[Investigative Journalism] Is the presence of non-mainstream media really that important in Singapore? A case study of HolyCrit Saga

In Singapore, our mainstream media landscape is that of a state-controlled medium, where some articles and stories may be framed to suit the government’s interest. Though they may appear to take a neutral stand, certain details may be hidden, which can actually change one’s whole perspective towards the matter.

Case study:  HolyCrit Saga

Snippets of how The Straits Times portrayed the matter:

Organisers of illegal street cycling race arrested (The Straits Times, Dec 9 2014)

Two men have been arrested by the Traffic Police for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising illegal racing activities along Tanglin Halt Road last month. Traffic Police said in a statement on Tuesday that it had responded to a call on Nov 29 at about 11.50pm regarding cyclists racing along Tanglin Halt Road. 

Subsequent investigations led them to arrest two men, aged 28 and 39, for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising the illegal racing event under Section 116 of the Road Traffic Act, Chapter 276.

Said Assistant Commissioner of Police Sam Tee, the Traffic Police commander: “Traffic Police takes a serious view against illegal racing on public roads and will not hesitate to enforce against irresponsible racers who partake in such illegal activities and jeopardise other road users with their stunts.”

The Sunday Times first reported on the illegal street cycling race on Sunday. Named HolyCrit, the racing event first began last year and is held once a month on average. The recent race at Tanglin Halt Road was the eighth time that such event was held and it attracted 32 participants and close to 100 spectators. Traffic Police said investigations are ongoing to establish the identity of other cyclists who participated in the illegal race.

Snippet of Stomp’s Team posting Eric Khoo’s statement :

Organiser of illegal ‘Holycrit’ street explains his actions and apologises  (STOMP, 12 Dec 2014)

“Firstly, I would like to formally apologise to all that our event and organiser have caused distress to and those whom have unknowingly broken the law due to their participation. “We fully intend to take the responsibility for such actions. “The first time I host this race I receive mixed response consisting of excitement and fear. Riders were excited because of the yearning they have to attend the race.

“Similarly, they are also fearful of the danger it brings. However after explaining the rules and things to look out for, the riders came to understand the race and were all pumped up for the race. In order to make this race safe, I found a few volunteers to help out, have them equipped with batteries powered torchlights or signal sticks and walkie-talkies to communicate and got them to stand guard at various checkpoints set up. 

“We made sure that the riders do not obstruct the traffic and cause hindrance for motoring vehicles that passes by the route of the race. Although there were a few minor accidents between cyclists, there were never any injuries so severe they need medical attention.

“Lastly, I would like to make a reiterate the fact that I do not gain any monetary benefit from organizing this race. This event was never meant to be a marketing stunt for my shop.”Hosting an event in Singapore is not an easy feat no matter monetarily or physically.

All resources used in this event were either sponsored by my friends with the same passion or myself. “The registration fee of this race is $10 and the whole proceed will go to the winner of the race as a form of reward and encouragement for the winner. We did not receive any monetary sponsors that benefit the organiser.

“Due to the first event being a huge success, more sponsors were willing to contribute to the race to encourage the participants not to give up their passion. “I would like to emphasis that our sponsors are not aware that at the time of the race, we did not seek approval from the Traffic Police.

For this, I sincerely apologise to our sponsors. “HolyCrit has already become an event loved by thousands, and even have supporters from riders in Malaysia and Indonesia. I hope that in the near future we could reach out to riders in Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines. I hope that I can continue this event in a legitimate and legal way in future. “Once again, I am deeply apologetic for causing inconvenience for everyone..”

The Straits Times follow-up:

Bike race organiser says he takes ‘full responsibility’  (Dec 12, 2014)

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Khoo insisted he was the sole organiser for all eight races between September last year and November this year. He also admitted that he had been in the wrong for not obtaining permits for his events. “Of course it was a mistake, and I will cooperate with the Traffic Police in their investigations,” said Mr Khoo, who was bailed out by his father on Monday night. “I would also like to apologise to all to whom our event has caused distress, and those who have unknowingly broken the law due to their participation.”

Mr Khoo said he understood the consequences of his actions – he could face up to six months in jail and be fined if convicted of organising an illegal race – and could only hope the authorities would recognise that his “intentions were not bad”. He said he organised the races not to seek thrills or profits, but out of passion for fixed-gear cycling and to build community spirit around it.

