Media-induced collective delusion

Presidential aspirant Dr Tan Cheng Bock explained his support of the PAP’s detention of a group of activists in 1987 for being part of an alleged Marxist-conspiracy.

Singapore Democrats

“I believed the information that was given to me from the government at that time. I saw that the people believed that they were conspirators as well. As Feedback Unit Chief, I could not let my own feelings dilute the general consensus, which I presented in Parliament.”

This was how presidential aspirant Dr Tan Cheng Bock explained his support of the PAP’s detention of a group of activists in 1987 for being part of an alleged Marxist-conspiracy.

What is particularly disturbing about Dr Tan’s remarks is that the people he consulted – presumably a cross-section of Singaporeans – also believed that the detainees were guilty of the crimes they were accused of.

Their acceptance of state propaganda helped seal the fate of those imprisoned and allowed the captors to abuse, beat up and humiliate citizens of Singapore who did no wrong.

Such collective delusion could only happen in a society where public opinion is corralled by a media that serve to propagandize rather than question and analyze. There was only one source from which the public received its information to come to the “general consensus” that the detainees were guilty of plotting to violently overthrow the Singapore Government.

Mr Vincent Cheng was beaten into confessing his role in the plot. He was forced to sit before the cameras on Caldecott Hill and lie to the nation that he was the master-mind of a non-existent conspiracy.

Producers, directors and cameramen were on hand to assist ISD officers, who sat just out of camera range, to make the presentation look believable. They coaxed the helpless detainee to “smile”, “relax your shoulders” and “look happy”. Several takes were necessary to capture the right mood for the national audience.

The day after the broadcast of Mr Cheng’s confession, SPH newspapers ran headlines like: “I confess”, “The red plot”, and “Police smash underground cells”.

There is a reason why the Newpaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) was amended to read:

(1) The Minister may, in his discretion, approve an [newpaper] application made by any person under section 11 or 12 if the Minister is satisfied that

(a) the person is a fit and proper person;
(b) having regard to the person’s likely influence, the newspaper company will or will continue to conduct its business prudently and comply with the provisions of this Act; and
(c) it is in the national interest to do so.

More than 20 years later Mr Cheng, now a member of the SDP, relates how he was victmised for nothing more than helping exploited workers to stand up for their rights. (Watch videos of Vincent Cheng’s speech here: Part 1 and Part 2)

Lawyer Teo Soh Lung, who also joined the SDP and stood as our candidate in the 2011 elections, had set up a legal clinic to help the poor with their legal rights. For that, and her role in the Law Society opposing the move by the PAP to muzzle it, she was also accused of being part of the conspiracy and locked up.

They were but two of the more than 20 Singaporeans whose lives were brutalised, reputations raped and names scandalised. They still await justice to be done.

The PAP became prosecutor and judge, and the media was its able propagandist.

With the dissent silenced and no one to speak up for the poor and weak, the PAP embarked on a series of economic initiatives that today has caused a yawning gap between the rich and the poor, a housing system caught up in a mindless price-escalation, an economy that prizes vice and one that is helpless without the exploitation of Singaporean and foreign labourers.

Without a free media, we are still in the grip of a government that is determined to keep its lock on power when all indications point to the need for Singapore to open up.

The sad state of affairs is a reflection of the political-moral-economic situation in which we find ourselves. It did not occur overnight. It took years to develop and it was possible only because the PAP used the media to tranquilize Singaporeans into a state of political stupor.

Without a free media, the situation in this country cannot and will not improve. This is the why the SDP fights so hard for the civil liberties of our people. This is why we continue to call for the abolition of the NPPA so that news organisations can be set up in Singapore, free of PAP control.

We make no apology for placing human rights at the core of our campaign for a better Singapore. Singaporeans must understand that without political rights, there is no economic rights.

Lonely and difficult as it may be, it is a responsibility that the SDP cannot shirk. It is a message that we must not fail to deliver which is that only when our fundamental political rights are secured and respected – including our right to a free press – can our social and economic concerns be made loud and clear.

So loud and so clear that the Government cannot pretend not to hear and do something about.

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