Singapore Media Watch

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

S2006 a success, no matter what the foreign media says: PM Lee

18 October 2006
Tor Ching Li

Singaporeans have short memories, or do they? A month after the IMF/WB meeting, we still need a reminder from our PM that S2006 was a resounding success. We are wont to believe that it was the most successful meeting ever held in the eyes of the delegates, that the draconian security measures are born out of absolute necessity and the foreign media harbor ulterior motives in their persistent negative protrayal of Singapore.

While due credit must be given to the security forces and volunteers who fulfil their roles admirably in the face of harsh criticism from the foreign media, a frank and honest post-mortem must be done by the relevant authorities instead of self-gratifying endorsements and appraisals. The question they loathe to ask and answer should be: what went wrong, instead of what went right?

We applaud the S2006 committee for making the IMF/WB meetings largely peaceful and uneventful in spite of the inconveniences ordinary Singaporeans have to put up during the week when the meeting was held. However, does this alone make it a"resounding success" as the local media will want us to believe? Are there any valuable lessons and experience we can learn from so that we can do more in the future as hosts of international events?

The IMF/WB meetings are meant to publicize Singapore as an attractive destination for MICE (Meetings, conventions and exhibitions). The foreign media plays a pivotal role in delivering a verdict on Singapore to our intended audience: international bodies, NGOs and companies.

Except for the few who had been to Singapore, most foreigners will formulate their impression of Singapore based solely on what was reported in their media.For all the lavish praises heaped on S2006 by the local media, its impact is limited largely to Singaporeans.

Will Singapore receive less flak from the foreign media if things are done in a different way? If what the foreign media says does not matter, we should not have welcomed them with open arms to provide extensive coverage of the IMF/WB meeting in the first place. Why not have a closed-door meeting away from the prying eyes of those pesky reporters if their agenda was simply to "want Singapore to open up, to conform to their standards, their norms."?

The crux of the controversy lies in permitting outdoor demonstrations which polarize the organizers into two opposing camps. While Singaporeans view the matter entirely as a security matter, the foreign media interpret it as an affront to their valued ideals of openness, freedom of speech and assembly. Beneath the veneer of security concerns, are there other considerations which may explain the government's tough and uncompromising stance?

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revealed the political considerations behind the protest ban when he recently told Bloomberg TV that "we have very strict rules for our own locals, and we can't have two standards because otherwise, we'll be in deep political trouble with our own citizens". (
However, judging from the massive influx of foreign talent into Singapore, it's hard to believe that the Government is overly concerned about Singaporeans' unhappiness over favourable treatment of foreigners.

The "political trouble" SM Goh referred to was probably the paranoia within government circles that if foreign activists were allowed to protest at S2006, it would open up Pandora's box— with a precedent already set, local opposition figures and activists would then demand equal rights to mount outdoor protest in the future.

The government will find itself stuck in a quagmire it will never extricate itself from without consdierable political damage. Banning outdoor protests by locals while foreigners are allowed to do so will heap additional political pressure on it to reform the current laws on public assembly as locals will invariably question the double standards set, while permitting locals to hold public demonstrations will trigger off an irreversible chain reaction towards opening up of the restrictive political climate in Singapore.

Allowing local politicians and activists to voice their concerns and opposition to sensitive national issues in a public venue will enable them to circumvent the self-censorship prevalent in the media to gain access to a wider audience. In the long run, this will have serious repercussions on the monopoly of power currently enjoyed by the government as citizens become increasingly aware and vocal of critical national issues which seldom receive any press coverage in the mainstream media.

This is a scenario the ruling party will never allow to happen and this is why at the end of the day, opinions expressed by the foreign press still matter alot less than the local media which is meant to keep the local populace compliant, happy and most importantly, politically naive.

What are your views on the IMF/WB meetings? Do you agree with PM Lee that it is a success? Share with us your views here!


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