Part 2 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: Media’s Battle Lines

Read Part 1 and Part 3.

Note: In my previous post, I stated that I did not know if the City News website was associated with City Harvest Church. Yesterday, I was going through City News website when I saw a big banner at the bottom notifying people of City Harvest’s service times. I had no idea how I missed that. So City News is associated with City Harvest.

Note 2: Some City Harvest members and former members commented in my previous post that I approached the issue from a very unbiased manner. I did this because I was trying to explore both sides of the situation. I was also trying to understand how the Crossover Project operates and how Kong Hee and Sun’s actions led to the current situation. I did explored why Kong Hee and Sun did what they did, but only briefly. In Part 3 (and the finale of this insanely long commentary), I will go more in-depth into the whys, and it is where my personal opinions will colour the commentary. In Part 1 and 2, I am trying to be more objective.

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In Part 1 of “Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption”, I explored City Harvest Church’s Cultural Mandate and how it brought about the Crossover Project. And while both Kong Hee and Sun started off with the good intention of establishing a ‘Christian cultural revolution’ of sorts, namely by bringing the church to the “un-churched” through secular entertainment and means, the early successes of the Project and their overweening ambitions led them astray from the original purpose of the Crossover Project.

In this follow up, I will be focusing on the responses of Singapore’s mainstream and social media regarding the City Harvest case. I am only focusing on how the media reacted, and will be comparing and contrasting the responses from both camps. I will also be using international news media to compare it with Singapore’s news media. As stated earlier, the whys will be concluded in Part 3 (I think I’m getting a bit too obsessed with this).

With Singapore’s media abuzz with a cacophony of news, opinions and commentaries on the case, there is a lot of information to shift through. As such, I will only be focusing on tweets, news articles, commentaries, Facebook notes, and blog posts between the period of 26th June to 30th June. If you are confused with the entire event and the big uproar surround it, and want to know how it started, I recommend reading this part. I have also attached an infographic of the entire incident from Channel NewsAsia via Mr Smith’s blog (1):

 

 

To start off, I will focus on the tweets since they offer the broadest snapshot from a wide cross-section of Singaporeans. And with the use of hashtags, it is easy to locate and isolate trending tweets relating to the City Harvest case. Furthermore, the brevity of tweets allows people to get the gist of the whole situation. Quite useful if you are late to the scrimmage.

 

Unleashing the tweets

In my previous post, I mentioned that there were two camps in this battle: against the church (henceforth shall be known as the ‘Against’ camp), and for the church (henceforth shall be known as the ‘For’ camp). In Twitterverse, the lines were starkly and concretely drawn. To be a fence tweeter was akin to sitting in no-man’s land. You were going to get strafed either way. The only way to stay out of it was to not tweet or retweet anything relating to the City Harvest case.

The only successful fence tweeter I can identify was mrbrown. But then he is the blogfather of Singapore, so he is an outlier. I will explain why later on. (in this part, don’t worry). Essentially, mrbrown played both sides while strolling calmly through no-man’s land.

For those without Twitter accounts or have no idea how tweets work, fear not, I have put up numerous screenshots of tweets for your viewing pleasure.

The first salvo to be fired was not from either camps, but from news providers Channel NewsAsia and The Strait Times. After all, without mainstream media providing the content, how was social media going to comment on it?

Channel NewsAsia uploaded the news of the arrests on their website at 2:47pm (2), but it was all quiet on the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. I couldn’t find any tweets around that time regarding the City Harvest case. The main reason was probably because it was a workday afternoon when CNA reported the news. And most Singaporean youth probably would not check a news website during their mid-year break.

There’s another conjecture why it was so quiet. But I will talk more about it in Part 3.

After the editors from CNA realized that no one was screaming about the news from the top of the hill, they decided to tweet about it. Unfortunately, they lost to The Strait Times by a mere minute.

 

 

Somewhere in the Caldecott Broadcast Centre, the head honcho at CNA was unhappy with fact that CNA lost the ‘breaking tweet’ to The Strait Times and that CNA was getting fewer retweets. “What! WE LOST? Only 131 retweets? Chee bye! Send out a second tweet! And this time, make it pop!” So a second tweet was duly tweeted:

 

 

785 retweets. That’s better. Staring at the screen, the head honcho nodded with satisfaction while sipping on kopi-o.

Not to be outdone, the head honcho at The Strait Times tweeted a second tweet, this time, with a link to the actual news article (3).

 

 

And thus, the scene was set.

To be strictly honest, STOMP, Singapore’s citizen-journalism portal, was the first to tweet about the arrest at 4:32pm. But they are not an official news website, and after a certain fiasco, one cannot trust their tweets. I’ve never trusted the contents on STOMP’s website anyway (I have always disliked that website). So STOMP’s tweet is disqualified for unreliability.

The first few seconds or so, no shot was fired yet. Everyone was tweeting and retweeting both CNA’s and The Strait Times’ tweets, spreading the information throughout Singapore’s cyberspace. Tension was crackling in the air. Everyone knew it was going to be a divisive issue. But the question at that point was, who was going to fire the first shot?

Then it came. The first shot from the ‘For’ camp.

 

 

How was the ‘Against’ camp going to respond? After trawling through tweets after tweets, I think I have identified the first return volleys from the ‘Against’ camp.

