15 Feb 2005

The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited

The Media Enthralled

Book Review, by James Gomez

The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited is a review of how Lee Kuan Yew of the People’s Action Party (PAP) brought the press under total control. It is a rich and colourful account media of suppression that is not available in other studies of the media in Singapore.

Tuesday, 08 February 2005

by James Gomez

As a book it is useful as it provides a chronological account of the evolution of the press law and the political considerations that drove such changes. The reader can therefore understand why at present times, news papers from Malaysia are banned from circulating in Singapore, why foreign ownership is restricted, why the limit to the amount of shares local shareholders can have in local media organizations.

The reader is also given an insight into the use of ISA to detain journalists in the period between 70s and 80s. Often the use of the ISA is omitted or gleaned over by other studies when they discuss how the press in Singapore was brought under control. The use of other tactics, such as denying or terminating the working visas of foreign journalists, is also highlighted. This technique is still used to day.

We are also a given a glimpse into the inner workings of censorship within The Strait Times. Scattered in several parts of the book references are made to Peter Lim and his move from the Straits Times to the New Paper and eventually out of local journalism altogether. His case demonstrates that censorship of journalists in Singapore takes place by either moving “errant” journalist to sections where they do not write or out of the journalism industry altogether. We are also told of how in the 70s and 80s, especially, PAP ministers instructed local journalist what to write and even how to write their stories! Other snippets include the presence of media monitoring teams within various ministries.

The book is useful in that it gives an insight into the world of press advocacy organizations that took a critical view to how the free media in Singapore was under threat by Lee Kuan Yew. Although not in a structured way, we are provided glimpses of how international press organizations and advocacy groups were voicing their concerns about the increasing difficult media situation in Singapore at the height of suppression in the 70s and 80s. Organisations such Amnesty International and International Press Institute were among the principal advocates who before the time of the internet used cable as means of communication and coordination of their free media campaign.

The role of Article 19, a freedom of expression advocacy organization based in London, in commissioning this project is hence important. The book grew out of an initial request by Article 19 to Francis Seow to write an account of “the history, current laws and impact of Lee Kuan Yew’s increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Singapore.” This example shows the importance of such institutions in supporting critical studies of the media. Such a similarly critical study has yet to emerge from the auspicious of Singapore tertiary institutions and funding.

It is also one of the first books to give a brief insight to the world of political party publications. There is a rare but short review of the publications of Barisan Sosialis and additional discussion of the Workers’ Party and Singapore Democratic Party publications. From the discussion we can know why the law was amended for political party publications requiring all committee members to jointly apply for license and to declare their assets. In doing, the entire committee can be held accountability what is published in the party newsletters.

Some important and detailed discussions include that of the consolidation of the Chinese Press in Singapore, the Singapore Herald saga and the strategies and amendments to legislation targeted specifically at the foreign media. In particular we are brought to understand why foreign publications were gazetted, visa of foreign journalists not renewed or denied altogether, placing limitations on their circulation, requiring a bond and the appointment of local legal agent to received legal summons.

The book is wide spanning and on occasion it tends to go off in a tangent. This feature not withstanding, the book includes a lot of information that attempts in its own way to give a more complete picture of the media scene in Singapore. Because Francis Seow was in some ways an insider within the Singapore elite he has the ability to give a perspective not usually available to outside commentators.

On occasions I have heard Singapore based media commentators say that The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited in not a “good” book. Perhaps the writing style may not be to the liking of the academic purists. But I doubt they would have the gumption to write a tell-it-all kind of book on the Singapore media, especially if they had access to information as an insider.


zhi yang said...

and we probably won't be seeing this book on sale anytime in singapore i guess.

McbloodyDermott! said...

The Straits Times is a joke. It’s biased and filled with party propaganda. We need sites like this to provide propaganda that is BIASED AGAINST the government. You need to fight evil with evil. Good job, Mc Dermott!

The blogger profile I’m using is a joke and to provoke people. I know he won’t be offended so this is to show flamers that he’s not a hypocrite. See!

Agagooga said...

So how different is the Singapore Press in the 21st century?