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 By sticking to a outdated tried-and-tested formula, MINDEF essentially surrendered the initiative in info management.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."


Anonymous said...

Quite apart from scandal, the other question people are asking is, since when do regulars have one month or even three month notice period ? Why so special that he is allowed to resign when other regulars have to serve till end of contract ? Special treatment for what reason ?

The Void Deck said...

I would like to naively imagine that he quit coz he was disillusioned with the way the NDP is institutionalised - display of military hardware and marching contingents.

Heh. But given the timing and reticence, my spidey sense tells me it is scandal and I want to think so!

Anonymous said...

Good point. I agree too that SAF has not done justice to Col Yau by economising on their reason for his resignation or early retirement. If Col Yau has a perfectly legitimate reason other than scandal or joining politics, the cover reason of "personal reasons" would have been wholly inappropriate if not economical with the truth. For example, joining politics, if he wants to do that, then he should say it at the onset. Joining politics is definitely not "personal reasons". It is as public as it can probably get and it is within the rightful knowledge of the public. Col Yau seems like a nice person and I sincerely wish he really quit for good and unavoidable personal reasons. I hope he is not one of these people who profess to resign for a certain reason when the truth is really something else. It is a matter of integrity.

David Boey said...

Would those attending the COC kindly update us if he cries at the event.

Anonymous said...

In light of the recent high profile scandals and resignations.. PAFF really dropped the ball on this one. Amatuers

Anonymous said...


Hsien said...

The new CGO is Col Desmond Tan.. so that means PAFF has a new Director?

PeterLim said...

Dir PAFF to take over the hot seat....wow,taking the stake higher to squash any rumours?

David Boey said...

DPA 10 is Colonel Kenneth Liow from the Army Information Centre.

A good development.

Anonymous said...

What would him crying at the COC mean?

Achilles31 said...

Have u ever seen Ns men ( not Nsfs) perform an advance review march for their former CO with passion and precision? The highest honour any contingent can give to this man. A great man. He was our CO and he led our battalion to greatness, best combat unit for the first time in Guards history and none has come close since. We honour this person..a great leader and listener. We will never forget...all the best to you Sir!

Achilles31 said...

He did cried...so did we...702 GDS

David Boey said...

Dear All,
Not to diss the cyberPioneer write up on the Guards change-of-command but compare the remarks made by Achilles31 with those in the MINDEF version.

One version is supposedly from a Guards NSman sharing his thoughts on his former CO. The other, merely an article of record written in lifeless prose, no heart or soul.

I'm glad one of you made the effort to share your thoughts. Thank you.

re: Cry/No cry. Was merely curious. To me, it shows he is human though there are old school officers who believe they should never shed a tear in front of their men.

Even if Achilles31 didn't comment, one look at the COC pic and you'd know the answer. The eyes say it all.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


I am not sure what u driving at in your commentary above but the fact that MINDEF is so coy should drive u to a reasonable conclusion. MINDEF has positioned itself away from him.

Unless I am wrong, we will know the reason in a few weeks as hinted by earlier posts.

As a Straits Times contributor/writer u certainly cannot be that naive.