 

 

The battle had started. Each side released a barrage of heavy artillery, attempting to take control of a number of hashtags: #chc, #CHC, #cityharvestchurch, #CityHarvestChurch, #cityharvest, #Kong Hee, #Sun Ho, #konghee, #sunho, and the other many variants in Twitterverse. Shifting through the numerous tweets, it was obvious that the ‘Against’ camp was unleashing a brutal salvo.

 

 

Look at the number of retweets for some of the tweets above. Some tweets were retweeted by hundreds of people. I did not block off three people’s faces because two of them are very prominent social media personalities while the other one is Singapore’s most famous cross-dressing performer. The ‘For’ camp is really taking a shelling. But they stand their ground and attempt to return the bombardment they’re experiencing.

 

 

 

For the last tweet, the person tweeted the link to her blog post about how much City Harvest has helped her grow and developed in her personal life. Don’t bother clicking on the link, it’s a screenshot.

As topics relating to City Harvest, Kong Hee, and Sun Ho started to trend on Twitterverse, the ‘For’ camp realized that there was a severe public backlash against the church. So they decided that instead of reclaiming the hashtags and anything relating to City Harvest, they would create new hashtags to announce their show of support and solidarity, and to spread more positive vibes (thus, creating more work for me). So what are the new hashtags?

 

 

#mytrustisnotbreached and #IBelieveintheCHCCrossover started trending on the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. As expected in times of warfare, there will always be retaliation. So the ‘Against’ camp hit back at the ‘For’ camp by coming up with their own hashtag: #WhatIWouldRatherDoWithMyTenPerCent. The ten percent refers to the claim that City Harvest members are always expected to tithe 10% of their monthly salary to the church.

 

 

Even Lathika, Singapore’s most famous maid, jumped into the fray.

So now you get the gist of the entire situation. Mainstream media throws the bone to the public. One ‘For’ camp supporter prays for Kong Hee. The ‘Against’ camp unleashes hellfire. The ‘For’ camp tries to retaliate, but realizes it’s futile and so creates new hashtags to show solidarity and to spread positive loving. The ‘Against’ camp counterattack by creating a different hashtag.

Criticism from both sides were fired all over the place for the next couple of days. In the ensuring melee, mrbrown casually strolled through no-man’s land. Then he tweeted these two tweets on 28th June:

 

 

Damn it, mrbrown, why did you have to create the hashtag #buaysong? Now I buay song too. (Buay song means not happy).

As usual, both of mrbrown’s tweets was heavily retweeted. The next day, on 29th June, of all people, Kong Hee retweeted one of mrbrown’s tweet:

 

 

Wait! But it does not ends here. Later on, Sun Ho tweeted this:

 

 

Okay, that was completely unexpected.

This is why I said mrbrown was such a successful fence tweeter in this melee. Both sides retweeted his tweets and even Kong Hee and Sun, after days of near silence, took part in this lighthearted silliness. I guess having a reputation as a successful satirist probably helped too.

So there you have it. The battle of the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. The summary above is the basic gist of it. It is a lot more complex and if I were to go into detail, I will probably be chasing hashtags and tweets to no end and would never have time to write this post.

Kirsten Han, one of the editors of the website SEA Youth Says So, also wrote a concise article summarizing the online storm about the City Harvest case (4). I used her article as the starting point for my take on the online twitter war. In my appendix, I will list out all the hashtags and search terms that I used in my Twitter research for this blog post.

I am exhausted. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I wish Twitter has a timeline like Facebook does.

 

Circulating the Facebook notes

I have so far identified 5 very popular notes circulating around Facebook. These five approach the issue at hand in a variety of ways. All five also sit on a wide spectrum in their stances towards the City Harvest case. I encourage you to read all the notes if you have not. They are not long and they do raise some very relevant questions. Below, I shall summarize their contents.

We shall start with the easiest.

 

1. “Pray for City Harvest Church” by Lawrence Khong, Chairman of LoveSingapore on 27th June (5)

This note was basically repeating the same thing that so many others had tweeted about: Stay strong together, do not incite any flamewar, keep faith in God and the church leaders, pray for Kong Hee and the rest of the leaders, pray for the church, pray for City Harvest members, pray for Singapore, pray for the wider public.

The good thing was that Lawrence took the effort to point out that the authorities had nothing against City Harvest Church as an organization and that the case is only specifically against Kong Hee and the other four.

The one thing that I found odd was this:

We must seek every opportunity to speak well of City Harvest Church. Its impact on the youth of Singapore is phenomenal. Its community service is outstanding. Its social arm meets a wide range of needs. For example, intellectually-disabled children, troubled youth, dysfunctional families, elderly poor, hearing impaired, terminally ill, ex-offenders, and so on. Let us pray and believe that City Harvest Church will continue to positively influence our nation for Jesus.

 

Impact on youth? Influence on nation? I’m going to need more concrete evidence and statistics on that, Lawrence.

Other than that, the note was essentially sounding the call of support for City Harvest Church.

 

2. “Death of a Halo: of Kong Hee, CHC, and Christianity” by Samuel Caleb Wee on 27th June (6)

The most popular note among the five notes here, it is also one of the most insightful note I have came across. As a former atheist turned former City Harvest member turned current skeptical atheist, Samuel has come full circle in his spiritual journey and understands what it is like to be on both sides.

It is difficult to summarize Samuel’s note here. While it is written with clarity, it is also extremely subtle, and a sense of disappointment and sadness pervades it. The basic gist is that all humans are fallible, that mistakes must be acknowledged and atoned for, hence the title of the note. It is a little long, but I do encourage you to read it.

