Tuesday, March 05, 2013

By George! Media Lobbying, Transparency and NTU's Tenure System

Lobbying is part of the democratic process to advocate a view and to challenge another view. Those with more resources and networks would find it easier to rally each other to support each other in a you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back exchange of favours.

Drumming Up Support for Cherian

When NTU decided not to give Cherian George his tenure in NTU, Cherian's friends and networks got into action. They even produced a petition filled with academic and other luminaries to lobby that their friend deserves job security, as that is what a tenure is in essence. How many of those academics were also striving to get tenure and wanted to use Cherian's case to set a precedent that lobbying and petition for job secuirty works, is a big guess. NTU was however taciturn about why Cherian did not get his tenure citing that it was rightly confidential employer-employee information and were quietly afraid that other academics would rightly learn how to game the outdated tenure system. The lack of transparency on the part of NTU did not help NTU.

There were as a result engineered conspiracy theories from Cherian's friends that Cherian was denied his tenure because he was outspoken in his political views. Is he really that controversially outspoken? If anything and to be indulged in conspiracies, Cherian is in the PAP's books given his employment, wife and wife's background. Naturally Cherian's friends and supporters did not publicly question the former journalist's intellectual rigour as an academic in NTU which prized quantitative and positivist traditions given its engineering research slant. That is not what friends do, but what his former colleague did to set events in context. Courageously even, as nobody wanted to seen as remotely critical of Cherian's situation and going against the tide.

Cherian's Little Elves in Yahoo

Cherian's supporters which includes former students trained and savvy in the use of media, used the media to drum up support for their friend. Yahoo is one of those closely following Cherian's plight and the curious would Google that the Yahoo writers Elizabeth Soh and Shah Salimat were NTU mass comm students and in all likelihood former students and friends of Cherian. Doing their part as writers for the online media giant Yahoo, standing on the chair, "O captain my captain".

Elizabeth Soh in Yahoo

Shah Salimat in Yahoo

Hence, the whole lobby is an extended new media class on what the media can do and should do in lobbying. Cherian's case was reported as a scoop notwithstanding that many academics failed to get their tenure for various personal or office reasons. It helped that Cherian's network was willing and his friends and supporters were in the media to keep support up for Cherian, including a petition and open letter to make NTU open up. In many ways it is like how ST works to play up support for the PAP, this time the table is turned the other way. Control of the media is important in lobbying and engineering support. Ask Gina Rinehart about her Fairfax media ambitions.


Anonymous said...

Expected if there are other Cherian George or NTU students in Yahoo since many in Yahoo news room are mass comm grads.

Jeanette Tan in Yahoo NewsRoom also from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Natural progression from school to job.

Anonymous said...

Conspiracy theories aside, universities of repute around the world follow the dictum - publish or perish. The debate goes on: should the teachers be judged on their teaching or their research publications? I suspect that what you do not say directly is probably true, namely, poor George neglected to publish but put his heart in his teaching. There is no conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Cherian George’s wife is deputy ed of the ST, bro in law is govt minister. Wife writes LKY’s books for him. He co-founded the Roundtable, which had views so similar to the govt’s their members ended up as govt MPs/ministers or nominated MPs chosen by the govt.

George himself was a scholar, a senior editor in the ST (where he strongly defended their editorial policy, see http://www.oocities.org/newsintercom2001/sp/interviews/cherian.html), head of journalism at NTU (in charge of training the next generation of SPH journalists), still has a senior position in the govt think thank, the Institute of Policy Studies, and has been favored with key roles in important government committees on the media.

He is not Chee Soon Juan, not a marginalised dissident opposition academic, but very much part of the establishment. Thus his views from his ST days to the very present may concede mild criticism of the govt but always come to a conclusion not too different from the govt's own. He is an approved critic who poses as independent, and thus distracts attention away from the opposition and sets the limits of acceptable dissent. This denial of tenure merely ups his street cred as a critic.

This reading of George is often expressed by Singapore opposition supporters on the web, but risks being drowned out by the support of Singaporeans too young to remember when George’s support of the govt as a ST journalist was less subtle than now, of other establishment figures in civil society, and of foreign academics and journalists who mean well but do not know S'pore politics and media.