Why the foreign media matters to Singapore

July 25, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Piqued by the recent ruckus over the Brown matter, including all the brickbat that the PAP Government was getting from overseas, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan declared: “I am not concerned at all about what the foreign media thinks (sic).”

His boss, however, would very much beg to differ.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, in a speech to his former PAP parliamentarians over the weekend, cited The Economist’s comment that the PAP had done right by renewing its members of parliament.

This might not seem strange to some but when you consider that Mr Lee is spoilt for choice from the oodles and oodles of affection the one dozen or so local newspapers smother the PAP with – and in different languages to boot – it is indeed more than a little eyebrow-raising that he ignores these and plums for a foreign newspaper’s comment.

But then, we’re sure that our dear leader is all too aware that self-praise is no praise. The Straits Times gushing this-and-that about the PAP is like the dummy raving about the ventriloquist’s talent.

But we digress. The point is plain: The PAP is concerned about what the foreign media think, and acutely so. Otherwise why would its leaders repeatedly sue international magazines and newspapers for defamation (The Economist included)? If the regime cannot sue because the publication does not circulate in Singapore, it registers its displeasure through the relevant Singaporean embassy. Whatever the method, the Government here needs the world to view it in more or less approving terms.

The world watches

In a world on which Singapore is increasingly dependent for trade, it would be daft for anyone to believe that this country need not concern itself with what others think about it.

And speaking of what others think, the decision by the police not to take action against the 30 demonstrators who protested at an MRT station against the Mr Brown-ban is a cleverly calculated decision on the Government’s part.

The one thing that PAP leaders want to avoid more than the bubonic plague is to let the world see that Singaporeans are fed-up with its autocratic control and are ready to stand up for their rights. Prosecuting 30 people for courageously staging a protest would be the dumbest move the PAP could make. Victimizing the opposition is one thing, taking on citizen-protesters for exercising their democratic freedoms is quite another – one that would result in an unmitigated international PR disaster for the Government.

With the world marching unstoppably towards democracy and with citizens clamouring for a greater say in their countries’ affairs, the PAP must realize that it is fighting the unfightable. International and regional networks, including the governmental sector, are springing up, all with one purpose – to advance democracy and human rights on this planet. This is why the SDP has been assiduously plugging Singapore into this vast and growing international movement.

The free world would undoubtedly disparage a crack down (if the PAP were foolish enough to initiate one) on a freedom movement conducted by Singaporeans through peaceful protests, and that would almost certainly spell the beginning of the end of the PAP’s dictatorial system.

Thumbing the nose

Even the late John F. Kennedy could not escape international opprobrium which was one of the factors that prodded him to address the discrimination against African-Americans when he was President in the early 1960s. When Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement pushed harder and bolder for equality, the US Government found it more and more difficult not to introduce legislation to outlaw segregation. Given its own condemnation of the Soviet Union’s repression, it would have made the US look like it spoke with forked-tongue if it continued to ignore black-America’s demands for freedom, and that position would have been untenable especially with the rest of the world looking on.

If a US President can yield to good sense coming from the rest of the world, can a Singaporean Prime Minister afford to thumb his nose at the international community?

This is where Singaporeans must press home their advantage. The freedom of peaceful assembly is one weapon citizens cannot do without in their fight against despotic regimes. Public gatherings are visually powerful and the energy they radiate are at once threatening to undemocratic systems as well as magnetic to the masses. Coupled with the fact that the PAP wants to – needs to – avoid pressure from the world to democratise this country, the people have the upper hand.

And when citizens refuse to roll over and play dead every time the Government cracks its whip, the world must be kept informed. And how is it kept informed? Bingo! The foreign media.

So the next time some minister says that he doesn’t care what the foreign media think, you know the guy’s fibbing.