CNN’s Singapore ‘not a country’ blunder is a reminder that we should keep creating stories about this country

Photo by Julien de Salaberry on Unsplash/ @voiddeckmedia/ CNN

In an Oct 7 CNN report, the American news outlet published a COVID-19 story that will be remembered by many Singaporeans, because it erroneously stated that Singapore is not a country. It’s a rather befuddling error given that simple factchecking on the Internet will find that this is untrue. For context, the story was about US President Trump’s behaviour after his recovery from COVID-19. It mentioned Singapore, among several other countries, as a comparison to the number of cases within the White House.

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Photo credit: CNN/ AsiaOne

This is not the first time that CNN has made factual mistakes like this. It is, in fact, what I find a troubling pattern of mistakes made by the news giant, because it can be seen as a reflection of how little the world’s most influential country knows about Singapore and the region. In 2015, they pre-maturely posted about the death of Lee Kuan Yew and more recently, they muddled up the identity of a Singaporean, Jonathan Mok, who was a victim of a COVID-19 racially-aggravated attack. These aren’t the only mistakes.

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Photo credit: BBC

One way to combat stories that spread falsehoods and misperceptions is to simply put out counter stories, stories that clear the air. This is something that business book author, Steve Denning, had written about as a means to undermine erroneous gossip in the workplace. I think it applies in this situation with western news stories on Asia as well. The best way to combat poor reporting on the region is simply for Asian storytellers to write about themselves.

And that’s why I write. I tell stories about Singapore because I want people to get to know this country better.

In my upcoming book ‘Navigating Disruption: Media Relations in the Digital Age’, I write about the Jonathan Mok case to explain how nuances are lost in some western media reports on Asia. His story hits close to home because I, too, was a foreign student in a western country, where I experienced racism. I got to understand how media representation of Asians can affect the community, and cause harm in some cases, just like what we are seeing today with racially-driven attacks on Asians in western countries because of COVID-19.

The book, thus, starts with the Why. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As the title suggests, the book is about the digitalisation impact on the news media and communication:

  • Part 1 describes how the legacy newsroom changed because of digitalisation. This is shared from my own experience witnessing a retrenchment exercise in a US print newsroom. Subsequently, I also saw how a Singapore newsroom’s operations shifted to adapt to digitalisation.
  • Part 2 paints a broad portrait of Singapore’s new media landscape, and how that has changed the way media relations practitioners work. I share media relations best practices and how practitioners can continue to nuance their pitches. I also interview influencer Fauzi Aziz from The Smart Local on influencer engagement tips.
  • Part 3 moves into the future of communications. It talks about the how the legal framework has been shaped to combat fake news. I talk about similarities between how POFMA and the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act were created. I interview NTU Associate Professor Edson Tandoc for this. I also speak with other industry experts in the field on a gamut of different areas related to communications: Ferry de Bakker, Voal Voal Wong and Lin Xiaoqian. The topics range from corporate branding to strategic digital communication.

If you’re a communicator, this book is for you. If you’re interested in the media and public industry, this book is for you. Pre-order here: