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A team of journalists from the United States made special alterations to their packed schedule to meet with SDP leaders Dr Chee Soon Juan and Dr Vincent Wijeysingha.
The group are here on a sponsorship by the Singapore International Foundation and coordinated by the East-West Center in Hawaii.
Programme Coordinator, Ms Liz Dorn, wrote to the SDP secretary-general and said that the “participating journalists have expressed a deep interest in meeting with you.” They were keen to obtain an overview of the Singapore Democrats’ recent electoral performance in GE2011, the challenges of the growing party membership and its relevance in national policy-making. $CUT$
The eight senior reporters from the New York Times, CNN, Politico, Fox News, Washington Times, Scientific American, the Honolulu Star, and The Plain Dealer (Ohio) are on a working visit as part of the Asia-Pacific Journalism Fellowships (APJF) programme.
The APJF programme was initiated in 1998 for the purpose of strengthening understanding between Asia and the United States through study, dialogue and field study in the Asia-Pacific region for American journalists. It is funded by the Singapore International Foundation, whose representative liaison officer was pleased that the participants were able to meet with the SDP leaders.
The APJF programme includes high-level meetings with government officials as well as business, civic, cultural and religious leaders; and NGOs and other community leaders. Their first meeting on Tuesday was with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam.
Dr Chee gave a 30-minute presentation on recent political and economic developments followed by a Q&A. The journalists were particularly interested in the wide discrepancy between the island’s apparent wealth and its growing poverty among lower-income citizens.
Dr Chee pointed out that the facade of gleaming office towers masked an economy built on wage suppression and the import of cheap foreign labour enmasse. He pointed out that Singapore has become one of the most expensive cities in the world but workers’ wages have not kept pace.
Dr Wijeysingha added that the three fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association are linked to a fourth freedom which was coined by former US president Franklin D Roosevelt: The freedom from want. He suggested that depriving a society of the three freedoms give rise to an absence of debate and policy discussions as well as the studying of policy outcomes, resulting in the socio-economic concerns Dr Chee pointed out.
“The restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly, lead to the restrictions on the fourth freedom,” Dr Chee told the journalists. “The SDP has always campaigned on a coherent platform of respect for all the rights owed to human beings because human rights are directly related to access to economic and public goods, particularly for the most disadvantaged who are also often the least vocal.”
The group will visit Taiwan and Hong Kong after the Singapore leg.