Straits Times political editor reassigned following government officials' discontent over coverage

Sources told Yahoo News Singapore that The Straits Times political editor Li Xueying was reassigned following unhappiness by government officials over some of the paper’s political coverage. Yahoo News Singapore file photo

UPDATE: This story has been amended to reflect a further statement from Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez. 

The political editor for The Straits Times was reassigned following unhappiness by government officials over some of its political stories, according to several sources at the national broadsheet.

Li Xueying, 39, was moved to the Enterprise desk in August this year. According to an internal e-mail to ST staff dated 20 July, her present role is to produce “original, unique and impactful content for Sunday Times and ST, across platforms”.

In the same e-mail, staff were told of the formation of a Singapore Desk, which will cover all local news including political, business and lifestyle stories. Its purpose is to “allow for closer collaboration across beats, desks and platforms”, said Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez.

The Singapore Desk is headed by executive editor Sumiko Tan.

In another e-mail on 29 October, staff were informed of the appointment of a deputy news editor (politics). Veteran associate editor Paul Jacob is now overseeing the paper’s political and foreign news coverage, but a political editor has not been appointed.

The Straits Times typically lists the names of its editors and leadership team in a glory box. In the 31 October 2018 edition, a political editor – one of the most important roles at the paper – is conspicuously missing.

Sources – two of them currently working at the paper and one former employee – told Yahoo News Singapore that the political desk was informed of Li’s reassignment by ST editor Warren Fernandez some time in mid-July.

He cited unhappiness by government officials over certain political stories, the sources said. Examples included a series of interviews with 4G leaders such as “A PM without a degree? Possible, says Ong Ye Kung” (6 May 2018), the sources added.

According to one source, Li and other reporters were told that the transfer was undertaken both in her interest as well as that of the paper.

The News desk was informed about the formation of the Singapore desk during a town hall in late July.

In response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore, Fernandez said, “The moves you refer to happened several months ago, when we set up our Singapore Desk, bringing together our local news, business and political teams, to work more closely together on content related to Singapore. Editors and reporters were deployed to play to their respective strengths and to get the best from the team.”

He later added, “This report is rather fanciful. The moves we made were part of a newsroom-wide reorganisation, as explained, with hardly anything sinister to it.”

Li had not responded to queries by press time.

The role of The Straits Times political editor is one of the most sensitive and high profile at the paper.  Since 2011, six individuals have filled it.

Li, a 16-year veteran of the paper, was appointed as political editor in October 2017. “Our goal must be (to) produce reliable and credible political news as well as thoughtful and insightful commentaries on Singapore politics and policy affairs,” said Fernandez at the time.

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