Thursday 5 November 2009

The Evolution of a Straits Times Headline

Recently, there has been some furor over our Minitor's (i.e. short for Minister Mentor) comments:
"The size of China makes it impossible for the rest of Asia, including Japan and India, to match it in weight and capacity in about 20 to 30 years. So we need America to strike a balance."

- MM Lee, 29 October 2009
addressing a "stellar cast of
the US capital's political and business heavyweights
(who) turned out to honour him,
including three US Presidents
who sent messages in writing or via video"
Apparently, The Shangaiist reports that people in China are not thrilled with the allusion and mistrust with condemnation flowing from netizens (harsh) and the mainstream media (mild) in China alike.

Perhaps, Minitor's "surprise that Beijing put on a major military display of home-made weapons at its 60th National Day earlier this month" added fuel to the angry sentiments? Or perhaps it was his observation that a "blue-water fleet with aircraft carriers cannot just be to deter foreign intervention in a conflict between Taiwan and the mainland", addressed to the same crowd at the US-Asean Business Council's 25th anniversary gala dinner, and reported in a separate article entitled "US-China competition yes, but conflict? No".

However, what interests me is the way the headline changed for the first article - which is symptomatic of ST reports these days on sensitive issues. For example, a report on the Malaysian Insider quotes Minitor's words above but attributes the ST headline as "MM Lee urges the US to retain role in Asia to balance China".

But if one were to search for this report, the result is a report mildly titled as "MM calls on US to retain key role in East Asia" - which is only reproduced in full on the PMO's website.

The development of the headline does not end there however, and if you were to visit the ST webpage that carries a snippet of the story now, the headline is a nondescript "MM: US key in East Asia".

Honestly, I have no idea which of these 3 headlines appears in the print edition - please let me know if you do - but the question is whether this is a really necessary exercise. In all 3 cases, the story is exatly the same and the factual accuracy of the headlines remains solid, so why the need to change? This is a question we all need to ask ourselves when reading ST's reports.

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