Perhaps this paragraph will give you an idea:

It seems to me that in our quest for godliness we often forget what it means to be human, what it means to be like that guy who stopped outside the grave of his best friend, crying, weeping, sobbing, Lazarus come forth, like that guy who comforted a humiliated adulterer and said, it’s okay, it’s okay, they won’t hurt you now, I’m not judging you either, like that guy who hung upon a cross and looked at his mother and said, John, John, take care of her for me please, like that guy who sat upon a beach cooking breakfast for the people he loved the most, and instead we become like those whitewashed tombs and brood of vipers that that same guy loathed.

 

 

3. “Dear City Harvester” by Jin Xian on 28th June (7)

Jin Xian’s note is slightly more complex. As a fellow Christian, he feels obligated to stand by City Harvest Church and its members as it is his opinion that all fellow Christians should stick together since they make up the body of Christ.

But a sense of frustration runs through his note. He is frustrated that City Harvest members and leaders are adopting a siege mentality, refusing to give out any clarification and shutting out any and every one, including other Christians. At the same time, Jin Xian is conflicted with the purported ‘prosperity gospel’ preached by Kong Hee. He points out that there is a conflict in the way City Harvest is operated. Kong Hee and the other church leaders operate the church like a business. But Jin Xian states that a church is not a business entity. Although Jin Xian wants to help, he is also conflicted by the disparate ideas of the church operating in the business world.

At the end of his note, Jin Xian’s frustration spills forth:

We want to help. We want to defend our fellow church. But we can’t do shit if you guys don’t give us information. We get stick too y’know; “eh why you Christians like that one ah.” What am I suppose to say? “CHC not Christian. We; true Christian.”?

 

 

4. “City Harvest Church – The Views of a Muslim Singapore – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987” by Mohammad Nizam Abdul Kadir on 29th June (8)

This note approaches the issue from unique political and civic perspective. Nizam is puzzled as to why the MCYS (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) and the COC (Commissioner of Charities) concluded its investigations when the court had not even found Kong Hee and the rest guilty.

Furthermore, he suspects that the current actions behind the authorities are similar to the ones during Operation Spectrum. This operation was launched by Singapore’s Internal Security Department to round up a number of Christians and Catholics (9). They were accused of taking part in a ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ to overthrow the PAP government and, as a result, were detained under the Internal Security Act (10). As such, Nizam suspects that the authorities are trying to round up Kong Hee and the other four because City Harvest is becoming too rich and powerful.

Personally I disagree with Nizam’s perspective. Nizam himself acknowledges that his point of view might not stand up to some arguments. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read it for the interesting debates that take place in the comments.

 

5. “City Harvest Church – Rebuttal (to) The Views of a Muslim Singapore – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987” by David King on 29th June (11)

The last note is essentially a rebuttal to the note above. David states that the arrest of Kong Hee and the other four are not politically motivated. He pointed out that the five of them are not denied of their rights and are free to defend themselves in media, alternative media, and in court.

David also states in his note that perhaps Nazim was attempting to point out the unreliability of mainstream media and their reporting of this case.

So that is all for the five notes. It is interesting to see how diverse Singaporeans can be in their stance when it comes to complex issues like this. While we do have a tendency of jumping onto bandwagons, perhaps after the 2011 General Elections, and the Presidential Elections, Singaporeans are making a slight improvement in the bandwagon aspect.

However Facebook notes were not so firm in their stances (except for the last two), but were more or less calling for Singaporeans to discuss and debate on the case peacefully. Blogs were the ones that were more firm in whether they supported or criticized the church.

 

It must be blogged

It is ironic that as a blogger, I seldom read other people’s blogs. I do follow blogs that interest me, but then it is only a few. And unfortunately, the blogosphere is not like Twitter where all tweets can be easily found as long as you know which trending hashtags and topics to search for.

So what I did here, was to simply continue with my blog reading habits. Which means that for those Singaporean bloggers I followed, I checked on them to see if they blogged about the City Harvest case. Some blogs, like mrbrown, would link to other bloggers who have blogged about the case. Sometimes, readers would put up links to other blog posts in the comments section. From thereon, I would go down the rabbit hole.

The second method was to read the blogs that I have found when I was going through all the tweets.

The third method was to actively google for blog posts on the City Harvest case. Surprisingly, it was quite difficult to get good results. I think Google let me down for the first time. Either that or my sleuthing skills are not as good as I thought.

The fourth method, was to search through SgBlogs.com using key words relating to the case. But the search results were too disorganized, so I abandoned it after a few search results.

The fifth method was to search through WordPress using key words relating to the case.

So combining this five methods (four if you want to exclude SgBlog), I managed to find a sizable number of blogs. However, this is not a exhaustive study and is not representative of the Singapore blogosphere.

I am not going to summarize every single blog post that I have found. That would make Part 2 too long. Besides, majority of the blog posts I found were merely reiterating what was being reported either on news website or other blogs. What I wanted was opinionated blog posts and commentaries. Blogs that raised the hecklers. Blogs that pissed people off. Blogs that drew supporters to them. Blogs that sounded the horn of attention. You get my drift.

Below is the list of blogs where I have separated them into different camps.

 

Fence sitters

“Image is everything” by mrbrown on 28th June (12). I used mrbrown’s blog post as the starting point.

“On the Kong Hee scandal” by Joel Joshua Goh on 27th June (13).

“City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested” by Mr. Smith on 27th June (14).

