9 Nov 2005

Press- Freedom ranking: Why need for concern

This is one of those rare instances when ST publish a reader's view that questioned the views of our leaders...

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Letters from an ST reader to the Forum

Press- Freedom ranking: Why need for concern
Leong Chee Tung
Straits Times 6 November 2005

Finally, Singapore has done atrociously in an international ranking – coming in 140th out of 167 countries in a press-freedom index constructed by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, , behind such bastions of freedom as Russia (138th), Sudan (133rd) and Afghanistan (125th).

More interesting is the official response: Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong downplays the significance and methodology of the survey, while highlighting other survey in which Singapore has done well (“SM to media: Use freedom responsibly”; ST, Nov 1).

He notes that the index is only a subjective measure, “computed through the prism of Western liberals”, while implicitly acknowledging that indices like the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom is based on hard, solid facts.

However, such “hard” indices are also constructed through the filter of the liberal Western “prism” : some value judgements have to be used in deciding the criteria for the 10 broad factors of economic freedom in the Heritage Foundation’s index, for example.

Each index should be regarded in its own right, and even though the factors taken into consideration for the press-freedom index may be considered subjective and arbitary, it still stands that Singapore, judged on the same bases as neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, fell far short of even the regional standard.

Slightly more disturbing is SM’s remark: “It has not been proven that having more press freedom would result in a clean and efficient government or economic freedom and prosperity.”

Underlying this statement is the assumption that, first, Singapore values an uncorrupt government and its wealth more than freedom of the press; and second, that having a freer press might infringe on the efficiency of the government or the economy.

While the government is free to choose its own “core values” for Singapore, this choice might also be questioned. Part of the responsibility of a free press is to act as a check and balance to the incumbent government, especially in the absence of a strong opposition. Just because the benefits of having a free press are intangible does not mean that they are non-existent.

And perhaps, like courtesy and racial tolerance, freedom of the press may be valuable as an end in itself, even while they can be useful to society.

Perhaps it is time to rethink the tired old official party line of OB markers and social expediency as a rationale for ignoring the non-economic aspects of development.

1 comment:

mrdarren said...

Please visit www.tackygeek.blogspot.com to see my views on the death penalty.

Essay: Capital Punishment For Drug Trafficking Offences

Part 1: Lack of open public discussion

It saddens me that there is a lack of open public discussion in Singapore on the use of capital punishment for drug trafficking offences (“Singapore’s drug law”).

The media coverage in Australia over the imminent execution of Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australian, is starkly contrasted with the deafening silence in Singapore’s media whenever a Singaporean is hanged for drug trafficking. Could this be a case of “familiarity breeds contempt”, seeing as 20-40 people (I stand to be corrected) are executed every year on average in Singapore? Are we so used to hearing drug traffickers being executed, that Singapore’s drug law has ceased to become an issue of larger national or society interest?

I’m convinced Singaporeans do care about Singapore’s drug law. The “Solidarity Vigil for Nguyen Tuong Van" organized by Think Centre and the Reach Out Campaign held on 7 November 2005 was attended by 130 people; a sizeable crowd considering past attendance records at similar events. Moreover, going by the passionate discussions taking place on various local online blogs, it is apparent that Singaporeans are deeply concerned with Singapore’s drug law. Why hasn’t the Singapore government or local media acknowledged differing views on Singapore’s drug law and initiate a public discussion?

What springs to mind is a recent speech by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the 5th anniversary dinner of Today newspaper. I have quoted relevant parts of his speech concerning the role of Singapore’s media.

“…The media disseminates information, news, analyses and commentaries. It influences and shapes public opinion…

…They have a greater responsibility to society than merely publishing a sensational story, scooping the news or turning in a bigger profit for shareholders. There are larger national and societal interests at stake…

…I do not favour a subservient press. An unthinking press is not good for Singapore…

…Opinions and analytical pieces on salient issues are important for giving readers varying perspectives.

…The media is free to put across a range of worthy different viewpoints to encourage constructive social and political discourse. It should not parrot the government’s position. It would lose its credibility if it tries to be the government’s propagandist. A discredited media would not serve our national interests….”

So far, our media has not published any carefully researched reports, interviewed any experts or government officials, conducted any public surveys, or written any balanced commentaries and analyses concerning Singapore’s drug law (I stand to be corrected). A few readers’ letters concerning Nyugen’s plight and Australia’s protest have been selectively published. However, these letters are usually not well researched (and understandably so) and do not focus on the broader issue of Singapore’s drug law. Compare the current media situation with the Singapore government initiated public discussion of the casino debate. The difference is glaringly obvious.