Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore

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The Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore is one of the oldest and largest foreign journalist organizations in Asia.

The group was founded in April 1956 as the Foreign Correspondents Association of Southeast Asia. Among its early members were famous Observer correspondent Dennis Bloodworth and Wee Kim Wee, the one-time UPI bureau chief, and later President of Singapore.

In the early days, the organization met often in the now-vanished Cockpit Hotel. The name of the organization was later changed to the Foreign Correspondents Association (Singapore) after objections from other foreign correspondent clubs in the region about the previous name.

The FCA also played a role in regional history: It was at a lunch in 1961 that then-Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman first mooted the idea of a "union" of Malaya, Singapore and the North Borneo dependencies.

Among other famous speakers to address the FCA: Kofi Annan, Chris Patten, Martin Lee of Hong Kong, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner President Jose Ramos Horta of Timor Leste, Datuk Anwar Ibrahim, MM Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and most recently Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Now, the FCA seeks to be the voice of a new generation of journalists and members who are deeply interested in Singapore and the world around them. To that end, the FCA offers informative and thought-provoking programs. We also try to have some fun.

We're committed to serving traditional media and are also reaching out to 21st century forms of news dissemination.

We welcome you to the FCA of Singapore.

A Brief History of The FCA of Sngapore

(Originally commissioned for the FCA 50th Anniversary in 2006. Updated June 2008.)

The old saying that "the shoemaker's children are the worst shod" seems an appropriate way to describe the FCA archives. One can only assume that the organisation that is more than a half-century old was doing such a thorough job chronicling events in South East Asia, that it neglected to record its own fascinating history.

Thank goodness then for the late Dennis Bloodworth, the former South East Asia correspondent for The Observer and long-time FCA guiding spirit. His value as a remarkable historical resource for the Association became apparent when he provided four pages of notes about the early days of the FCA. These were reproduced in the FCA newsletter, The Source, in the May 1998 issue, in an article entitled "From Merdeka to ASEAN: A history of the FCA."

"The Foreign Correspondents Association of South East Asia, as it rather grandly called itself, was formed in the summer of 1956," Bloodworth wrote, explaining that the pan-regional moniker stemmed from a hope to include correspondents based in Saigon, Bangkok and Jakarta.

 It was a time of great global interest in the region due to the communist insurgencies in Vietnam and Malaya, the rise of Indonesia's Sukarno as a leader of the Third World and the developing struggle for power in Singapore.

The press club's meetings were held in the bar of the Cockpit Hotel, which remained the focus of activities for several years. Informal committee meetings, presided over by the FCA's first president, the Manchester Guardian's Vernon Bartlett, took place at a corner table, and regular Saturday night drinking sessions occupied the bar. Correspondents from out of town would gravitate there, swapping gossip and comparing coverage.

Among the earliest members was Wee Kim Wee, the UPI bureau chief and later President of the Republic, John Ridley of the Daily Telegraph and Yves Causse of Agence France Presse. In the early days, there were about 24 ordinary members, with associate members admitted soon afterwards.

The club attracted a host of notable speakers from the start, many of them involved in the political competition to govern Singapore. They included Lim Yew Hock, Singapore's second prime minister, Governor Sir Robert Scott, and leaders from the then-opposition People's Action Party, including Mayor Ong Eng Guan and Toh Chin Chye. After Lee Kuan Yew was elected as prime minister in 1959, the FCA hosted a dinner for him, the start of a long association with the foreign press.

In the early 1960s, the FCA migrated to the Coral Room of the old Adelphi Hotel. At the time there was considerable debate about whether Singapore would be able to join newly-independent Malaya.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malayan prime minister, agreed to speak before the FCA at a time when rumours were rife about the future of Singapore and the British dependencies in North Borneo. Bloodworth sets the scene in his book, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse.

Bloodworth, then FCA vice-president, was sitting next to the Malayan prime minister at the luncheon before his speech, and asked him whether Malaya was interested in moving "politically" into Borneo.

The Tunku "dug a little dubiously into his gaudy ice cream with a small spoon. 'I shall have to think more about it first,' he replied," wrote Bloodworth. "He did not think for long, apparently, because he then rose to tell 60-odd foreign journalists and diplomats for the first time that Malaya could not stand alone and in isolation, but must seek an 'understanding' with the peoples of North Borneo--and Singapore."

It was a bombshell announcement for it meant that Malaya was open to a merger with Singapore and it set in motion the events that led to Singapore joining Malaya, and the creation of the state of Malaysia.

It was around this time that the FCA moved its events to the Singapore Cricket Club, which was suffering a slump in membership and as an incentive offered the FCA a group membership deal. In 1965, freelancer Alex Josey was expelled from Singapore by the Malaysian government as tensions rose between Singapore and the Federal governments. The FCA protested, but in vain. The next week, the FCA gave a lunch for Federal Vice-Premier Tun Abdul Razak, when the members publicly snubbed him by boycotting question time. The Straits Times headline read "Riddle of silent foreign newsmen."

There were several cases of members being expelled from the country for interfering in domestic political affairs. Bloodworth recollected one incident of a correspondent who waved a placard in a demonstration.

But Bloodworth said that the FCA found a sympathetic ear in the then-Information Minister S. Rajaratnam, who had been a writer for The Straits Times and at one time a stringer for Bloodworth.

"Given our good relations with Raja we were able to delay, but not cancel their expulsions. But an important outcome was that Raja laid down guidelines stating that foreign correspondents could write what they liked about Singapore--pro or con--for their own media abroad, but not in local publications, nor could they get mixed up in local politics. This was seen as a useful weapon if ever a correspondent was expelled for writing an anti-Singapore article for his publication overseas," Bloodworth wrote.

