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A page lead appeared on the 28 March 2002 issue of the Straits Times, crossing swords (yet again) with the leading Malaysian newspaper, New Straits Times. Given the recent spate of quarrels from railways to reclamations, this latest bout didn’t really come as a surprise.
Until you read the subject matter, that is. At issue was the Malaysian newspaper’s omission of ‘a crucial paragraph’ of a reply sent to the newspaper by the Singapore’s Ministry of Education. ‘It is an example of how foreign media oftentimes edit or omit key points in our replies, denying their readers the full facts for them to make informed conclusions,’ the ministry statement huffed.
Indeed the Government had taken punitive action against all and sundry of the foreign media including Asiaweek (now defunct), Far Eastern Economic Review, Yazhou Zhoukan, Time, Newseek, International Herald Tribune, Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Economist.
Given the state of the state-run media in this country, it is a tad rich for the Government to be preaching about the need to uphold journalistic principles.
This is what we mean: The Straits Times refused to publish SDP’s letters of reply on 5 Sept 2000, 13 Sept 2000 and 15 Sept 2000. These replies dealt with the Speakers’ Corner, a personal attack on the party’s secretary general Dr Chee Soon Juan, and escalating health care costs. The year before when the newspaper published PAP MP Dr S Vasoo’s letters as well as letters from PAP supporters attacking Dr Chee for exercising his right to free speech, it refused to give Dr Chee his right of full reply. The forum editor insisted on removing two-thirds of Dr Chee’s reply. (To give readers a sense of the magnitude of the PAP’s hypocrisy, The Economist was punished because it had removed one – yes, one – sentence from the Government’s reply.) In August 2001, the free commuter tabloid Today heavily edited a reply from SDP’s Young Democrats, leaving out crucial points of the SDP’s arguments. The Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao insisted that our reply to a letter in February 2002 be extensively shortened before it would be published. Sin Min Daily did likewise and even then published the truncated reply only six weeks later. And we’re not even talking about media releases that the local media refuses to report on. (For an extensive study of the shennanigans of the media in Singapore, read Francis Seow’s “The Media Enthralled” which is available in bookstores outside of Singapore.)
Young Singporean journalist-aspirants are invariably taught during lectures that their noble endeavour is to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ the readers, listeners and viewers as the case may be. When they step into the real world, however, they quickly learn the sobering reality that what they studied in Journalism 101 is no match for Propaganda 404.
You see, in Singapore, to survive as a reporter, one has to closely toe the line of the PAP. Journalists here are often given pep talks by the party’s leaders that their job is one of ‘disseminating the policies and programmes of the government’ to the people. And the role of the newspapers, radio and television is not to ‘confuse the people with alternative views’ – especially that from the Opposition. Inform? Educate?
The control of the flow of information in this country (together with other undemocratic practices) is the only way that the PAP can subjugate its political opponents and maintain its choke-hold on Singapore. It is also what is setting Singapore back several years as far as competitiveness in this globalised era is concerned.
Yet Mr Lee Kuan Yew insists: ‘Singapore has managed this relentless flood of information not by blocking the flow but by stating its point of view in competition. We defend our position in open argument and let our case stand on its own merits.’
Yes, Mr Lee, whatever you say.
‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’, ‘the pot calling the kettle black’, ‘whenever you point your finger, there are three pointing back’ – take your pick. The hypocrisy has never been more excruciating.