“On City Harvest: Don’t use your faith to kill” by Yongy on 27th June (15).

“I sincerely believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent” by Unbranded Bread n Butter on 28th June (16).

 

Against the Church

“City Harvest Church” by Klinsen on 26th June (17).

“I am Angel of Heaven Rockson Takumi Tan!!! You will kiss my Horse!!!” by Rockson on 26th June. (Note: This article contains a lot of profanities. He told you to kiss his penis in the title. Also, it is written in Singlish. So if you don’t understand, you might want to skip this) (18).

“My ‘peanuts’ cents take on the City Harvest probe” by Lopsided 8 on 27th June (19).

“Crossing over from gospel to vanity” by Alex Au on 29th June (20).

“A sense of proportion. What S$23 million can do…” by Alvin on 28th June (21). I mentioned this blog post in Part 1.

“Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide to Sun Ho’s Greatest ‘Hits'” by Michelle on 28th June (22). This was also mentioned in Part 1.

Limpeh is Foreign Talent blog (recommended by ah men). The blogger wrote quite a few articles on the City Harvest Case. They are mostly leaning towards the negative side (23).

 

For the Church

“Thoughts on City Harvest Church and Pastor Kong Hee’s arrest” by Estelle Kiora on 26th June (24).

“City Harvest, My Church” by Daphne on 28th June (25).

“of a napkin and a pastor” by Blacktaffy on 27th June (26).

“Scribbles from Abroad, on City Harvest Church” by La piedra exotica on 28th June (27).

 

Some blog posts are long. Some are short. The shortest blog post, I think, belongs to mrbrown. But then his blog posts are usually short. I have highlighted the most divisive/ most commented blog posts in each category. But I would recommend you to take your time reading all the blogs above. I will be referring back to some of these blogs in Part 3.

Compared to Facebook notes which were more ambivalent in their positions towards the case, bloggers were much more firm. Yet, it is also interesting to note that some bloggers did not take MSM at face value and in fact, came to their own conclusions separate from MSM.

 

Mainstream media’s field day

I have been saving the best for the last.

Mainstream media (MSM). Hmm, where to start?

MSM played a complicated role in this saga. Without them breaking the news, this entire issue may have been swept under the carpet and the public would have been none the wiser. Some of you may disagree with me, saying that S$50 million dollars is a huge amount to keep it on the down low. But reading all the tweets, blog posts and some Facebook notes, the intense solidarity and support for Kong Hee demonstrated by City Harvest members could suggest otherwise.

At the same time, MSM also fueled the flames of the social media war. Some of you may also disagree on this. You may point out that majority of Singaporeans netizens jumped on the bandwagon in persecuting City Harvest. That may very well be true. When it comes to social media, opinions tends to quickly devolve into the lowest common denominator. As what many redditors (people who use Reddit, a social media website) pointed out, the hive mind is strong.

But, if you follow the ant trail, you would find that MSM was the one who instigated this entire saga. Here, in the final section of Part 2, will be where I show you how MSM did what they did.

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Let’s go back to the first three online articles posted by CNA, The Straits Times, and AsiaOne. First, let’s exam their headlines.

 

CNA: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested” (28).

The Straits Times: “City Harvest church founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested” (29).

AsiaOne: “City Harvest case: Where the S$23 million allegedly went” (30).

 

Now, both CNA’s and Straits Times’ headlines are almost the same. Kong Hee and four other people from the church were arrested. Fair enough. It provides some information but at the same time, makes you want to read more. However, notice that Straits Times pull off something subtle here. It mentioned the word ‘church’. CNA left that word out. So if you have no idea what City Harvest is, you would not know that it is a church. But by inserting the word ‘church’ into the headline, Straits Times were priming you to be biased against City Harvest.

AsiaOne’s headline left out the word ‘church’. But I felt that their headline was a tad too dramatic.

CNA – 0 (no agenda setting)

Straits Times – 1 (for agenda setting)

AsiaOne – 1 (for slightly dramatic headline).

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Now let’s look at the body of the article. The first screenshot is CNA’s article. Second screenshot is Straits Times’ article. AsiaOne’s article was 4 pages long. It was the most in-depth article. So I took a screenshot of the first page.

 

CNA

 

The Straits Times

 

AsiaOne

 

CNA approach the issue from a more objective viewpoint. It succinctly explains the entire situation without trying to imply anything. Yes, it mentioned ‘church’ in the first sentence. But I feel that that was to inform readers the type of organization that City Harvest is, rather than to do enforce any agenda. Similarly, AsiaOne approached the issue from a perspective that focused more on the misappropriation of the money.  It did not try to get a rise out of the readers and left opinions up to everyone.

On the other hand, Straits Times tried to blow up the issue. “Arrested by police“, “picked up by police”. By using the words police as a noun, Straits Times sets the tone of the article as good guys vs. bad guys. I could hear the COPS tune of “bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do when they come for you?” when reading the article. Yes, CNA did use the word ‘police’, but only as an adjective. AsiaOne makes no mention of it.

CNA – 0 (nice work CNA).

Straits Times – 2 (agenda setting and dramatic flair).

AsiaOne – 1 (for slightly dramatic headline).

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Now, let’s get down to the picture they used. Drumroll… and it is Kong Hee! The first screenshot is CNA’s photo, the other is Straits Times’ photo. AsiaOne wanted to show off and had a whole bunch of pictures. So I just took the main picture under the headline.

