Old newspaper articles disappearing from NLB’s NewspaperSG archives
Update 5: NLB has since clarified on the NewspaperSG website that it’s just a technical error and access to vanished issues will be restored on August 4th which is tomorrow.
Ok this is getting spooky. I realised recently that a bunch of old ST articles which I linked to earlier have been disappearing from NewspaperSG, a searchable online Singapore newspaper archive maintained by NLB. Let me illustrate exactly what I mean.
One of those which disappeared was this article:
Try doing a search for the article using key words from the title, or article content or just click here. You’ll see the following blank page:
Now why might such an article disappear? What did the article say? It was linked by this post, which quoted Dr Tony Tan as saying that the graduate mothers scheme was “worth a try”, which directly contradicts earlier reports by the mainstream media that Dr Tony Tan supposedly dissented on the graduate mothers scheme.
That happens to be the only article I saved, unfortunately. But I decided to check if any other articles had disappeared or were made unavailable. Two articles which were posted earlier made extensive use of citation of archived NewspaperSG articles. One is the post on Dr Tony Tan’s shifting position on the graduate mothers scheme as linked above. The other is the post on what Chiam See Tong did for university education.
What other articles disappeared? This one where the post had quoted opposition MP JBJ in 1984 strongly attacking the graduate mothers scheme:
But the priority scheme for graduate mothers favoured a certain class of people —the children of graduate mothers — and this was a step in the wrong direction, he said. “What is worse is that it’s a crime against children. Why should any child be made to feel that he or she is inferior to another child?” Mr Jeyaretnam said.
The other articles linked by the post are still accessible. What about the article on Chiam? One of the now inaccessible archived articles linked was this, which featured a clash between Tony Tan and Chiam:
Urging a freer intake of students at the National University of Singapore, he said the Government should not impose a limit on the number who can do a popular course like medicine and ask them to do engineering instead.
Education Minister Tony Tan said the Nanyang Technological Institute would be developed into a technical university in the future, so there would be two universities. But he disagreed that the Medical Faculty should be expanded and the Engineering Faculty shrunk, just because more students wanted to be come doctors.
Mr Chiam interjected from his seat that market forces should be allowed to prevail, but Dr Tan replied: “I’m a great believer in market forces, but not at the expense of the careers of young people.
Yet another which vanished is this, where Dr Tony Tan as Education Minister objected to establishing a 3rd university until NTI had been set up fully:
THREE MPs who yesterday urged Education Minister Dr Tony Tan to start a third university here were told that the priority (or the next tew years would be to upgrade the Nanyang Technological Institute to a full university by 1991.
Dr Tan said when the Nanyang Technological University is ready, it would be providing more university places. He added: “Until that is done, we would not proceed with the third university. We have to do this step by step in order to make sure that all the universities which we establish will be proper ones, universities which we would be proud of.”
Two articles on Dr Patrick Tan, the son of Dr Tony Tan who was recently in the news over revelations that he served his National Service in a special capacity has also disappeared from the archives. The ST article titled 5 President’s Scholars this year dated 20th August 1988, which featured the young Patrick Tan, together with current MCYS minister Chan Chun Sing as President Scholars of 1988 is now unavailable. What’s in that article? It contains a profile of the young Patrick Tan as a student, as well as the other 4 President’s Scholars, and includes key information that Patrick Tan was already in Harvard (on 19th August 1988) studying for a medical degree even before he was awarded President’s Scholar. So of course that casts considerable doubt on the claim that Patrick Tan was allowed to disrupt his NS for overseas undergrad studies because he was a President Scholar. The decision to disrupt, it seems, appeared to have been made before he was awarded President Scholarship. More on this will be published in a later post.
Update 4: For those interested, this is the article on Patrick Tan which was taken offline.
The other article, dated 23rd August was a minor press correction, issued in response to the article published on 20th August. I don’t have screenshot of those articles, but the articles are still visible on Google:
In addition to this, I had a look at Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s website, knowing full well that he featured old newspaper articles too, mostly to highlight his parliamentary record and clashes with his colleagues and ministers.
Calling for a ban on the phrase, Dr Tan had said it meant “you just cannot fail” and this discouraged people from speaking up and corning forward to get involved.
Yesterday, Mr Goh said the phrase had nothing to do with speaking up. “We are talking about making decisions as a group:that you need the best people who can calculate, offer solutions, alternative ideas and finally to reach the right conclusion for Singapore,” he stressed.
Dr Tan, who heads the Government Feedback Unit and is Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Education,had also urged MPs to speak their minds and not be “intimidated” by ministers.
And finally the last article I discovered which isn’t online is this. Try searching for it on the NewspaperSG website. It just doesn’t show up. And neither do any of the mysteriously disappeared articles. They seem to all have been excluded from the NewspaperSG search results no matter what keywords you enter.
Now of course to be fair it’s not entirely clear why these articles have suddenly become unavailable. It doesn’t necessary imply that NLB was doing so deliberately to minimise political damage to Dr Tony Tan just for the election or to deny Dr TCB past positive coverage, only to restore access to it right after that. It might after all just be a simple technical error.
But I’m glad that I did quote extensively from these articles, so that readers would know exactly what was missing. Some readers have criticised me for extensively quoting from articles. But I did so for a good reason; you never know when your links might become inactive or dead. And this is just one such example.
Update: A commenter, Fox, pointed out that it’s not just articles which disappeared but entire issues. Most of those which disappeared dated from 1988, although there are many issues which were made inaccessible from 1986 and 1987. And it appears that some of the months for those years in the 1980s do not appear in drop down list when one browses by newspaper titles by year.
Update 2: I realised this isn’t new. An SBF forumer created a thread here earlier on 23rd Jul 2011 remarking that certain search terms corresponding to statesmens’ names yielded zero results. That appears to have been fixed though, but it seems like around end-July when some, ahem, changes were made to the archived ST issues.
Update 3: Now some might wonder, why does this matter? It matters for a few reasons. Firstly the missing articles don’t even show up in search results. Which means someone who wants to find out what Dr Tony Tan said publicly on the graduate mothers scheme prior to the 1984 election (which the PAP suffered a 12.8% vote swing) would probably search for key words like “Tony tan graduate mothers”. Now because they’ve disappeared, articles like this which quoted Tony Tan as saying the grad mothers scheme was “worth a try” would simply not turn up at all. The same for articles which highlight what Dr Tony Tan or Dr Tan Cheng Bock said or argued in parliament.