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Mediacorp says hiring policies and practices are based on merit; statement on presenters' race was not made

SINGAPORE: Mediacorp has said that it hires on merit while also rejecting claims that its editor-in-chief made a comment suggesting the skin colour of potential presenters is a factor in decision making.

The national broadcaster was responding to comments made by former BBC presenter and producer Sharanjit Leyl in a BBC radio programme about what she said were her experiences in Singapore trying to “get my foot in the door at the local news broadcaster”.

Ms Leyl’s segment was part of the programme From Our Own Correspondent, which was aired on Saturday (Aug 7).

She said in the programme that she had “confronted” the man who runs the newsroom of that TV channel "who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean" about why there were so few Indian or Malay anchors presenting its programmes. She alleged in the broadcast that the man’s response was that “viewers didn't like watching darker-skinned presenters”.

Ms Leyl did not name either the news channel or the man she said she had spoken to.

However, in its statement on Wednesday, Mediacorp said that Ms Leyl’s comments appear to point to Mediacorp and the Editor-in-Chief of Mediacorp, Walter Fernandez.

“We would like to clarify that Mr Fernandez did not make such a statement,” said a Mediacorp spokesperson.

With regard to the alleged statement and incident, Mr Fernandez said: “The alleged confrontation that the former BBC correspondent referred to was actually a conversation during a media dinner in November 2018 when we were seated at the same table.

“To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin colour at all in our conversation. 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.”

Mediacorp added that it is unable to comment on what transpired when Ms Leyl said she “struggled to get [her] foot in the door at the local news broadcaster” without specific details from her.

It said that as an Asian news channel serving a global audience, it has a diverse group of presenters.

“Mediacorp is committed to equal opportunities and diversity in our workforce – for our on-air and on-camera talents, as well as behind-the-scenes crew and corporate employees,” the spokesperson said.

“Our hiring policies and practices are based on merit, i.e, having the relevant skill sets that the role requires.”

About 30 per cent of CNA news presenters are from minority groups and of the CNA documentaries, specials and commissioned programmes that featured a presenter over the past two years, 60 per cent were presented by a minority, it said.

“Across the entire CNA newsroom, including among others, reporters, producers and editors, 40 per cent are from minority groups. This is significantly above the national average.”

CNA has contacted Ms Sharanjit Leyl for her response. The BBC declined to comment when approached by CNA.

Following the publication of Mediacorp's statement, Ms Leyl posted on Facebook on Thursday. She said that "the person mentioned in the report has not been honest about the conversation we had at the media dinner". She wrote that she remembers it distinctly because she was "astounded by how unapologetic he seemed". 

In response to CNA's queries about Ms Leyl's Facebook post, Mediacorp said: “We trust that our earlier statement addresses these allegations. We have no further comment.”

Source: CNA/cy

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