According to an article by The Online Citizen published earlier today, a Committee of Inquiry found that two senior editors at the Straits Times had breached SPH’s code of conduct by having “improper relations” with an intern in the newsroom.
The article named Marc Lim and Daryl Chin as the ones who had engaged in an alleged affair with the intern.
Responding to TOC’s queries on the matter, an SPH spokesperson stated, “One editor will be removed from his post, demoted and redeployed; the other will be given a written warning, have his salary docked, and redeployed.”
As for the intern, the same TOC article reported that she “purportedly attempted suicide after her boyfriend confronted her on the alleged affair”. At the same time, SPH stated that the company will ensure the intern receives “all medical attention and assistance she needs”, as well as “provide help to her family at this difficult time”.
As far as exposing workplace relationships go, the news itself is alarming.
Yet it was ST’s Editor-in-Chief Warren Fernandez’s public statement that truly displayed ST’s inability to address a sensitive matter with honesty and empathy.
TOC reported that Warren mentioned SPH had “decided that we wouldn’t do an immediate termination … largely because of the good work [Daryl and Marc] had done.”
In the same TOC report and another Yahoo report, Warren also allegedly said that their misconduct had to do with “supervisors using their positions to get into relationships”. According to Yahoo, he had allegedly said this in response to a staff’s query during an SPH town hall meeting held on Wednesday night.
Finally, he added, “We want to make clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in the ST newsroom. Both of them have done good work in the ST newsroom… we will try our best to support them through this difficult period.”
Unfortunately, his statement inadvertently revealed the biggest reason many people seem to have lost trust in the national broadsheet: a glaring lack of objectivity.
ST’s statement hints at misguided sympathy for the two senior editors.
First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: moral arguments about how the senior editors are married miss the point. Without knowing the whole story, no one can claim that the intern was entirely faultless either.
However, what’s important to focus on is how the seniority of the two editors protected them from getting sacked. Essentially, their “good work” negated their misdeeds.
The two of them have worked at ST for years; Daryl Chin is ST’s Social Media Editor, while MarcLim helms the news desk as News Editor. This means that they could organise one-on-one meetings, as well as demand the attention of someone and access to them under the guise of work.
It would have been refreshing to hear ST take a firm stance on all instances involving abuse of power. Their statement should have read: “This behaviour is not acceptable within the ST newsroom, regardless of an individual’s position or previous work. Arrangements will be made for their immediate termination.”
It was also an opportune moment for ST to reflect on the culture within the newsroom that could have bred the abuse of power in the first place—a move that would have demonstrated leadership and moral clarity.
Instead, the statement hints at misguided sympathy for the two senior editors.
By mentioning ST’s disapproval of their behaviour alongside their “good work”, our national newspaper sends the message that it doesn’t see the severity of the misdemeanors committed by those in senior positions. Their professional accomplishments shouldn’t factor into our understanding of the ‘unethical’ behaviour that allegedly happened.
The statement further trivialises the abuse of power by mentioning that the senior editors are going through a “difficult period”.
While ST is under no obligation to condemn or disavow Daryl Chin and Marc Lim, neither do the two grown men deserve to be publicly coddled and shielded from the disgrace of having done something wrong, as if they were children incapable of dealing with the consequences of their actions.
The statement speaks volumes precisely because it was issued by a seasoned journalist. Make no mistake, every word was chosen for a reason, such as to superficially pacify employees of SPH and the public, all while obscuring facts.
In this case, it reflects that ST remains largely out of touch with how to talk about thorny issues like power, gender relations, and sex. But these are the issues that affect all aspects of everyone’s lives. And increasingly, the public will turn to our country’s journalists to make sense of these topics through critical, empathetic, and progressive perspectives.
If ST truly wishes to transform into a newsroom of the future that ‘disrupts’ journalism, it’s about time their senior management realises they are the very obstacle standing in the way.