A Former Newsman’s Memoirs

Former Singapore newspaper editor Mano Sabnani talks about his run-ins with the Government and calls for a free press

1/2/2018 7:30:17 PM
written By : Abhijit Nag Print

Beginning as editor of the Singapore Undergrad newspaper during his student days at the University of Singapore, Mano Sabnani rose to the top of his profession. He served as editor-in-chief of the Business Times (1986-1992),  managing editor of Singapore Press Holdings (1992-1995), and chief executive officer/ editor-in-chief of Today (2003-2006). Belying the staid persona of a typical mainstream news editor, Sabnani has had a colourful life, never shying away from taking the occasional risk as his close encounters with certain iron-fist leaders show. But that was later. In his early days he even worked as an au pair in London, cleaning rooms and doing laundry in a rich Gujarati shopowner’s house in Golders Green for about one pound an hour. 

That was at the end of his overland journey from Singapore to London in May 1977 after national service. The only leg he flew was from Bangkok to Calcutta because it was impossible to travel overland from Thailand through Burma to India. The adventure cost him his long-time Singaporean girlfriend, a Eurasian. She joined him in Delhi only to leave him for an Irishman they met on their travels in Afghanistan. A momentarily dejected young Sabnani carried on to London where he bunked in with an old Singaporean friend and spent three eventful months there, returning in a more sanguine mood to Singapore in July 1977 where he joined the Business Times almost immediately. He has never looked back. Happily married, the proud father of a daughter and two sons, Sabnani now in his late 60s, recalls his experiences (including the ex-girlfriend) in Marbles, Mayhem and My Typewriter: The Unfadable Life of an Ordinary Man. The tone of the book is more sober than the stories he lets on in his interview, some of which are confidential.

“In my book there are some messages that I hope people will pick up,” he told India Se, stressing the need for people to have problem-solving capabilities, inculcate the right values in their children, and speak up. Sabnani, an avid gardener, is also blunt about the future for Singapore’s government-controlled media. “The mainstream media, led by the Straits Times, is steadily losing ground in readership and credibility,” says the veteran journalist who runs the Soul of Singapore Facebook group, which has over 8,700 members, and the Facebook page Manologue, which has 758,000 followers.

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