Ilsa Sharp, who first arrived in Singapore as a young journalist in 1968, recalls how the FCA hosted high-spirited gatherings in the early 1970s. "There were some riotous bar sessions that tend to cloud the memory--after all I was young and single," said Sharp in a recent interview.

"There were many more, and more diverse, more glamorous correspondents based in Singapore then than now--sadly, the big lure was probably simply the 'bad news' of the Vietnam war. Once the war went away and the news settled down into more solid business and economic issues, the more exciting correspondents also went away and things got more staid altogether," said Sharp, who was a stringer for the Far Eastern Economic Review and later an editor at The Straits Times.

Sharp said there was something of a climate of intrigue in the 1970s, with persistent rumours of spying by both domestic and foreign agents. "There was much gossip as to the presence of a mole in our midst, but later on there was also a Cold War paranoia with the unmasking of intelligence agents here," some of them diplomats from both East and West, "with whom we had all freely and bibulously consorted!"

While the association faded in the background during the 1980s, it restarted its regular meetings in the early 1990s, finding a social 'home' at the newly renovated Raffles Hotel. The revitalisation came at a time when the Singapore government indicated it wanted to reassess its relationship with the media. Government bodies such as the Economic Development Board offered to boost cooperation with the association, which was lining up senior ministers for luncheon functions on a regular basis. Finance Minister Richard Hu, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister of Information and the Arts George Yeo addressed the FCA in the early 1990s.

During that time, the FCA was also working hard to resolve problems, as foreign correspondents complained about 'local press only' news conference, delays in receiving official press releases and difficulties in obtaining timely responses to queries from government officials.

In 1992, The Source reported to members that signs of progress were spotted: "For instance, the government released its first-quarter economic survey last month to the foreign press a day ahead of the release date. This provided foreign hacks equal treatment with local reporters in covering the story."

While the FCA organized many important events during the 1990s, one fun six-hour trip on the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express between Singapore and Malaysia stands out. "The food was fantastic, the service enthusiastic, the conversation iconoclastic," reported The Source in 1998, "But as the engine pulled into Keppel station shortly after midnight, a sobering story filtered through the carriages from the Observation Deck: a man had fallen off the train."

During one of the train's unscheduled stops, two British bankers had decided to get a breath of fresh air and admire the scenery from the roof. Unfortunately, both were caught under the neck by a signalling cable stretched across the track, knocking one man on his back and the other completely off the train. He was later found battered and bruised, but alive. "Both offered gracious apologies to the FCA for the incident," The Source reported.

In recent years, the FCA has attracted many prominent speakers including Chris Patten, the last Hong Kong governor, Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Asian Development Bank Managing Director General, Rajat Nag, Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, and, Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta, twice.

Today, the association aims to facilitate access to newsmakers, events and places, while offering social gatherings during which members can greet old friends and make new ones. It is the FCA's ability to attract a broad international membership and offer quality and diverse programs that has recently led to a significant increase in membership. Our current roll of some 150 represents media, diplomats, civil servants as well as the public policy, PR and marketing communities.

FCA Singapore Past Presidents

(This list was compiled to the best of our ability. Contact the FCA Secretariat with additions or corrections.)

  • 2016 - Sharanjit Leyl - BBC
  • 2015 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - International New York Times
  • 2014 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - International New York Times
  • 2013 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jesson - International New York Times
  • 2012 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - International Herald Tribune
  • 2011 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - International Herald Tribune
  • 2010 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - Newsweek
  • 2009 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - Newsweek
  • 2008 - Costas Paris - Dow Jones
  • 2007 - Glenn van Zutphen - vanMedia
  • 2006 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - Newsweek
  • 2005 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - Newsweek
  • 2004 - Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop - Newsweek
  • 2003 - Hassan Jafri - Dow Jones
  • 2002 - Sara Webb - Asian Wall Street Journal
  • 2001 - Sara Webb - Asian Wall Street Journal
  • 2000 - Christopher Donville - Bloomberg
  • 1999 - Christopher Donville - Bloomberg / Ben Dolven - FEER*
  • 1998 - Karen Noack - CNBC
  • 1997 - Dean Visser - Deutsche Press Agentur
  • 1996 - Jerry Norton - Reuters
  • 1995 - Jerry Norton - Reuters
  • 1994 - Ian Stewart - The Daily Telegraph
  • 1993 - Ian Stewart - The Daily Telegraph
  • 1992 - Ian Stewart - The Daily Telegraph
  • 1991 - Alexander Thomson - BBC
  • 1990 - Rainer Wolfgramm  - ADR Radio & Television
  • 1989 - Fred Bartu - Neue Zurcher Zeitung
  • 1988 - Fred Bartu - Neue Zurcher Zeitung
  • 1987 - Fred Bartu - Neue Zurcher Zeitung
  • 1984 - Peter David Spence - Agence France-Presse
  • 1983 - David Watts - The Times
  • 1982 - Jack Thompson - BBC
  • 1981 - Paul Wedel Jr - United Press International
  • 1980 - Richard Gill - Melbourne Herald
  • 1979 - Eric Hua-Huang Chi - Central News Agency
  • 1978 - Hiroshi Kanashige - Jiji Press
  • 1977 - James Watts Granville - Reuters
  • 1976 - Kenneth Whiting - Associated Press
  • 1975 - Yoichi Yokobori - Kyodo News Service
  • 1974 - William Hartley - Wall Street Journal
  • 1973 - Bruce Wilson - Melbourne Herald
  • 1972 - V.T. Sambandan - The Hindu
  • 1965 - 1969 - Dennis Bloodworth - Observer
  • 1958 - 1965 - Ronald Stead - Christian Science Monitor
The FCA's first president stepped down due to ill-health to return to Ireland

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