 

CNA

 

The Straits Times

 

AsiaOne

 

CNA, looking good. AsiaOne, eh, your photo is a bit too melodramatic. And horrible photoshop. You should not have stolen the photo from the Straits Times. Sigh, better luck next time.

“Early dawn raid” Wow, Straits Times. Just wow. Not only must you slap your readers in the face during your article, but you must beat them on the head with your photo caption. I love how Straits Times portrayed Kong Hee and the other four as Singapore’s greatest heist group. Straits Times should headline their next article on City Harvest as Kong Hee’s Four – The Misappropriation. I demand royalties.

CNA – 0

Straits Times – 3 (agenda setting, dramatic flair and cinematic imagination)

AsiaOne – 2 (for slightly melodramatic headline and for using a photo from Straits Times)

Thus, Straits Times gets the highest points for attempting to influence readers’ opinions.

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And there was evening. And there was morning. The second day, 27th June.

This is where the MSM ups a notch. Instead of going through article by article like I did above, I am going to point out different parts of really sensationalized articles. I will link the articles in my appendix so that you can read it full and make your own judgement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let’s welcome, the spell-binding, sensational, Strait Times!

Strait Times: “Ho Yeow Sun: ‘$23 million bid for stardom'” (31).

 

 

 

I am hoping that this sensationalized article was the doing of an executive editor. Why? Because this I like to think that the head honchos spent so much time thinking of KPIs (Key Performance Indexes) that they have lost touch with what is reporting and what is yellow journalism.

If you think the above article was bad. Wait till you see AsiaOne. Apparently, not happy with a mere 2 points yesterday, AsiaOne went all out. They seriously dug dirt on Kong Hee and Sun.

AsiaOne: “From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse” (32).

 

 

 

I highly recommend you to read this article. It was quite an entertaining read, probably akin to watching MTV’s Cribs. I also found it highly amusing that they filed this story under ‘Business/ My Money/ Property’. I wonder what AsiaOne is trying to imply here. Hmmm….. anyone?

Let’s see CNA article for comparison.

CNA: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others charged” (33).

 

 

 

I do not know if I am being biased towards CNA, but is it just me or is their reporting fairly neutral? I know that they mention  words like ‘sham transactions’, ’round-tripping’ and ‘…devised to conceal the diversion…’ But compared to Straits Times and AsiaOne, CNA does not rabidly jumps to conclusion.

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And there was evening. And there was morning. The third day, 28th June.

The third day was less severe. By now, City Harvest issued a statement to the media (34). I’ll put up City Harvest’s statement later. For now, let’s see how the MSM reacted to the statement.

Let’s start with Straits Times, as usual.

Straits Times: “City Harvest stands by Kong Hee, others: Executive pastor” (35).

 

 

 

Surprise, surprise. For once, since the City Harvest case started, Straits Times did not issue a very dramatic article. Now let’s see CNA’s article.

CNA: “City Harvest Church stands by Pastor Kong, senior members” (36).

 

 

 

More or less similar to Straits Times’ report. AsiaOne, on the other hand, continued to dig more dirt.

AsiaOne: “Who is City Harvest’s Wahju Hanafi?” (37).

 

 

 

I do not know AsiaOne, I really have no idea who he is. Do tell.

Granted, it was an article written by the Business Times, not AsiaOne, so it is not entirely AsiaOne’s fault. But by putting up this article on their website, AsiaOne was probably condoning sensationalist journalism. As for the picture the article used, their source is… wait for it… the Internet. Whence from the Internet, Sherlock?

There are numerous other articles over the period of 26th June to 30th June. One could say that MSM was having a field day with this case. Below is the list of articles from Singapore MSM. Check out Straits Times’ headline and article below. They still have to steal the spotlight from other MSM.

 

Straits Times: “Ex-finance chief of City Harvest in spotlight” on 28th June (38). Your spotlight or the court’s spotlight? There is a difference, Straits Times.

Straits Times: “City Harvest Church responds to allegations ” on 29th June (39).

AsiaOne: “Church was not cheated of $50m, says City Harvest” on 29th June (40).

CNA: “City Harvest Church’s Kong Hee maintains integrity” on 30th June (41).

 

But, the kicker came from Straits Times on 30th June. They called Mr. Aries Zulkarnain’s statement on the 28th of June as an “unusual move”. Below is the full statement from City Harvest’s website (42):

 

28 June 2012 – City Harvest Church has responded to certain issues raised this week concerning the CAD case.

 

Mr Aries Zulkarnain, the executive pastor and a founding member of the church since its start 23 years ago, says that the church stands with the members involved.

 

“The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first. As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor.”

 

Mr Zulkarnain says that COC has confirmed that Mr Kong Hee, the senior pastor, and Mr Tan Ye Peng, the deputy senior pastor will continue to preach at the church.

 

He emphasizes that church activities are not affected by the case. “City Harvest Church will continue to do its work. Our services and cell group meetings will carry on as usual. As a church we will continue to take care of our members and our community. We will not stop doing God’s work.”

 

With regard to the allegations, Mr Zulkarnain says, “It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of $50 million. This is not accurate. The $24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn’t lose the $24 million, nor did we lose ‘another $26.6m’ as alleged. The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned.”

 

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Bobby Chaw, the pastor in charge of missions at CHC, says that actions had been taken the past two years in accordance with the MCYS’ code of governance.

