Response to the US Embassy cable published on Wikileaks (Aug 30, 2011)

Lynn Lee.

From my sister’s Facebook Fan Page.

Sept 3, 2011

Hi everyone,

Thanks for reading The Straits Times and for your support of this FB fan page.

I left Jakarta the week before last, after 2.5 years of an extremely exciting and meaningful experience reporting on Indonesia. I have since left The Straits Times to pursue a new career outside journalism.

A few days ago, Wikileaks released a US Embassy cable that quoted my name. This is my response to it. I sent an excerpt of this note to my former editors at the ST. They replied to thank me for making these clarifications.

I met with a political officer of the US Embassy in 2008 for an informal contact meeting, prior to my Jakarta posting.

I am not making excuses – his cable misrepresented what I said and I would like to place on record what actually transpired.

I did not say or suggest that there was a “disconnect” between editors and reporters at the The Straits Times. Neither did I say I would “never write about racially-sensitive issues”. My comments were taken wholly out of context.

The political officer was interested in whether reporters and their supervisors in the ST newsroom ever disagreed on story angles. He suggested that reporters – especially those who had gone to school in a liberal environment such as in the US – would feel constrained for whatever reason in the newsroom.

My response included these points: That reporters and their editors did engage in discussions over how stories should be written – with the ultimate aim being to produce balanced reports – but that the editors would of course have the final word on what went into print.

What I also said was that I believe that the ST is run by smart people who strive to do what’s best for its readers, even as they face pressure from a government seeking to set the tone and form of media coverage.

This is a position I held openly and consistently throughout my eight-year career at The Straits Times.

I also stated that I would not want to write articles containing racially-charged remarks that could incite hatred or create rifts within society. I pointed out an example of how baseless comments could create or aggravate tensions among people. I am surprised that what I still believe to be a responsible position to take was misconstrued as self-censorship.

Neither did I suggest in any way that I was “discouraged” with my life as a Singapore journalist. I expressed my readiness to take on a new challenge and learn about a new country. I said that I would need a year at the very least to assess if the role was right for me.

My recent decision to leave journalism had everything to do with my own personal goals. I wanted to try something new and the right opportunity came up. It was not related to opinions referred to above that I openly held nor to the suggested – and misrepresented – angst the cable indicated I felt.

I have had a fulfilling and rewarding time working with my editors at the paper.

Let us hop on the PIONEER bandwagon, you and I!

Why? For context:

  1. I think most people should know by now that I have a keen interest in issues that deal with the Singapore military and with National Service.
  2. I’ve also been reading David Boey’s blog quite a bit.
  3. Mr Wang’s latest post provided the impetus to write about something close to my heart.

So I was once a PIONEER writer too.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it didn’t happen during a posting while I was serving my NSF. I managed to score an internship with PIONEER under the Singapore Civil Service Internship Programme in the ‘summer’ of 2006.

According to Edgar Lee, one of the Senior Editors then, the choice was between myself and another girl. We weren’t shortlisted; we were just two kukubirds who were interested (or silly) enough to apply for that position.

Well, I thought I got it because I sounded earnest enough during the telephone interview. Actually, I got the gig because the other girl didn’t pick up her phone.

Oh, well.

The internship was one of the best things to ever happen in my life. I had just finished my second year of University, and was somewhere between being willing to write well and being able to write well.

I thought I was destined for academic mediocrity, but the stint at PIONEER was the turning point.

Being forced to write coherently – and consistently – helped me to see what I was doing wrong before, and provided me with more self-awareness when it came to improvement.

You can check out a list of the articles I wrote here. There is a distinct immaturity in each article but I improved at a very rapid pace.

To illustrate: this is the first article I wrote, this is an article from the second month of my internship, and this is the last article I wrote. See the difference?

Anyway, unlike many other people, I haven’t cancelled my PIONEER subscription.

I still read the magazine every month with a fervour: ripping open the plastic sheet that PIONEER comes wrapped in; devouring the publication from page to page.

Is it because I am a military nut? No. I follow what the SAF does  “out of a desire to ensure the system is accountable for the lives of Singaporeans who step forward to serve in uniform”.

That is my only motivation, and PIONEER provides me with one of the few links that I have to a military system that has much room for improvement.

In fact, PIONEER magazine itself provides the most apt example of the change that needs to happen.

The publication is a symbol of how the Singapore Armed Forces wants to portray itself – a glossy, polished, professional entity.

But silences speak the loudest words, and the features that are missing from PIONEER are the very same ills that plague the SAF.

For example, there are no critical commentaries from learned individuals that analyse and evaluate military policy. Neither is there a forum page for soldiers and citizens to air their views.

In spite of this, I will continue to subscribe to PIONEER.

I believe the day will come when more citizen/soldier involvement and engagement takes place. PIONEER, like Singapore and the SAF, has evolved slowly, but surely over the last few decades.

This evolution isn’t going to stop – unless something happens to derail progress, of course.

Change will happen, and I look forward to being able to thumb through an issue of PIONEER and feeling like it’s worth more than the forty cents per issue I’m paying now.