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Singapore-based broadcaster Mediacorp has defended its hiring policies after being accused of favoring certain races when hiring.

Former BBC journalist Sharanjit Leyl, a Singaporean Sikh of Indian descent, recounted on BBC series From Our Own Correspondent how she struggled to get hired at a local news broadcaster in Singapore two decades ago.

She said: “Had I been born Chinese, my life would have been a lot easier. It started with applying for jobs when I returned from North America in the 1990s, armed with a master’s degree and broadcast journalism experience in Canada. I struggled to get my foot in the door at the local news broadcaster.”

Leyl added that while working for an American financial news agency that provided currency updates to a local television channel, the channel allegedly told her bosses they did not want her to present for them.

She also said she “confronted the man who (now) runs the newsroom of that same TV channel, who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean” a few years later on the topic of Indian and Malay presenters.

According to her, the man replied that viewers “didn’t like watching darker-skinned presenters”.

What is Mediacorp’s response?

  • While no names were mentioned by Leyl, Mediacorp said these comments appear to reference the company and its editor-in-chief Walter Fernandez.

  • “We would like to clarify that Mr Fernandez did not make such a statement,” said Mediacorp. It added it was unable to comment on what had transpired then without specific details from Leyl, but stressed that it is committed to equal opportunities and diversity in its workforce.

  • This includes its on-air and on-camera talents, as well as behind-the-scenes crew and corporate employees. It said its hiring policies and practices are based on merit, i.e. having the relevant skill sets that the role requires.

  • Mediacorp also pointed out its flagship news channel, CNA, has a diverse group of presenters as 30% of CNA news presenters are from minority groups. For the channel’s documentaries, specials and commissioned programs that featured a presenter over the past two years, 60% were presented by a person from a minority group.

  • It also highlighted across the entire CNA newsroom, including reporters, producers and editors, 40% are from minority groups, which is significantly above the national average.

  • Fernandez also responded to the allegations, saying: “It was actually a conversation during a media dinner in November 2018, when Ms Sharanjit and I were seated at the same table. To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin color at all in our conversation.”

  • He added: “What I did speak about was the number of Singaporeans with relevant skill sets who apply to be presenters and the rigorous selection process, which includes written and on-camera tests as well as interviews with several senior editors. I also made the point that I was not part of the interview panel.”

Leyl’s response to Mediacorp’s statement

  • Sharing an article of the story about her comments that carried Mediacorp’s statement on LinkedIn, Leyl claimed she has been “dealing with all sorts of fallout from the report last week including being bullied about it by certain official quarters”.

  • She said: “I can honestly say that the person mentioned in the report has not been honest about the conversation we had at the media dinner. I remember it distinctly because I was astounded by how unapologetic he seemed when he made his comment about ‘darker-skinned presenters’.”

  • She added she was struck by the “tragic indication of how far entrenched Singapore’s racist attitudes were”. She said the statistics cited in the story are also skewed, pointing out she was referring to presenters anchoring the English news channel (not reporters or producers).

  • She also noted that, currently, Mediacorp does not have a darker-skinned Indian or Malay Singaporean presenting the English news. “Please name at least one? The evidence speaks for itself,” Leyl said.