30 Oct 2005

Singapore Should Look at The Press

I believe the article below was published in The Straits Jacket and so it maintains what is believed by some (ex-ISA members),to be a balanced view. A balanced view for the Straits Jacket writer is that every time you slap the Peoples Action Party you must quickly apply soothing ointment to the affected area. Do it quickly in the following paragraph or better still apply the ointment before you slap the area.

Although I am critical of the article I must say "well done" to Chua Mui Hoong for managing to raise such important topics in a way that shows real skill and knowledge of what is acceptable to write and what must be avoided. Chua Mui Hoong has managed to get an article published that will have many thinking about the big issues. Including me...

The Straits Times / Asian news Network

This has been a Black October of sorts for those who harbor hopes of liberalizing, democratizing political change in Singapore.

Two high-profile bits of news have given the republic a decidedly bad press. [Make that three - notice there is no mention of the death penalty even though it has been covered extensively by the Australian media]

A group of academics at Warwick University voted against the institution's plans to set up a campus in Singapore, citing concerns about academic freedom and financial viability. [Yes the academics voted against the plans but the council also decided against the move. The council also involves those within the University higher up the chain of command. So it wasn't a bunch of 'idealistic' dreamers but the University of Warwick.]

And, in its latest report, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th in media freedom out of 167, alongside places like Azerbaijan (141), Bhutan (142), Egypt (143) and Syria (145). [Oh and the last US envoy slapped Singapore before he left. It was also in the RSF report before that and the one before that.]

Should Singaporeans care, when their country gets a bad press internationally or when surveys rank Singapore poorly? [How can they care when The Straits Jacket writers haven't got the balls to inform the people of what is really going on.]

Should Singaporeans be irked that the republic, which has a constitutionally elected legislature and clean elections, is once again rated "partly free" this year by the well-known Freedom House survey, with a dismal score of five for its political rights (seven being least free on a scale of one to seven)? [Falls off chair laughing - 'elected', 'clean elections' in a society where the ruling party owns every source of information that the population can view, gerrymandering etc....]

One approach to such issues is to discredit all such ratings as either inaccurate or demonstrating a "Western" bias. [Or as the "ex-ISA" operative now running the national newspaper makes sure that none of your puppets writes about the issues unless it is in the balanced way - see above]

Another more nuanced response argues for "Singapore exceptionalism," which basically says Singapore's multiracial and fragile society is unique and needs delicate management, and that Singapore is evolving its own brand of political democracy. [and yet not be able to put your finger on what it is that makes Singapore unique, claiming it is multiracial or fragile and therefore unique is the argument of someone who has never been beyond JB or Sentosa. It is the argument that worked when the PAP could control all media and images, the world view, of every Singaporean. Those days have gone with the advent of the internet, global media, global travel. Singapore is unique because it is the only society to have developed economically and yet remain an authoritarian regime.]

There is a third way to respond to Singapore's poor showing in these areas, which is to acknowledge that even if the surveys are not perfect, there may be lessons to be learnt from the substantive issues raised. [Only surveys made by the 'official' government ordained social engineers are 'perfect', Sociology 101. Offical means biased or slanted in favour of showing a good picture of the ruling party.]

In other words, take them seriously enough to examine if, indeed, there are shortcomings in the areas of democratic freedom, human rights and civil liberties in Singapore's system. ["to examine if" more ointment needed here, there are shortcomings, the suppression of the opposition with defamation cases, the highest death penalty rate in THE WORLD, unique?, four peaceful protesters are moved on by over 40 police officers, some in full riot gear for protesting outside the CPF building.]

After all, we are proud of accolades the country wins in the economic field. [What accolades, or is it that you are only allowed to report 'Good News'?]

Stories about its standing in competitiveness ratings, the top quality of its workforce, the high level of economic freedom, as well as having an excellent port or airport are regularly featured in the media and become talking points. [Economic freedom when Temasek and a few other Lee related entities own almost everything of any worth.]

When Singapore does badly in a rating with economic impact, we look carefully at the issue and see if something can be done to rectify the situation. [Unless an overseas publication says that there are problems because the Lee family is appointing family memebers which stinks of nepotism.]

For example, Singapore has been doing badly for years now in competitiveness ratings in the indicators based on school enrollment. [Since when did 'school' automatically equate 'economic'. Surely school is about something else, knowledge,learning, expanding the mind. Not just a factory for turning out unthinking workers.]

The latest World Economic Forum rating put Singapore 69th for primary education and health.

Instead of rubbishing those ratings in the past, efforts were made to improve. Schooling has been made compulsory and, over time, the school enrollment figures should go up, and the rating improve. [Where is this going? Oh sorry ointment.]

But a poor rating on human rights or political freedom seems to attract a different kind of response, with the government disagreeing with or discrediting the report.[Or you just simply not reporting it.]

The response of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts to the media freedom index is that "the Press Freedom Index drawn up is based largely on a different media model which favors the advocacy and adversarial role of the press." [You as a so called journalist can actually quote this without criticising it. Singapore's media model favours the PAP in order to purposefully undermine press freedom.]