 

“We replaced 50 per cent of our Board with new members. We engaged RSM Chio Lim to do a full internal audit and we have been putting their recommendations into action, and will continue to do so,” says Mr Chaw. “We appreciate the need to maintain good corporate governance, and we are continuously working with MCYS to do so.”

 

However, Mr Chaw expresses his disappointment with some of the media’s coverage so far, particularly in relation to the COC inquiry.

 

“In some instances, they seem to have pre-judged us. We will be dealing with this in due course,” he says.

 

He adds that the church was also surprised that COC chose to implement the suspensions of the members involved without prior notice. “We have been co-operating with COC for two years since the start of the case, so these sudden suspensions came as a surprise to us.”

 

The church’s Advisory Pastor, Rev Dr Phil Pringle is in Singapore to stand with CHC. He is the senior pastor of C3 Church, Sydney, and the C3 Global Network of Churches. Dr Pringle expresses his support for the leadership.

 

“I have known City Harvest Church, Kong, Sun and Ye Peng for a long time. CHC is not just a local church in Singapore. It has 49 affiliated churches and 6 Bible schools all across Asia. It has impact on international ground, and it has proven through many years that it serves the global community, both spiritually and practically through humanitarian works.”

 

Dr Pringle says he, along with CHC’s Advisory Chairman Dr A R Bernard, who is the senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, fully believe in and endorse the church’s Crossover Project as a mission to reach the world.

 

The church states that the Crossover Project is not about one person’s singing career; it is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation of CHC. The Crossover Project is an outreach that uses Sun Ho’s singing and music to engage people and places that would never otherwise hear the Gospel. As a result of the Crossover Project, many churches have grown worldwide and the faith of many has been strengthened. Impact has been made on the needy in Haiti, disaster victims in China, the depressed and suicidal in Taiwan, and the sick children in Honduras, among others.

 

Dr Pringle says, “The Gospel is the Good News and Christians are meant to share it. CHC has done this through the Crossover Project, which lies at the very heart of our religious beliefs.”

 

 

Those in bold are statements from Mr. Aries Zulkarnain. Read his statements carefully. After you are done. Read Straits Times’ article below (43). The article below is in response to both the press statement issued on the 28th June by City Harvest and the remarks of Mr. Aries Zulkarnain. The ridiculousness of the article beggars belief.

 

Church’s remarks raise questions

 

It could be seen as interfering with judicial process, say some lawyers

 

By LEONARD LIM and BRYNA SIM
30 June 2012

 

The unusual move by City Harvest Church to issue a statement dismissing the allegations of misuse of funds before the case has gone to trial has fuelled questions of its intent.

 

Insiders said the church, now headed by executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain, 39, deemed the statement necessary to allay the concerns of its 30,000 members.

 

An executive member who has been with the church for more than a decade said City Harvest, in making that strongly worded statement, was seeking to lift the congregation’s spirits and ‘unite them’.

 

The church’s founding pastor Kong Hee and four others, charged in court on Wednesday, could face lengthy jail terms – even for life – if found guilty.

 

Lawyers yesterday said that the statement by the church was risky – if not reckless – because it could be construed as interfering with the judicial process.

 

The statement, posted on the church’s website and sent to the media on Thursday, said the church stood with those involved in the case, including Kong.

 

It added that church activities were unaffected and that Kong, 47, and his deputy Tan Ye Peng could continue to preach at the church.

 

The pair have been charged with criminal breach of trust as agents.

 

They, with three others, are alleged to have funnelled $24 million into sham bond investments to further the music career of Kong’s pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun, and alleged to have misappropriated a further $26.6 million in church funds to cover up the first amount.

 

The five have not entered pleas and are due in court on July 25.

 

What surprised many was that in the City Harvest statement, Mr Aries addressed the allegations and maintained that the church did not lose any funds in the alleged transactions.

 

He also said the accused did not make any personal profit.

 

Lawyers interviewed were divided on whether his comments constituted subjudice, a legal concept referring to words or actions that may affect or prejudice the outcome of court proceedings. It is an offence to do so.

 

The president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore Subhas Anandan said: ‘To address the allegations is subjudice, as the evidence has not been heard in court.’

 

But others said it is debatable whether Mr Aries’ comments were in contempt of court.

 

Criminal lawyer R. S. Bajwa said that while the church has said no funds were lost, it remained up to the prosecution to decide if that will be a point of contention.

 

‘If the prosecution decides to debate on whether restitution was in fact made, then what the church has said would be considered subjudice,’ he said.

 

The Attorney-General’s Chambers, asked to respond to the church’s statement, said that criminal charges were before the court and that neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication and on which evidence will be led in court.

 

The police gave a similar response: ‘Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused.’

 

Meanwhile, church members The Straits Times spoke to said the statement had reassured them and clarified the situation.

 

Communications manager James Yan, a 31-year-old who has been with the church for more than 10 years, said: ‘The statement was helpful. It did not speculate, but merely clarified certain facts.’

 

 

Straits Times, may I interrupt your butt hurt article for a moment? Let’s put it this way. For the past few days, you and other mainstream media tried to frame your articles in such a way so as to influence the opinions of the public. Yes, The court had charged Kong Hee and the other four for misappropriation of funds and criminal breach of trust. But the five were not even bought to trial yet. Trial starts on the 25th of July, which you and other MSM reported. Yet, before the evidence could even be consider in court, you and other MSM framed your articles in such a way that it was foregone conclusion that Kong Hee and the other four were completely guilty.

