9 May 2006

Singapore’s media under fire

From The National, a newspaper from Papua New Guinea:

SINGAPORE’S controlled media has come under criticism for the way it covered the campaign leading to last Saturday’s general election. While Singaporeans were still pondering on which party to give their votes to, many had already cast a negative vote for what they perceived to be biased, lop-sided press coverage.

A frequent charge was that the amount of space and time given by the national press and TV in this election was overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Some of it was slanted to its favour. Much of what the opposition candidates did or said, on the other hand, was either ignored or under-reported. The national media made little effort to project an even-handed approach or treat both the ruling PAP and its political rivals as equal entities. There was hardly any mention of figures or photographs of the huge crowds attending their rallies.

Already viewed as underdogs, the struggling candidates may have benefited from a public backlash, a perception that they are victims of media bias. “I am not interested in politics, but I don’t like the media reporting. It’s Third World standard, similar to propaganda,” proclaimed an online letter. “I’d like to voice my discontent at the way the Singapore media reports the election. I am extremely disappointed by the way the media does its work,” another said.

It began on nomination day when the official Channel News Asia gave such an overwhelming coverage to the ruling party that it prompted some critics to name it “Channel PAP”. Subsequent days were hardly any better. “Day in and night out, it’s all about the ruling party; some 80% or more coverage was given to its side of the story,” Grunt complained. More than 100 letters from readers, many of them believed to be sympathetic to the opposition, have not been published partly because of insufficient space.

Unlike other developed nations, Singapore has never been renowned for objective journalism. Its pro-government newspapers and TV rarely see the need to be even-handed in political coverage.
So why is the criticism so vocal this time? For one thing, the slant was more than before, possibly because the PAP was under the strongest challenge in 20 years. But the main reason could be the changing electorate, younger Singaporeans who see a fair media as crucial for democracy, concepts not always shared by the government. This has driven many people to hear for themselves what the opposition parties had to say, adding to the huge rallies.

“I have to go because the press is unlikely to report very much of it,” an undergraduate explained. Many were also compelled to rely on the internet. This has been described as Singapore’s first internet election. “It gave people who didn’t attend the rallies information they didn’t have in past elections. “The PAP move to control the internet just before the elections failed completely because it was ignored,” an observer said.

About 40% of voters were born after 1965, the year of independence, the vast majority being web-connected. What The Straits Times and CNA did not provide, the internet did – citizens’ reports, videos and photographs of rallies were widely available despite a ban on political weblogs. Pictures of huge opposition rallies, which were published in Malaysia, never saw the light of day in Singapore’s official media outside the websites. Two of the websites were started recently just to accommodate photos and videos of rallies. Most of Singapore’s dozen or so online forums and the political blogs reported a substantial increase in visitors. In global search engines, the subject “Singapore election” was among the top entries.

The press itself became an issue when voters were discussing fair governance and political level-playing fields. It was accused of playing up the government and putting down the opposition. Years of control have affected Singapore’s image abroad. A survey by Reporters Without Borders last year ranked the state 140 out of 167 countries in terms of press freedom – worse than Russia or Afghanistan. The government has dismissed it as not important.

Some citizens appealed to the journalists and editors to make a conscious effort to strive for world-class professionalism. “For those of you who still have a moral conscience, I suggest that you quit and join a foreign publication ... to report on Singapore,” one letter said. Others called for a boycott of the media. “I have cancelled my subscriptions and will resume buying only if the newspapers regain their freedom,” one web letter said.

The feared backlash by voters may have had some impact – temporarily. Before the nine-day campaign ended, there was better coverage of opposition speeches. “Tonight’s Channel 8 news was more favourable towards the opposition. I heard some reporters had complained and threatened to quit. The same thing is happening in the newspapers,” a viewer observed. A reader blogged, “I bought the Lianhe Wanbao (Chinese newspaper) today; the report was fair with a lot of what the opposition had said at the rallies. They are doing a good job.”

A media insider has appealed for understanding and patience because there is a rising awareness among young journalists about the need for change. “They are the people best capable to push for it when the time is ripe,” he said. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promised further opening up of the society. In 20 years, he said, Singapore would be a totally different place.
Judging by the tone of many post-65’ers, it could well be sooner.

Note: Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

the media is under control. would they change????? A BIG DOUBT!!

Anonymous said...

taken from sammyboys forums..

21st Century...Same Poor Prostitutes....

