Singapore Media Watch

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Heeding the PM's call to speak up

The Singapore Media Watch was set up in response to PM Lee's speech on 24 September 2006 urging Singaporeans to speak up and participate in nation building.

The members of the editorial team were so inspired and touched by the PM's sincerity and motivation that we felt compelled to do something about it.

As the PM did not outline what could and could not be said, we assume he trusts Singaporeans' maturity to speak up on the right issues in a meaningful and constructive manner.

We chose to focus on the media because it plays a critical and direct role in stimulating the interests of citizens in current affairs of the nation.

The present state of the media in Singapore leaves much to be desired. The Straits Times was ranked 140th amongst 167 countries in 2005 on the World Press Freedom Index conducted yearly by Reporters without Borders, an international media watchdog.

The role of the media has been reduced de facto to nothing more than a mouthpiece of the government over the years to fully "exploit" it as a tool in the name of "nation building".

There is little or no critical analysis or commentary on local politics. The leadership is always seen as right, flawless and perfect. They "know the best" to tell Singaporeans what to do while citizens who dare to express dissent or contrary views are suppressed.

Given such circumstances, it is not surprising most Singaporeans are either apathetic or ignorant of the nation's affairs. If Singaporeans are not even concerned or aware of what is going on, how do you expect them to speak up?

In October 2005, Frank Lavin, the out-going U.S. ambassador to Singapore criticized the government's restrictions on free speech in a rare public rebuttal.

Mr Levin said it was "surprising to find constraints on discussions here" given Singapore's strong international links in the economic sector. "In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?"

As Singaporeans become increasingly exposed to online foreign publications, blogs and forums, they will notice a glaring gulf between what was reported locally and elsewhere. The lack of plurality of views will further alienate a segment of the population to embrace the "alternative media" whose views are essentially anti-establishment.

In the long run, this could possibly lead to a polarization of Singapore's society, with a generation that is skeptical and distrustful of the government.

We can already see this happening in some internet forums where bashing of the governing authorities goes on unfettered.

SPH's recent purchase of Hardware Zone and the setting up of STOMP are viewed with suspicion by the online community as a government's 'ploy' to micro-manage the internet.

In this information age where news can be obtained from anywhere in the world with the click of a mouse, it is impossible to control or modulate what citizens read.

A moderate degree of fairness and freedom in local press coverage will go far towards encouraging active citizenry and meaningful dialogue between citizens and the government.

To borrow a quote from Martin Luther King: "Our days begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter". Let the media be liberalized and allow Singaporeans to speak up freely without any fear.

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