Mediacorp responds to bias claims, says hiring policies based on merit
National broadcaster Mediacorp yesterday said it was committed to equal opportunities and diversity in hiring, following allegations that one of its editors had said "viewers did not like watching darker-skinned presenters".
In a radio programme aired on the BBC World Service at the weekend, former BBC journalist Sharanjit Leyl said in a segment on racial harmony in Singapore that she had struggled to get hired at a local news broadcaster some 20 years ago.
"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," she said on the show.
Mediacorp said in a statement that it is unable to comment on what had transpired then without specific details from her but stressed that it is committed to equal opportunities and diversity in its workforce.
"Our hiring policies and practices are based on merit, that is, having the relevant skill sets that the role requires," said the statement.
Mediacorp added that its dedicated news channel, CNA, has a diverse group of presenters.
Across the entire CNA newsroom - including reporters, producers and editors - 40 per cent are from minority groups, the broadcaster added.
"This is significantly above the national average," it said.
Ms Sharanjit's remarks were part of the BBC's series From Our Own Correspondent, which features insights from around the world.
She also spoke about her experience working for an American financial news agency that provided currency updates to a local television channel and said of the channel: "They told my bosses they didn't want me doing TV updates for them."
She later "confronted the man who (now) runs the newsroom of that same TV channel, who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean", on the topic of Indian and Malay presenters.
According to her, the man replied that viewers "didn't like watching darker-skinned presenters".
Mediacorp said these comments appear to point to the company and its editor-in-chief, Mr Walter Fernandez.
"We would like to clarify that Mr Fernandez did not make such a statement," said Mediacorp.
On the alleged confrontation, Mr Fernandez said it was actually a conversation during a media dinner in November 2018, when he and Ms Sharanjit were seated at the same table.
"To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin colour at all in our conversation," he said.
"What I did speak about was the number of Singaporeans with relevant skill sets who apply to be presenters, 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," he added.