Some of you in the media reads this forum. Of this I am sure. In the course of the just-concluded General Elections, I have seen some of you in action. Lee Ching Wern, T Rajah, Ken Kwek, Sue-Ann Chia, Peh Shing Huei, Aaron Low, Derrick Paulo....
From what I have observed, you guys are the same ordinary people as us - with a job to do. I have also seen you guys keepng late nights, braving the unpredictable weather. I applaud you for your endurance.
I have also read your reports.
Some are fair, some are certainly not. Most are skewed. I know this because I was there for every rally - The Workers' Party rallies. I have to say that the reports were not comprehensive and most of the time, the WP's main points were either ignored or played down.
There is talk going around that some of you have threatened to quit the last few days of the elections because of the self-censorship that was employed by your 'higher-ups'. I do not know how true that is.
You yourselves have seen the opposition members in action - you have followed them in their walkabouts, seen them braving the weather, day and night, trying their whole-soul best in getting their message across to the electorate.
Certainly, you would agree with me that the WP's candidates are not 'people whose integrity are questionable', nor are they 'donkeys', nor 'liars', nor 'wayang' people.
You know this because you too were there at the rallies - you heard what the candidates have said. You have had personal one-to-one interviews with them. You know that they have tried to accomodate every one of your requests.
You know that they are honest, credible, hardworking singaporeans whose only purpose in standing for elections is to better the lives of their fellow singaporeans.
Yet, why do you allow your media to go on a campaign of distortion, censorship, and misrepresentation?
The WP has fought this GE with dignity, respect - for their opponents and themselves) - and a huge amount of focus on the issues.
The WP did not resort to name-callings, threats of lawsuits, condescending attitudes towards their opponents.
On the other hand, the PAP had found it necessary to name-call ('donkeys', 'wayang', 'liars', 'questionable integrity', etc..) The PAP had shown an absence of respect for their opponents, their campaign was focussed on character assasination.
Why then did you in the media allow yourselves to be the tools in this vile, vulgar and despicable campaign of the PAP?
You, the journalists on the ground, may not be responsible for what we read in the media reports on tv and in print. But that does not mean that you can't stand up for what is right and what is true.
If you can't stand up for that, at least stand up for what is professional.
For, are you not professionals? Does not integrity of your profession mean anything to you? What then of common basic decency to treat your fellow Singaporean - even is he/she is an opposition member - with basic fairness?
This GE therefore is not just about how the PAP ran a vindictive campaign. It also showed all Singaporeans the kind of media that is without doubt, among the worst in the world.
Truly, a 3rd world, 3rd-rated media.
I am shamed of you guys. I truly am. In helping out with the WP, I have seen the immense struggle and obstacles that they face. One of which is to overcome media bias.
I am ashamed also because in Singapore, being good, honest, and caring of your fellow Singaporeans is not enough. One has to be able to play politics too.
BUT I am immensely proud of the way the Workers' Party ran and conducted their campaign. In this, they stand head and shoulders above all the other parties - especially and even above the PAP.
I sincerely hope that you guys in the media will take some time out and think about it. Search your conscience.
All we are trying to do is to make singapore a better place.
Do not paint us as criminals.
We love Singapore as much as you do.
Indeed, the fact that we are standing forth and risk everything perhaps shows that we love Singapore MORE than you.
It is unfortunate that the label "Poor Prostitutes" which the late David Marshall first coined for the local media, still applies.
And here we are in the 21st century.
It is once said that 'Singaporeans deserve the media that they get'. I would say then that the media deserves the label that they get too.
And after observing the media in this GE, most Singaporeans agree.

sgfreedom said...

I stop checking local media. If I want the truth, objective reporting, I always go international.

Anonymous said...

I stop subscribing too. WASTE MONEY AH. Either they think we're stupid or they are really really stupid. Might as well read on the internet.

Anonymous said...

aiya same old story nothing new guys. Not happy we gotta do something abt it. Hey we are the post-65 people, they HAVE TO listen to US. As voters, we rule.. heheq!

Matilah_Singapura said...

"An Institute For Destitute Prostitutes".

Yep. Burn in hell, sluts!

Anonymous said...

SPH/Channel NewsAsia/Mediacorp all PAP-owned companies. The only trace of where the journalists stepped out of their comfy PAP-bounds to blatantly question this whole issue was during the telvised forum with the panel consisting of 7 journalists. Even then, those were "only the views of the radical, English-educated youths". He has such a way of dismissing opinions and imposing his rights and wrongs on everyone else.

I think they hold elections only to keep up superficial pretences of a democracy.

Anonymous said...

SPH is the PR dept of Singapore Inc; given this, its news coverage is OK, but the commentary is virtually useless

Anonymous said...

SPH news coverage is NOT okay! Their definition of what makes headline news is very interesting. The James Gomez police investigation is the headline and talk of the town but not for SPH.

Anonymous said...

"I think they hold elections only to keep up superficial pretences of a democracy."

The people do vote, don't they? Or did they hire them as well? Flimsy.

"SPH is the PR dept of Singapore Inc; given this, its news coverage is OK, but the commentary is virtually useless."

Agreed, but you can't say that the commentary is any better on FOX or ABC in the buildup to elections.

AND.

I think if there are journalists out there who are being suppressed, then we should be showing them our support, and not labelling them with names you wouldn't say in front of your kids.

Why don't you tell us what you have done for Singapore in the past year? Past 5 years? Past 10 years?

- Impassioned Singaporean