When Amnesty International highlighted Singapore's execution rate last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a detailed rebuttal which corrected factual errors. It went on to accuse the organization of distorting facts and questioned its credibility. [Which just by the way IS THE HIGHEST IN THE WORLD PER CAPITA. Don't tell me space constraints? So how many have been executed in Singapore, what is the number, what are their names, what were there crimes? Suddenly we have an authoritative regime questioning the integrity of a Noble Prize Winning Organisation.]

It may well be that reports from institutions like Amnesty and RSF lack the rigor of competitiveness ratings by the likes of the WEF, and are more open to rebuttal. Indeed, rights advocacy groups are by no means saintly institutions and some may have murky vested interests. [More ointment please. How about questioning the 'rigor' of the offically sanctioned statistics?]

Even so, a more constructive response is to adopt a spirit of inquiry and an open mind to examine the substantive issues more closely. [A more consructive response would be for you as a so-called journalist to actually start doing some investigative journalism, start reporting news as opposed to PAP sanctioned dictats.]

For example: Is there cause for concern about media freedom in Singapore? Is the death penalty at risk of being overused? What are the safeguards to ensure that the vulnerable, marginalized groups such as those highlighted by Amnesty receive due process when sentenced? [Media Freedom - you don't have any. Death Penalty - highest in the world. Due Process can not take place when it is 'mandatory'.]

In the case of Warwick University and academic freedom, Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam struck the right note when he balanced justifying Singapore to its critics, and taking an honest hard look at areas for improvement.

First, he noted that academics are free to study anything they wish and that many academics here are foreigners who presumably have no issue with lack of academic freedom. [Just don't print it or disseminate it in any way. In fact you probably shouldn't teach it either. Academic Freedom extends beyond simply studying something. As for the many foreigners who have 'no issue', how do you know, have you studied this, or is it on the out of bounds list. What is on that list any how? I don't know, do you? Best just stay clear of that topic.]

"We should never think we are in a perfect spot. Are we at an optimal point now? I doubt it. We must evolve. The intellectual climate is not cast in stone," he said.[It is however dyed white by the PAP. Would that be a climate of fear, that is not cast in stone but laws relating to defamation?]

"It will have to evolve with a new generation of Singaporeans ...but it will have to reflect realities of the world around us, especially on race and religion." [And politics, human rights, civil liberties, death penalty, democracy...]

The same statement can be made with regard to issues to do with human rights and civil liberties.

Is Singapore at an optimal point now on these? Like the minister, I doubt it. Like him, I think we will evolve in our own way. [Or you will evolve in a way that was designed by the social engineering and interference from the men in white.]

On Oct. 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a talk to the Foreign Correspondents' Association that he had no doubt Singapore society and its politics would change. But Singapore won't become and doesn't aspire to be a Western-style democracy, he said. [The sad thing is that he believes that he can tell Singaporeans and the world that Singapore is an authoritarian regime and that it is somehow acceptable.]

Debate about the democratic development of Singapore and taking a hard look at weaknesses in the political system that impede democratic evolution - these are matters of domestic concern, and should not be interpreted as kowtowing to "Western" brow-beating. [Actually debating democratic development will involve questioning the PAP's grip on power and this will mean you will have to face a defamation case, a few years in jail, get fired etc...]

After all, even China is forthright about its wish to evolve a democracy with Chinese characteristics, where the people's "legitimate rights and interests are fully guaranteed," as its first White Paper on democracy released on Oct. 19 stated. [What has this article got to do with China, is Singapore going to follow China? The argument from the PAP and the Communist Party is the usual - The Republic of Heaven is just over the next hill, we are not there yet and need these chains to stay on, but when we get to the Republic of Heaven...]

Within the parameters of keeping the Communist Party in charge, even communist China is paying attention to its democratic evolution.[Should read, "even China is clamping down on press freedom and dissenting voices.]

So when foreign criticisms put Singapore's perceived lack of freedoms under scrutiny, the Singapore government and people should examine the issue with an open mind, not adopt a defensive posture to discredit those views. [Perceived?]

As even government ministers acknowledge, Singapore must change politically. No one knows what kind of creature the Singapore democracy will evolve into. [I do know, it will be another 100 years of the PAP.]

But evolve it must, and part of the process of evolution entails being honest about its flaws.[I always thought that Darwin's theory of evolution referred to competition. In the political arena that would mean more than being a one-party state.]

By Chua Mui Hoong

1 comment:

MattyJ said...

A good article (given the restrictions in Singapore). I found your own additional comments quite amusing, but of course touched on serious points such as this:

"On Oct. 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a talk to the Foreign Correspondents' Association that he had no doubt Singapore society and its politics would change. But Singapore won't become and doesn't aspire to be a Western-style democracy, he said. [The sad thing is that he believes that he can tell Singaporeans and the world that Singapore is an authoritarian regime and that it is somehow acceptable.]"

I have always found this 'justification' of dictatorship particularly baffling. How can one day P.M Lee, or Kazakh Prez Nazarbayev, claim their respective countries are democracies, and then the next say they will move to Democracy at their own pace. What is most baffling is that their constitutions provide for Democracy and if it wasnt for their meddling, that scenario would exist. By saying Singapore will move to Democracy in time is merely acknowledging hes a dictator. Make your mind up. As (rather sadly) Putin said, 'Democracy either exists or it doesn't'. You can't be half way there.