And now you are insinuating that Mr. Zulkarnain was in contempt of court for subjudice? Reading through City Harvest’s press statement, it does not even look like a proper press statement. It looks more like a record of a press conference. Which means that a reporter asked the question on the allegations of misappropriated funds. Sure, Mr. Zulkarnain could be more media-savvy and not replied the question. But with so many people hounding them for an answer, that question was designed to push him into a spot. Saying ‘no comment’ would be the same as acknowledging that the allegations are true. Either way, it was a Catch-22 for Mr. Zulkarnain.

Oh wait, I guess a bunch of Singaporean netizens and I just committed subjudice, though I am not sure how our comments are going to influence the case.

I may not support City Harvest, but Straits Times, I think you are trying too hard to paint City Harvest and its leaders as the devil’s spawn.

I bite my thumb at you, Straits Times.

_________________________________________________________

International news media also reported about the City Harvest case. In fact, the City Harvest case was incredibly well covered around the world. However, it is important to remember that most were a variant of AFP’s or AP’s reports. Furthermore, the style and framing of the reports by international news media were not much better compared to Singapore MSM.

At first, I thought it might be due to the influence of Singapore MSM slanted reporting. But then the cynic in me questioned that. International news media seldom cared about the feelings of Singapore MSM (unless the PAP government brings them to court). So the other possible reason for international news media’s biased reporting might be due to the fact that having a pastor allegedly misappropriate S$50 million also means having a news article that will definitely attract readers.

The list below shows the various articles from international news media.  Compare their headlines to Singapore MSM.

 

Associated Press: “Singapore mega-church founder charged with fraud” (44).

AFP: “Singapore pastor charged in $19 million fraud case” (45).

Al Jazeera: “Singapore pastor charged in $19m fraud case” (46).

BBC News: “Singapore City Harvest Church pastor charged over funds” (47).

Time: “Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music Career” (48).

Daily Mail (UK Tabloid): “False (pop) idol: Singapore church leader charged with fraud for syphoning £12m to fund his wife’s singing career” (49).

The Christian Post: “Singapore Pastor Kong Hee Charged With Fraud, Facing Life in Prison” (50).

The Telegraph: “Singapore church founder ‘misused £11.5 million in donations'” (51).

Hindustan Times: “Singapore pastor arrested over misuse of $18m” (52).

 

Conclusion

In terms of social media, Twitter had the most divisive opinions. The line was starkly drawn between supporters and critics. But I chalk that up to the 140 characters limit enforced by Twitter. It is quite obvious that Twitter may not the best social platform to have a debate. Furthermore, on Twitter, your stance was distinctively and quickly stated by whatever hashtags you used. As such, in Twitter, a sort of black-white perspective developed.

Blogs and Facebook notes allowed for a more nuanced discussion between both parties. However, of the two, Facebook notes were much more nuanced and ambiguous in their views. This is probably because the writer had to spread his/her note through their network of friends before the note will be shared with the wider community. The nuanced and ambiguous stance allowed them to state their opinions without offending anyone in their network.

Blogs were somewhere between Twitter and Facebook notes. Some were ambiguous, but most were firm in their position towards Kong Hee and the church. This is probably because the blog functions as a personal website and outlet for the writer, and so the writer will be more emboldened to state what was on their minds. Furthermore, as they were not constrained by character limits like Twitter, they could fully flesh out their opinions and commentaries to potential readers.

Overall, I felt that most of the discussions, commentaries and opinions were coming from the critics and ‘Against’ camp, and the Fence Sitters. Loyal supporters for the church either reiterated that Kong Hee was not a bad person or just wrote about how much the church had done for them.

I am less impressed with Singapore MSM

Singapore MSM fanned the flames of accusation with the way they framed their articles, especially Straits Times. Sure, you had fights on Twitter, on blogs, on Facebook notes; but Singapore MSM was always pouring oil on troubled waters.

This was already a potentially explosive issue, especially when Singapore had similar cases of financial fraud relating to charities such as the National Kidney Foundation (53) and Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre (54). As City Harvest is a charitable and religious organization, the backlash would be twice as bad. Yet, Singapore MSM made an already divisive issue worse by stirring up more emotions through their framing of the articles. I am not sure what agenda they are trying to set, but some Singapore netizens stated that they were probably trying to divert the public’s attention away from the STOMP fiasco.

I do not know if the broadsheets published by Straits Times is different from the content they put online. I do not have the luxury to get Singapore Airlines to deliver newspapers to my doorstep in Sydney. So I cannot compare the Straits Times’ broadsheets to their online content.

However, that is no excuse. CNA and AsiaOne are purely web-based news providers, yet they do not play up their articles as much as Straits Times did. For a newspaper that constantly crow about its ‘journalistic integrity’ and so-called ‘neutralism’, Straits Times’ behaviour demonstrated by this case had just peeled away more pieces from its crumbling veneer. I had sort of expected this heavy-handed agenda setting from Straits Times, but not to this extent.

I find it highly amusing that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called for calm and told Singaporeans not to make hasty judgements as the case is already before the court. Yet, all the while, Singapore MSM was wrecking havoc with their reporting.

All in all, spending two and a half days chronicling the online storm of the City Harvest case had been quite a fun and amusing, albeit tiring, experience.

Part 3 (and the last part) will be out sometime on Friday. I need to take a break.

