreign workers and Singaporean workers contribute towards inequality and poverty in Singapore?

According to the article “Bridging inequality is no easy task” (Straits Times, Jun 29) – “There continues to be concern especially about tackling inequality and ensuring that the gap between those at the lower percentiles and the rest of society does not widen”.

A key contributory factor to why so many families may be struggling to make ends meet, may be the low income of the household.

And correspondingly, a key contributory factor to the “low income” may be the uneven playing field and ‘inequality’ between Singaporean and foreign workers.

No employer CPF?

For example, employers save up to 17 per cent on the employer’s CPF contribution, for foreign workers. If we count the annual bonus, the cost savings may be even higher.

No maternity leave?

Singaporean women may also be at a disadvantage because foreign work permit holders effectively cannot get pregnant and need the Ministry’s permission to get married. So, employers may not have to contend with the four months’ maternity leave.

Also, most female S-pass and employment pass holders may be single and alone when they come to work in Singapore. So, it may be less likely for them to get maternity leave. Also, those who do get pregnant may not get their typical two-year contract renewed by their employers when it expires.

No NS?

Male foreign workers do not have reservist National Service. So, employers may not have to contend with NS men employees’ leave of absence.

No turnover problems?

What is perhaps arguably, the most disadvantageous aspect for Singaporeans, may be that foreign workers effectively cannot resign during their typical 2-year contract. So, employers may not have to contend with turnover problems.

Unless, the above policies are reviewed, how can “we ensure that there is a level playing field?”

Finally, can you understand or agree with – why Singaporeans cannot do the jobs done by the 402,800 foreigners in 2017 on employment passes, S-passes and Other Work Passes (Letter of Consent (LOC) and Training Work Permit (TWP). Training Employment Pass (TEP))?

By the way, are our television channels as bad as our print media – to deserve our 151st Press Freedom ranking in the world?

Well, just look at what happened recently – “CNA reporter resigns in the wake of misinformation debacle about ministerial salaries” (theonlinecitizen, Oct 11) which said that “TOC received a tip that heavyweight Mediacorp reporter Bharati Jagdish has resigned over the recent misinformation debacle about a statement made by Banyan Tree Holdings founder and executive chairman, Ho Kwon Ping about ministerial salaries.

In the original interview published on ChannelNewsAsia on 30th September 2018, Mr Ho said that his salary is lower than that of ministers. The report then went on to state that Mr Ho’s salary inclusive of bonus and benefits comes up to well over S$2.5 million.

However, a few days later, after some confusion about what was actually said and addressed in the interview between the reporter and Mr Ho, CNA included a note to clarify that the report did not actually highlight Mr Ho’s total compensation during the interview at all and merely added it into the write-up post-interview. They also added a note to say that Mr Ho had clarified to TODAY that he was not corrected by the reporter during the interview and that he was referring to basic salaries, not total compensation as written by the reporter.

Unfortunately, the conversation around ministerial salaries was already in play. During his address in parliament, DPM Teo Chee Hean relied on that inaccurate (before the clarification) report about what Mr Ho has said and dismissed his statement as a misrepresentation that could lead to widespread representation.

While addressing questions, Mr Teo said “The subject of ministerial salaries is a difficult one to talk about, an emotional one. There are misconceptions, sometimes deliberately propagated. It is easily politicised. Even knowledgeable, well-meaning people who have a deep interest in politics can be susceptible to this.”

Those were some strong statement by Mr Teo about Mr Ho’s alleged ‘misrepresentations’.

Mr Teo said,

I read Mr Ho Kwon Ping’s extensive interview with CNA, which was published yesterday.

Among other things, he suggested pegging Ministerial salaries to the median salary of Singaporeans. He also suggested an independent Commission to decide the actual quantum. And Mr Louis Ng, in an earlier similar interview, also suggested that there should be public consultations…

…But even Mr Ho, who is well-informed and has a deep interest in politics, has some serious misconceptions. He claimed, for example, that his salary is lower than the Ministers.

Sir, fortunately, the interviewer had checked, done the homework, and pointed out to Mr Ho that his salary, including benefits and bonus – I would not mention the figure, but it is significantly higher than that of Ministers and certainly not lower than Minister’s salaries.

Sir, otherwise the misrepresentation could have been carried widely and spread more disinformation.

Unfortunately for him, Mr Teo was a victim of misinformation as well as he seems to have relied solely on CNA’s poorly worded original write that that caused the confusion in the first place. The article was only edited and updated by CNA on 6th October, five days after Mr Teo’s address to parliament.

Mr Teo had also clearly not read Mr Ho’s clarification to TODAY – published on the same day that Mr Teo spoke in parliament – about what he actually meant to say.

This led to Mr Teo wrongly claiming that Mr Ho, though well-informed, had ‘serious misconceptions’ about ministerial salaries which spread as misinformation. While addressing CNA’s report, Mr Teo had also lauded the reporter, Ms Bharati, for doing her homework, unlike Mr Ho.

Unwittingly, Mr Teo propagated a misrepresentation as well, this one about Mr Ho and Ms Bharati.

Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote the CNA article in question was forced to resign for ‘making a fabrication’ in her article, according to a source. Ms Bharati had worded the write up in a way that implied she had done her homework before conducting the interview with Mr Ho and cross-examined him on the spot when he made that comment about how his salary was lower than that of ministers,  when in fact she did no such thing.

TOC reached out to CNA for their comment about Ms Bharati’s resignation. They merely stated that she was not forced to resign, implying that she left by her own decision.

We have also reached out to Ms Bharati for comments, however, she has not replied by the time this article was published.”

When your arguably, most celebrated presenter departed “for ‘making a fabrication’ in her article” – is it any wonder why we are 151st in the world?

Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.