Govt sponsored Discovery Channel film to be balanced?

The Discovery Channel is set to air a three-part series entitled “The History of Singapore.” It seems that the PAP is quite anxious to portray the “documentary” as objective piece because a foreign company, UK’s Lion Television, is heading the project.

“This is not a Singapore documentary, it is a documentary about Singapore but made by an international company. We hope the final product will be fair and balanced,” Mr Tommy Koh, Chairman of the National Heritage Board (NHB) said. The NHB, together with GLCs Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, are the sponsors of the film. (See CNA report below)

The Singapore Government sponsors a multi-million dollar film project and you expect it to be fair and balanced? Here’s something for readers to think about:

Discovery Channel wrote to the Singapore Democrats asking to interview Dr Chee Soon Juan for the documentary:

Dear sir/madam,

I’m a researcher attached to Lion Television, a UK-based production company, that’s been commissioned by Discovery Channel Asia to make the documentary series, The History of Singapore. This series is also under the supervision of a history committee made up mainly of historians and chaired by Prof. Tommy Koh. Please see the attached PDF document which is a letter of introduction written on my behalf by Prof. Koh.

The series producer, Tim Lambert will be coming to Singapore on the 6th of June to prepare for a week’s worth of filming that will take place from June the 11th – 17th. I’m writing to the SDP at this point to find out if Dr. Chee Soon Juan would be interested and available to appear as an interviewee in this documentary. “The History of Singapore” is a 3-part series, each episode deals with a period in Singapore’s history and we were hoping to include Dr. Chee in episode 3 which deals with the period from Independence to the present day.

Could you please convey this message to Dr. Chee? And advise me if he would indeed be interested to participate in this documentary. I’ve tried to call the SDP but no one picked up. Please feel free to contact me should you require further details or have any queries, my contact details are listed below.

Khoo Su-mae
Lion Television

History of Singapore

(Attached letter from Mr Tommy Koh)

23 February 2005

National Heritage Board
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Singapore 248163
Tel: (65) 63798010
Fax: (65) 64795753




I write to introduce Ms Khoo Su-mae, who works for Lion Television. Lion Television is helping Discovery Networks Asia to produce a new three-part, three-hour, documentary on the History of Singapore.

The project has the full support of the National Heritage Board.

I would be very grateful if you could extend your cooperation to Ms Khoo Su-mae.

Yours sincerely,



The SDP duly replied and said that Dr Chee would be happy to do the interview for the film. Weeks later, the SDP called Ms Khoo who said that the were not going to interview Dr Chee after all. She did not give any reason.

Readers can decide for themselves if the documentary will be a fair and balanced one.

“The History of Singapore” – as the landmark multi-million-dollar documentary is called – will air on Discovery Channel next month

Channel News Asia
12 Nov 05

Footages never seen before and interviews with key figures like Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew – all filmed on high-definition – is featured in the three-hour special.

The documentary will be telecast on Channel NewsAsia and other MediaCorp channels

The Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of World War Two in a room in City Hall.

And in 1965, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also sworn in there at the City Hall chamber.

So it was a fitting venue to launch the new documentary series.

From Singapore’s beginnings as a mangrove swamp to the Asian economic metropolis it is today, the history of Singapore over the past two centuries is showcased to viewers in a three-hour special.

Besides rare historical footage such as the first known map of Singapore after Raffles landed, the documentary also has real-life re-enactments.

There will also be interviews with key historical figures recounting turning points in Singapore’s past.

So how different is this version of history compared to previous ones?

Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board said:

“This is not a Singapore documentary, it is a documentary about Singapore but made by an international company. We hope the final product will be fair and balanced, and tells our story in an engaging and convincing way.”

“It does capture quite well, in three hours, the long and complex history of Singapore. Of course if you do a documentary and you want to make compelling TV, you have to take certain creative decisions but I have to say the story is quite accurate,” said Professor Tan Tai Yong, a historian at the National University of Singapore.

Discovery’s team also faced challenges when they were filming the series.

Said James Gibbons of Discovery Asia: “How do you take 200 years and condense it? An objective was to tell the story of Singapore – which is one of the four Asian tigers. The story we believe is emblematic of many of the transformations that have taken place in Asia over 100 years. It’s a fascinating story for our audience in the region and perhaps beyond.”

As a special tribute to mark Singapore’s 40th birthday, the three-part series will reach more than 100 million households in 23 countries, telling the history of Singapore to the local and international audience.

The documentary is sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, and supported by the National Heritage Board.

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