HolyCrit participants all rode on fixed-gear bikes without brakes “as a safety precaution to prevent accidents in cases of sudden braking”, said Mr Khoo, and he stressed that “safety is the top priority”. All competitors had to wear helmets and proper cycling jerseys, as well as outfit their bikes with safety lights, he added. He and a team of friends also spent at least two weekends scouting out “isolated roads” before each event. They would sit and observe traffic between 8pm and 2am each time, counting the number of vehicles, he said.

Since news of the arrests surfaced, several HolyCrit race participants and spectators have spoken up online to praise the quality and safety of the events. Mr Khoo noted that “injuries are common in any sport”, but said he is proud that his HolyCrit events recorded no major injuries, and no damage to property.

He had not sought permits from the authorities primarily because of “high costs” involved – Mr Khoo estimated that $25,000 to $30,000 would be needed for requirements such as having ambulances on standby. These, he said, were costs he was unwilling to pass on to participants. But moving forward, he said he will work towards hosting a ninth edition of the race with a permit in hand. “I do want to legalise this, it is just difficult to get the sponsorships because it is still a new sport, but I hope it will happen.”

Crankpunk on the other side of the story:

HolyCrit organiser & volunteer facing a year in jail: Zul Awab interview (Crankpunk, 16 Dec 2014)

i was not alone in reacting with disbelief when I first read the news from Singapore that the organiser of the Holy Crit race, Eric Khoo, and volunteer Zul Awab were facing hefty fines and up to 6 months in prison after traffic police shut down their event due to a complaint from a local. Singapore is certainly an intriguing city but it is not one in which bike racing thrives, despite there being a substantial number of road, track, fixie and MTB riders.

Each year the cycling federation struggles to put on a national road race and time trial championships, having to wrangle with the government to get a permit to close roads. Within this environment, the emergence of a crit series came as a ray of light in an otherwise dingy house. it injected a much required shot of adrenalin to the local scene and meant that people who wanted to race their fixies and single speeds finally had a place to do it. 

Until, that is, Zul Awab got a phone call from the local traffic police asking him and Khoo to go to the station to ‘help them with their inquiries’. that visit resulted in a criminal charge and a potential jail term. which is slightly ironic, as the Holy Crit was started in the hope of keeping young kids out of trouble.

“The idea behind this whole thing to keep these kids off the streets,” explains Awab. “In Singapore we have gangs, drugs, kids getting drunk at an early age, so we are trying to educate these kids about fixed gear and to get them into this sport. They don’t know about how to ride, about safety, helmets, all that. That was the aim.” The idea behind the Holy Crit is to give something back to the cycling community and to help deepen the existing culture there. Khoo runs a bicycle store but was frustrated by the lack of spaces available for the people buying his bikes to test their machines. 

“The first event was on September 1st last year. Nobody gains a single penny out of this, nothing. Some of the kids are at school. So there’s an entry for of $8US which goes to the winner, every penny.” Was the event safe? Or was it at a time or in a place where pedestrians and other road users were in danger in any way? “No. It wasn’t at all. It was at 11:30 at night, there were no cars or mopeds. It was in a secluded area, the only cars there were parked.”

When a reader reads up, and combine all these 4 accounts:

2 men have been investigated and arrested “for their suspected involvement in promoting and organising illegal racing activities along Tanglin Halt Road last month”. This was after traffic police received and responded to a public call. The illegal racing activity was an ‘irresponsible” act as it could “jeopardize other road users”. Investigations is ongoing and traffic police ‘takes a serious view against illegal racing on public roads and will not hesitate to enforce against irresponsible racers”. The recent race at Tanglin Halt Road was the eighth time that such event was held and it attracted 32 participants and close to 100 spectators.

(The Straits Times)

Mr Khoo “would like to formally apologize to all that our event and organiser have caused distress to and those whom have unknowingly broken the law due to their participation.”They intend to take full responsibility”, and admitted they did not seek approval from the traffic police, and there were minor incidents though they did inform participants of the rules and took various safety precautions e.g. found a few volunteers to help out, have them equipped with batteries powered torchlights or signal sticks and walkie-talkies to communicate and got them to stand guard at various checkpoints set up, also making sure that riders do not obstruct the traffic and cause hindrance for motoring vehicles that passes by the route of the race.

Due to the success of the first event, more sponsors were willing to contribute to encourage participants not to give up on their passion. No monetary sponsers will benefit the organizer, and the whole proceeds of the $10 registration fee will go the winner. Their sponsors were not aware that the event did not seek approval from the police and they apologize for that too. Even though hosting an event is difficult physically and monetarily, they hope to be able to continue this event in a legitimate and legal way in the future as it is an event loved by thousands from neighbouring countries.

