Friday, July 07, 2006

Who is Mano Sabnani? | Today in trouble

I didn't say much about the recent developments in Mr Brown's case, mainly because I hate repeating the works of others, and because my online life factfile is starting to spill over to my offline life factfile, and I just wrote that "the king felt threatened by student blogger Hang Nadim's evident popularity after actually being able to provide a solution for the recent swordfish incident, and the king regretted challenging Hang Nadim to stop being an irresponsible partisan critic without answers."

The Straits Times reported on the incident here, together with reactions from the local media and media observers such as Tan Tarn How (from Institute of Policy Studies) and Cherian George (IPS). Reactions seem to be high on the WTF factor, and there a terse one-liner from Today editor Mano Sabnani, whom I knew nothing about.

Anyway I went digging to find out about him, and the search results tossed up an article that reminded me of the last time that Today got into trouble - last year, for reporting that the MM's wife had received preferential treatment in London. Today, according to the source inside, got fixed.

LKY's press secretary summoned Shaun Seow, Mano Sabnani, Rahul Singh, Bachchan Singh and Val Chua for a tekan session at the Istana. He chided the newspaper for running provocative stories that are out of bounds.

Today was asked to explain what service it does to the nation and why it shouldn't be closed down. Mediacorp was ordered to supervise Today more closely or it will be punished too. Also, all reports on local news must be written by locals, no foreigners allowed.

The chief editor, Mano Sabnani, has been demoted. He still holds the title, but he must now report to Shaun Seow, CEO Mediacorp Channel News Asia. ...[personal remarks snipped]...

The deputy editor Rahul has also been demoted to night desk to be together with the other night editor Bachchan Singh.

The reporter Val Chua now writes advertising features for DBS and other banks. Her press pass is withdrawn and she cannot report news. She keeps her job and now reports directly to an old ex-Reuters editor hired in September by Today to consolidate operations.

Today has been told it has crossed the line and the media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public unhappiness.

So in a way, I can see why Today might have decided on this occasion to cut their losses and drop Mr Brown, a freelancer. I don't think they should have, but having been burnt once, I can see why Mano Sabnani is prepared to listen to hints. I wouldn't even be surprised if he figured that Mr Brown's popularity would ensure an outcry of public support, which poor Val Chua never got. (correct me if she did.)

Sigh. Both incidents reminds me of the point that keeps on getting made; the press isn't going to be free until the government lets it. Commentary is all well and good, but there's a dearth of people who are willing to actually enter politics and play the game of power and change things. Yes, I am aware that social commentary raises social conciousness, but there is only so far you can reach, and so many people you can convince. Making the youth aware of the problems, and hoping to raise a generation of socially, politically active Singaporeans? Our best and brightest are still not going to turn down a government scholarship if they can get it. Theoratically, that would be a good thing, because then they'd get into the system and change things - but we've been saying that for a very very very long time. The ones that spoke up and were just a bit too good - they got sidelined.

...sigh. Sorry, mind's still firmly somewhere in 15th century Malay politics. I'm kind of all over the place today...

Alex Au makes the point somewhat better here.

(oh, and Mano Sabnani's bio is here
An old journalist, with heavy links with DBS, and ex-editor of Business Times and managing editor of Straits Times. I wonder what's the skinny on him.)


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