 

Appendix (“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”)

1. Channel NewsAsia infographic via Mr. Smith’s blog: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested”

2. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested”

3. The Straits Times Breaking News: “City Harvest founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested”

4. Kirsten Han, SEA Youth Says So: “Singapore mega-church faces online storm after allegations of misused funds”

5. Lawrence Khong: “Pray for City Harvest Church”

6. Samuel Caleb Wee: “Death of A Halo: Of Kong Hee, CHC, and Christianity”

7. Jin Xian: “Dear City Harvester”

8. Mohammad Nizam Abdul Kadir: “City Harvest Church – The Views of a Muslim Singaporean – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987”

9. Wikipedia: Operation Spectrum”

10. ibid

11. David King: City Harvest Church – “Rebuttal (to) the ‘Views of a Muslim Singaporean – Remember Operation Spectrum 1987′”

12. mrbrown: “Image is everything”

13. Joel Joshua Goh: “On the Kong Hee scandal”

14. Mr. Smith: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested”

15. Yongy: “On City Harvest: Don’t use your faith to kill”

16. Unbranded Bread n Butter: “I sincerely believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent”

17. Sarcasm blasts until your ass bleeds (Klixen): “City Harvest Church”

18. Rockson: “I am Angel of Heaven Rockson Takumi Tan!!! You will kiss my Horse!!!”

19. Lopsided 8: “My ‘peanuts’ cents take on the City Harvest probe”

20. Yawning Bread (Alex Au): “Crossing over from gospel to vanity”

21. Alvinology (Alvin): “A Sense of Proportion: What S$23 Million Can Do…”

22. Syntaxfree (Michelle): “Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest ‘Hits’”

23. Limpeh is Foreign Talent: multiple blog posts

24. Love You Wrong Time (Estelle Kiora): “Thoughts on City Harvest Church and Pastor Kong Hee’s arrest”

25. Mother, Inc. (Daphne): “City Harvest, My Church”

26. Blacktaffy: “of a napkin and a pastor”

27. La piedra exotica: “Scribbles from Abroad, on City Harvest Church”

28. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested”

29. The Straits Times Breaking News: “City Harvest founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested”

30. AsiaOne: “City Harvest case: “Where the S$23 million allegedly went”

31. The Straits Times Breaking News: “Ho Yeow Sun: ‘$23 million bid for stardom'”

32. AsiaOne Business: “From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse”

33. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others charged”

34. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”

35. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest stands by Kong Hee, others: Executive pastor”

36. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest Church stands by Pastor Kong, senior members”

37. AsiaOne: “Who is City Harvest’s Wahju Hanafi?”

38. The Straits Times Big Story: “Ex-finance chief of City Harvest in spotlight”

39. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest Church responds to allegations “

40. AsiaOne: “Church was not cheated of $50m, says City Harvest”

41. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest Church’s Kong Hee maintains integrity”

42. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”

43. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest Church’s remarks raise questions”

44. Associated Press: “Singapore mega-church founder charged with fraud”

45. AFP: “Singapore pastor charged in $19 million fraud case”

46. Al Jazeera: “Singapore pastor charged in $19m fraud case”

47. BBC News: “Singapore City Harvest Church pastor charged over funds”

48. Time: “Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music Career”

49. Daily Mail (UK Tabloid): “False (pop) idol: Singapore church leader charged with fraud for syphoning £12m to fund his wife’s singing career”

50. The Christian Post: “Singapore Pastor Kong Hee Charged With Fraud, Facing Life in Prison”

51. The Telegraph: “Singapore church founder ‘misused £11.5 million in donations'”

52. Hindustan Times: “Singapore pastor arrested over misuse of $18m”

53. Wikipedia: “National Kidney Foundation Singapore scandal”

54. Wikipedia: “Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre”

Twitter: #chc, #CHC, #cityharvest, #cityharvestchurch, #CityHarvestChurch, #Kong Hee, #Sun Ho, Kong Hee, Sun Ho, city harvest church, chc.

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15 thoughts on “Part 2 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: Media’s Battle Lines

  1. Another Piece of Materpiece.

    History of New Movement on Christianity, Prosperity Theology being written.

    Behind the door of Religious Institution under Watchful Eyes of Well Informed Congregation.

    YES!, Mr. Zareth… you need a really good Week End Break after the part 3 is release on Episode I, Trilogy of China Singapore Sling Wine.

    These will written articles is a must read for Theologian Students, Pastor especially the “MEGA” One…and A Crying Reading Material for Pastor and Churches at the front edge of Mission Field, on the ‘enemy lines’.

    My Advice, please re-read the material over and over to absorb what Mr. Zareth presenting it here. Do Not easily inflame and write a comments based on anger or frustration or shame. — but the choice is yours. You may trash it under your god’s name… or really thinking throughly how to Worship GOD Almighty with Humble Mind and Soft Spoken Heart.

    ROME 12:1-2

  2. Wow… This is kinda like a thesis. I read through your points, and don’t really have time to click through all the links (though thanks, but I will pass on Rockson Tan’s one).

    Once again, I am pretty blown away by the amount of research and screenshots you took. No wonder it took you this long to get Part 2 out! (I was expecting it yesterday… 😛 )

    I personally feel this is a pretty balanced summary of the furore that is the online storm over social media and mainstream media. Good job. Looking forward to your Part 3. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 5 July 2012 | The Singapore Daily

  4. Pingback: Part 3 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: Questioning the Whys | Zareth Writes At: Blog

  5. Pingback: Part 1 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: The Cultural Mandate | Zareth Writes At: Blog

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