Poor Irene Tham. The Straits Times journalist’s only sin seems to have been a synecdoche. A figure of speech in which “a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). Anonymous had threatened war on Singapore, she wrote. What the group had actually done was threaten to declare war on the Singapore government.
She omitted that one word, “government”, and the aftershock made headlines from India to America.
The Straits Times website was hacked by The Messiah, who claimed the newspaper was misleading the people and demanded an apology from the journalist or her resignation.
But what she did is common practice both in written and spoken language. We say China when we mean the Chinese government and the English football team is just called England.
China, however, maintained a rigid distinction back in the days of Chairman Mao. Radio Beijing used to rant against the “running dogs” of US “imperialism” while professing solidarity with the American people.
This distinction between the government and the people seemed funny, coming from what was then – and still is – the People’s Republic of China.
Back to yesterday: The Straits Times has made a police report about the hacking, so silence is golden while the investigation proceeds.
What started all the brouhaha was a YouTube video – since removed — in which Anonymous threatened to “go to war” against the government unless it shelved new licensing rules for websites in Singapore, which the group claimed “deprive the citizens of the freedom of information”.
Anonymous wants freedom of information but is galled by a bad press. The media has “misled our intentions”, claimed The Messiah.
But how objective and impartial can journalists be anywhere in the world?
The New York Times columnist Bill Keller recently discussed it with Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is the journalist who broke the story of Edward Snowden about how the National Security Agency spied on people round the world.
Reporters should just state the facts; journalists should give their opinions only on the opinion pages, said Keller.
Greenwald did not agree. “Human beings are not objectivity-driven machines. We all intrinsically perceive and process the world through subjective prisms,” he said. Accuracy and reliability matter, but “all journalism is subjective”, he added.
He had a point. When did The New York Times last endorse a Republican presidential candidate, or The Wall Street Journal a Democrat? They are partisan, but that has not stopped them from being good – or even great – newspapers. They have to be partisan to attract readers, I guess, because when did people ever agree on anything?