Tuesday, March 13, 2012
More than meets the eye?
The Straits Times, Monday 12 March 2012
One of the two stories you see above triggered a series of questions from friends and contacts who wanted to know if there was more than meets the eye. Can you guess which story it was?
The story that Singapore Army Chief Guards Officer, Colonel Nelson Yau, had tendered his resignation for "personal reasons" sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive guessing why he had done so.
This story first broke in a Chinese language newspaper and was quickly picked up by other Singaporean newspapers. As the sked for Monday's edition of the 90 cents newspaper is usually bone dry, it's no surprise that this story - repackaged with a whiff of whodunit - made it to the Prime 3 slot in Montimes.
Whether such a story deserves such prominent play in Singapore's main English language broadsheet would be a nice topic to get mass communications students thinking about editorial judgement.(For the record, I think the prominence is fine because he is believed to be the first NDP Chairman to drop out before the show.)
COL Yau is, afterall, relatively unknown outside military circles. Had he stuck to his guns, his chairmanship of this year's National Day Parade Executive Committee (NDP EXCO) would probably propel him to media prominence once the NDP publicity plan cranks into action later this year. Chairman EXCO is usually the talking head for major NDP press conferences that introduce the theme and show concept for Singapore's birthday celebrations.
MINDEF's media relations drawer plan
From an information management standpoint, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) statement on the colonel's resignation was a textbook example of how a government ministry deals with media queries on a subject outside its publicity plan. It was brief, respected the individual's privacy by going straight to the point and gave little away that could help a journalist armed with sparse facts from writing an expose.
In the pre-Internet era, such a response - in this case cobbled together over the weekend - would have served admirably well. Alas, the game has changed.
Today's news junkies abhor a vacuum. By sticking to a
outdated tried-and-tested formula, MINDEF essentially surrendered the initiative in info management.
Coming close on the heels of high-profile departures from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Central Narcotics Bureau, it was natural - indeed expected - that netizens would think there is more to the story than MINDEF was prepared to say.
If there was nothing sinister behind COL Yau's departure, MINDEF should have been more affirmative in its media lines.
This would have shot down many theories before they could have taken wing.
Newshounds on the hunt
Looking at the informal queries directed to this blog on Monday from two newspapers, several PR professionals and a smattering of nosey defence-minded individuals, one can sense that newshounds are hungry to pick up the scent of scandal.
Collateral damage from this media lesson will be exacted when COL Yau's family members have to deal with pointblank questions and curved balls from friends and frenemies hungry for the same. They could have been spared the experience had a clear, unambiguous response told people what they deserve to know.
With official guidance absent, everything from a terminal illness, political ambition to office hanky panky were pinned on the man. At times, one wondered if netizens were talking about the same person, so varied and conflicting were the theories that floated in cyberspace.
To be sure, there was this senior SAF officer (I must stress: Not EXCO Chairman) who appeared to forget his wedding vows and strayed from the straight and narrow during a NDP in recent years. His dalliance with a MINDEF officer from one of my favourite departments became the talk of the Army and his professional reputation was torn apart way before he got his family life back on track.
With this background in mind and with the MHA resignations still fresh in the public's awareness, one cannot be surprised at the intensity of investigative journalism seen in the past couple of days.
Had MINDEF's cookie cutter response been made at any other time, it may have escaped the gaze of netizens. But you must understand the context to see why the story roused the gossips the way it did.
Given time and the small footprint of Singapore's labour market, senior SAF officers cannot lie low for long.
If COL Yau is happy to have his loved ones weather all sorts of conspiracy theories, then so be it.
But a media interview during the Guards Formation change of command parade would end this drawn out fencing match with journalists, many of whom are hard-wired never to give up the chase.
These scribes are cheered on by readers who expect nothing less than the full story when they crack open the newspaper every morning.
Asked why he is following the story, one PR professional who is an NSman officer said: "I love dirt on army pple."
Posted by David Boey at 10:35 PM