24 Sep 2004

Pseudo-competition in the media

The recent u-turn regarding pseudo-competition in the media in Singapore has been weighing heavily on my mind and I have been particularly concerned with the TODAY newspaper and its recent history. The article quoted below was first published on the Optical on Sat Nov 22, 2003. I feel it may shed more light on the 'reasoning' behind the PAP's motivations for ending pseudo-competition in the press. To claim that it is the result of economic concerns is too simplistic. I prefer to look for multiple underlying causes rather than focusing on one.

I sense an underlying shift in the relationship that the PAP has with the media. An experiment in 'opening up' turned sour for the PAP.

What seems to have happened is that with the birth of these new papers the reporters actually fell for the rhetoric that it meant greater press freedom. As soon as they focused on the Lee family and there trip to the UK and the medical situation that arose, the management were summoned and reprimanded and eventually replaced a few months later.

However the recent move seems to herald a tightening of the reigns on freedom of expression. Reporters working for the Today newspaper will not have the chance to push the boundaries of 'acceptable' commentary, now that they are under the wing of The Straits Jacket. Are the shutters coming down in preparation for an election campaign?

If yes, then as with previous election campaigns the opposition parties have virtually no voice in the local press and websites which are deemed 'political' are told to register.

In order to control a nation, violence is too visible and a more underhanded and effective tactic is to control the issues that are discussed within the population at large.

I am not arguing that the editors of the Straits Times are being coerced into toe-ing the party line. I am however arguing that there is no need to coerce them. They have risen to the top of the paper because they have always unfailing toed the line. The young team of journalists of the Today paper were taught a valuable lesson for anyone wishing to do well in Singapore.

So for me, change requires a catalyst to ignite a u-turn on a policy. The report on what occurred in London and the backlash against the Lee family by the British press may have been that spark.

Exclusive: SM Lee Vents Anger at TODAY
SM Lee Vents Anger at Newspaper for Report About His Wife

Singapore Libertarians is concerned about news that a Singapore newspaper was taken to task for reporting on the incidents that recently occurred in London over the treatment of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew when she suffered a stroke there.

Singapore Libertarians was informed that last week SM Lee had summoned the top brass of a Singapore daily, Today, after the paper published a story that indicated his wife had received preferential treatment in a London hospital.

Mr Lee met with senior staff members of Today Mr Ernest Wong, Group Chief Executive Officer of Mediacorp (which publishes the newspaper), Mr Mano Sabnani (Editor of Today), Mr Rahul Pathak (Deputy Editor of Today) and Ms Val Chua (a journalist with the newspaper).

The meeting took place around noon on 5 November 2003. It was learned that the above mentioned staff members of the newspaper were reprimanded for publishing the article "SM Lee and the eye opening trauma in London." They were also warned against writing any articles that were risqué.

If it is true that the meeting between Mr Lee and the newspaper staff actually took place, the incident constitutes a grave breach of journalistic practices in Singapore where newspapers are expected to report the truth freely without undue interference from the government.

Singapore Libertarians is concerned about the effect this meeting has on the media in Singapore. It is a clear indication that not only has the liberalisation of the mass media not happened in this, but also that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has no compunction about putting journalists on a very short leash when it comes to reporting on his family and the PAP.

The government must rectify this unethical and unhealthy situation immediately. It has to clearly separate the interests of the ruling party and the demands of the Senior Minister from the those of an independent media. Singapore's media organisations must not be used by one man or one party for their own agenda. They should have the right to perform their duties without fear or favour.

We also urge the management of Today to stand firm on its principles and serve the interests of the public.

In Singapore, all local newspapers, radio and television stations are owned and controlled by the government or its agencies and foreign publications are subjected to defamation suits and various laws to ensure compliance with the ruling party's views and policies.

For further information, contact us at: singaporeliberty@hotmail.com

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