(STOMP Team)

Mr Khoo insisted he was the sole organiser for all eight races, admitting he had been in the wrong for not obtaining permits for his events, and would cooperate with the Traffic Police in their investigations, also apologising to all to whom our event has caused distress, and those who have unknowingly broken the law due to their participation. He understood the consequences of his actions, and said he organised the races out of passion for fixed-gear cycling and to build community spirit around it.HolyCrit participants all rode on fixed-gear bikes without brakes “as a safety precaution to prevent accidents in cases of sudden braking”, stressing “safety is the top priority”.

All competitors had to wear helmets and proper cycling jerseys, as well as outfit their bikes with safety lights. He and a team of friends also spent at least two weekends scouting out “isolated roads” before each event. Several HolyCrit race participants and spectators have spoken up online to praise the quality and safety of the events since news of the arrest. He had not sought permits from the authorities primarily because of “high costs” involved which costs he was unwilling to pass on to participants. He looks forward to hosting a ninth edition of the race with a permit in hand. “I do want to legalise this, it is just difficult to get the sponsorships because it is still a new sport, but I hope it will happen.”

(The Straits Times)

Every year, the cycling federation struggles to put on a national road race and time trial championships due to difficulty with getting a permit from the government to close roads. HolyCrit was an outlet for cyclists to carry out their passion. This cycling event was not just any cycling race, but one with roots that intended to help young kids stay out of trouble, by engaging them in this sport. “The idea behind this whole thing to keep these kids off the streets,” explains Awab.

“In Singapore we have gangs, drugs, kids getting drunk at an early age, so we are trying to educate these kids about fixed gear and to get them into this sport. They don’t know about how to ride, about safety, helmets, all that. That was the aim.”  They also felt that the race might not have been that dangerous as it was held in a “secluded area” at night, where “there were no cards or mopeds”. Eric runs a bicycle store but was frustrated by the lack of spaces available for the people buying his bikes to test their machines.The idea was to “give something back to the cycling community and to help deepen the existing culture there”. The entry is $8US but every penny goes to the winner.

(Crankpunk)

Only when you read all 4 accounts, can you then get grasp a fuller picture of the whole matter. And I am sure if many of you read only the first 3 posts without Crankpunk’s article, your perception of the saga would have been way different. 

The 4 new information found in Crankpunk’s article

  1. It is hard to put up a race every year due to difficulty in getting a permit from the government to close the roads
  2. HolyCrit thus acts as an outlet for cyclist to carry out their passion, and to deepen the existing culture. Eric was also frustrated by the lack of space for people buying his bike to test their machines.
  3. It has roots of intending to help kids who are into gang, drinking, or drugs to get out of trouble by introducing to them and educating them on the sport, with the idea to give something back to the community
  4. The organiser felt the race might not have been that “dangerous” as it was held in a “secluded area” with little “cars” (*differed from what was portrayed by the mainstream media)

The thing is, Crankpunk is not even a non-mainstream news site, but a blog set up by a cyclist enthusiast. If Crankpunk did not cover this story, zero Singaporeans would have even heard the other side of the story. Why? Because even non-mainstream news media did not cover the story. “What about the STOMP article above? Isn’t it a citizen-journalism site which makes it a non-mainstream source?” You may ask.

Dictionary meaning of “Citizen Journalism”

“The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet.”

Well Yes, it is  a “citizen-journalism” site that comes under The Straits Time (mainstream source).

Award-winning STOMP, or Straits Times Online Mobile Print, is Asia’s leading citizen-journalism website with user-generated material fuelling its success.

We’re also big on social networking, enabling millions to come together to interact and bond both online and offline in Singapore Seen and Club Stomp.

STOMP connects, engages and interacts with Singaporeans in a style and approach that is different from conventional news websites. Its strong growth reflects not only its popularity but its resonance with Singaporeans.

For Stomp’s post on Holycrit, it is stated that “This article is contributed by the Stomp Team”. This means the post was most likely written by individuals who are managing the STOMP site itself, and not common Singaporeans that sent up the post.

Why presence of non-mainstream media is important?

This is why the presence of non-mainstream social media, news, blogs, and citizen-journalism sites are important to ensure matters like these are given a more balanced coverage and insight to readers.

