• Michelle

Taking Umbrage: The CEO’s Refusal To Bow To The Public

Updated: May 30

Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

The phrase “take umbrage at” has been a hot term circulating around the tongues of Singaporeans who keep up with Mothership news and video clips on Facebook, and has invited much discourse surrounding the specific issue of media censorship in Singapore.

What happened?

On Thursday, May 6 2021, CEO of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Ng Yat Chung attended a press conference held at SPH News Center regarding the restructuring of SPH’s business model into a non-profit entity.

In light of such a major change to the business model, journalists came forward with questions, in particular one from Channel NewsAsia. The journalist in question, Ms Chew Hui Min enquired about SPH’s “editorial integrity” following the restructuring.

“Does this mean that the media business will now pivot to emphasise editorial integrity, for example, ahead of advertiser interest?”

In response, Ng intercepted the microphone, announcing that he was offended by the CNA journalist’s question.

Ng deflected the question to other reporters present at the press conference, “There are reporters from here who received substantial funding from various sources, and I don't believe that you will describe yourself as bowing to the needs of advertisers in doing your job."

He then took on a harsher tone, emphasizing that advertisers were not new to the media outlet and that SPH has “never, never conceded” to their needs.

"The fact that you dare to question SPH titles for, in your words, conceding to advertisers, I take umbrage at that comment,” Ng said, pointing an accusatory finger at Chew.

Obviously upset, Ng snapped, “(SPH) Chairman (Lee Boon Yang) is a gentleman. I am not.”

Closing his answer, Ng said, "The purpose of doing this is to make sure that SPH media will continue to do the job we have done so well for so long."

The Aftermath of The Press Conference

Following TODAY’s publication of this incident at the press conference on its various social media platforms such as Facebook, Tik Tok and Twitter, thousands of comments from angry netizens flooded the post, many of which expressed negative sentiment towards his authoritarian attitude towards Chew.

Many expressed unhappiness towards his condescending tone towards Chew, and criticized his unnecessarily stern demeanour and unprofessional body language, which even drove one netizen, Jack Chng to create a petition demanding his dismissal by SPH.

On May 8, Ng has since released a public apology statement.

What’s The Issue?

An assortment of discussion about issues has come up, such as media censorship and classism.

Ng’s most striking line, "The fact that you dare to question SPH titles for, in your words, conceding to advertisers, I take umbrage at that comment,” is the biggest cause for discourse in this issue.

Netizens cited his visibly defensive demeanour when questioned on the goal of SPH’s restructuring and condescending tone as he talked down to the journalist.

Through his defensive and agitated tone and body language in his response to the CNA journalist, it was very clear to Singaporeans that Ng thought he could do no wrong, which formed the bulk of the reason for the backlash against him.

Ng’s words “the fact that you dare to question SPH” shows his stance that authority should not be questioned, or doubted, and ironically goes against the entire purpose of journalists and media outlets, whose job is to ask the difficult questions normal people cannot ask.