Why we push so hard for media reform

Warren Eswaran

11 Jul 07

Some might think that the Singapore Democrats is “anti-Singapore” or that by being a writer for this space that I am a “national traitor”.

After all, the SDP is the fiercest critic of the Government and is very aggressive in its push for democracy in this country.

Even after being threatened with numerous lawsuits and permanent closure, the Democrats have been raising the bar time after time. Now, why are the Democrats pushing so hard to disseminate its views?

It is because the Government owns every media corporation in the country. The country’s television stations, radio stations and newspapers are run by two Government companies: the Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp.

The former publishes 14 newspapers in four languages. Content is often shared among most of the newspapers which means that while they may have different voices, they all sing the same song.

Serving whose interests?

Given such a scenario news and information are tailored to fit the interests of the ruling elite.

In this regard, the call for media reform to reflect diverse political views and ensure accountability from the Government is not only necessary but also long overdue.

The ruling party does not engage in public consultation before introducing or altering national policies. And because almost all seats in parliament are occupied by it, there is little room for alternative voices to engage in constructive parliamentary debates.

Freedom House even once reported that the people of Singapore cannot change their Government through the existing political system.

Media laws have bullied local journalists into presenting political news which reflect the one-party ideology in this country. By focusing only on one political view, there is no channel to balance and counter opposing viewpoints.

Even the little liberalization that takes place is done through Government initiatives for the purpose of influencing journalistic practices or to manipulate public opinion.

Without a doubt, PAP’s tight media control has stifled the growth of the IT industry and this has discouraged potential foreign media from establishing their operations here, resulting in the loss of potential jobs.

Whenever criticized by international press about the status of the media in Singapore, the Government advances the rhetoric that there are various foreign publications available in the country.

It should be noted that these publications are subject to regulations which restrict their circulation. Non-government-owned companies need to appoint a local representative to accept writs of lawsuits that the PAP initiates. In addition, a 120,000 US dollar security deposit is required from the publications.

Media literacy

By the use of unjust, self-serving laws to stifle the free flow of information, it is not surprising that the standard of media literacy among the public is very low.

Most citizens are conditioned to believe whatever the news outlet says. Often falling into the assumption that the news printed and broadcast is always objective. The standard of civic-mindedness in the country is poor and most citizens are unable to think critically where it matters most.

Media literacy is an important component of a democratic society. The ability to recognize how the communication medium shapes the mind when interpreting its messages is crucial.

It is thus necessary for Singaporeans to take a strong and proactive stand in this matter and organize ourselves through hands on approaches like film-making, blogging and podcast- and video-cast production.

This is because communication with each other and with the outside world is essential.

Communicating with those on the outside

In the past the PAP’s repressive practices took place largely without censure by the international community. Now, under the watchful glare of international groups, the ruling party in Singapore is more cautious about persecuting dissenters.

An example of this is the protest march organized by the Singapore Democrats during the World Bank-IMF meeting in Singapore in September 2006.

The police arrived in huge numbers and formed a human-barricade to prevent the protesters from continuing the march. Under Singapore law, a public gathering of five or more people is illegal. Even though the police had arrested and charged Singapore Democrats in the past for organizing such outdoor political activities, this time round with numerous foreign journalists covering the event, they were reluctant to make any arrests.

If they had proceeded to arrest the protesters in front of the international press, the true despotic nature of the Government would have been exposed to the world. This is how even police procedure in the country is twisted for political purposes.

To this end, it is important to let the international community know the state of the media here. According to the World Press Freedom Index 2006 rankings conducted by Reporters Without Borders, Singapore is ranked 146th out of 167 countries. Even the likes of Sudan and Somalia fared better at 139th and 144th respectively.

In this regard the role of the Singapore Democrats has never been more important. Our objective is to ensure that the media becomes a free and pluralistic entity, serving the interests of Singaporeans.

As a first step we need to keep our communication lines to our fellow citizens as well as to the democratic world open. This website is meant to do just that.

It is in the interest of the Singaporean public that we push so hard to oppose the PAP’s monopoly of the media.

Warren Eswaran is a graduate of film & media studies from the University of Barcelona. He was an actor in the Mediacorp TV series, ‘Without Warning’. He is also a member of the SDP’s Young Democrats.

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