Amos Yee, Roy Ngerng, Han Hui Hui, Chee Soon Juan, J.B. Jeyaretnam, Operation Coldstore, Operation Spectrum etc. Mainstream media depicts them in a certain light which may be true, but may also not be balanced at times. All these will greatly shape how the masses or general public view such events, individuals, and their accounts. Without non-mainstream sites, do you think you would be able to hear the other side of their stories?

***Side note*** You can type out Roy Ngerng, Hong Lim Park, and Amos Yee’s name in STOMP search portal – and see if majority of articles related to them are sent up by common Singaporeans, or taken from news sites under or working with SPH (e.g.The New Paper mypaper, Asiaone, Straits Times)? I also typed out the word “politics” and this was the first article at the top Politics must be clean: Yaacob Ibrahim disappointed with misleading photo on social media. Still, I have to consider that the lack of political-related citizen journalism posts on STOMP could be due to little Singaporeans sending in to them since the site is under The Straits Time, which is known for being a government-aligned medium.

STOMP states that it “connects, engages and interacts with Singaporeans in a style and approach that is different from conventional news website. Its strong growth reflects not only its popularity but its resonance with Singaporeans.” Yet, I find it uncanny that STOMP seems to double up as a messenger for mainstream news site to share with propagandise Singaporeans netizens on “hot” matters like e.g. Amos Yee, Roy Ngerng. Oh wait, why do I feel confused after writing this 2 sentences?

GE2015 [Panel Discussion]: First-class voters, not first-world parliament – Check out this post written by SY, another of Offbeat Perspectives writer who covered a panel discussion which broached on the topic of Singapore’s media landscape.

What role do non-mainstream media play?

They provide the extra details, no matter how minor, which can change your perspective towards the whole matter, and give you a more comprehensive and objective outlook. They allow you to understand the individuals and their stories on a deeper level whereas, mainstream media covers only one layer of the event, and paint the individuals either a neutral or negative light.

Non-mainstream media also often influence the trends in the social media world, as the former are popular and prominent in online engagements. What the non-mainstream news cover will therefore influence what the mainstream media write on, because the latter have to keep up with the latest online new trends, and create news that would interest and engage tech-savvy Singaporeans.

The presence of non-mainstream media symbolizes the fight against state censorship. They represent the supposed low-life, the alternative mindsets, the revolutionaries, the unheard voices, the outcasts etc. Many would say, “but non-mainstream media are not as credible as mainstream media”, or that it is “one sided”. I agree with you on that point too as they may exaggerate at times, be biased to their narrow or subjective goals too but then again, is mainstream media not one-sided or lack credibility too? Since they openly act as a mouthpiece, and frame their articles to information and perception the government want Singaporeans to focus and interpret.

There is no such thing as a balanced news site, but we can all work on becoming more credible sources.

The truth in the world is that – no news sites are balanced, regardless if we are talking about mainstream or non-mainstream sources. There is no such thing as balanced sources as all media sites are biased to our subjective agendas or perceptions, and even if we do not take a side, we still deviate from middle ground.

If you want to say Politics is dirty, I would say Ideology is dirtier. – A post where I did a comparison between mainstream and non- mainstream news sites, and gave examples to back up my points too.

Non-mainstream media will give us more clarity and insights on a matter, a layer which mainstream media may not do. The main role of mainstream media is like what LKY implied, to communicate messages from the elected government (PAP) to the people. Thus, the articles would naturally be framed to be aligned to what the government want to portray to Singaporean readers.
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Diverse mediums to create a stable equilibrium 

Thus, we need a spectrum of all these news mediums to balance out our perceptions, and also even out the subjective biases from different sides and accounts. We have to read up, compare different accounts, pull out the important information, use our logic and analytical skills to decipher what is most likely true, hidden or exaggerated which ultimately, leads us to form a more open-minded and fair perspective, away from our prejudices when we just read only one side of the matter in a news article.

And hopefully, there will be a time where mainstream media has less governmental control reign over them, and non-mainstream media will write with less subjective lens. As news or information sites, let’s work towards being a non-partisan and just media landscape which will show a fuller and more detailed picture of all matters, instead of what we as writers feel more aligned to. We have the responsibility to show more credible and comprehensive information, regardless of the side we take. That’s something I as a writer have to learn too.

To check out more of Offbeat Perspectives posts on Singapore’s media landscape and censorship, click HERE

Visit out main page www.offbeatpolitics.wordpress.com for our latest political/media landscape articles 🙂

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Photo Source: HolyCrit event in April 2014

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2 thoughts on “[Investigative Journalism] Is the presence of non-mainstream media really that important in Singapore? A case study of HolyCrit Saga

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