Singapore Media Watch

Monday, October 09, 2006

Singapore supported the participation of CSOs - TODAY

9 October

Loh Chee Kong

IN A rebuttal to a commentary that appeared in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) last week, Minister-in-charge of Singapore 2006 Lim Hwee Hua defended the country's no-nonsense stance toward protesters at the recent International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings. (read more...)

Our Review

The above report contains Minister of State Lim Hwee Hua's rebuttal to an article in the International Herald Tribune last week criticizing the Singapore government's handling of the recent IMF-WB meeting.

It has been almost 3 weeks since the IMF-WB meetings and the debacle of Singapore's treatment of the CSOs has more or less subsided with the return of the delegates.

The International Herald Tribune has a limited readership in Singapore. It is therefore surprising that TODAY chose to publish this article as a reply by Ms Lim to IHT will suffice.

If we analyze this article carefully, it has two key messages for the readers:

1. Singapore is supportive of the participation of the CSOs as reflected in the headlines.

2. The tight security is justified in view of violent riots during previous IMF meetings.

Selective one-sided reporting

The IHT article by Deborah Elms contains 15 paragraphs. TODAY chose only to publish the first paragraph:

"The recent annual meetings...were notable in part for what they had omitted: There were no visible protest or advocacy groups ringing the convention centre," Ms Elms wrote.

Without reading the rest of the article and based only on the above passage, most readers will be misled to believe that Ms Elms wanted visible protest during the IMF meeting and is disappointed by their absence. Naturally, we are likely to conclude that Ms Elms is just "another Western liberal" who advocates violent street demonstrations which are a threat to our security.

This selective reporting by TODAY has completely distorted the real message intended by Ms Elms' article whose gist lies in the importance of allowing the voices of civil society groups to be heard. Ms Elm certainly did not condone violence or riots.

In fact, she wrote in another paragraph:

"But the inclusion of activists and protestors must go beyond lip service. Real engagement is critical to building popular support for IMF/World Bank programs. Ensuring security, of course, is a key responsibility of host cities. But eliminating public expression is not the solution"

TODAY could have published the entire IHT article or at least print the URL for the readers to get a balanced and fair report. We wonder why it did not do so.

Rebuttal or Justification?

If Ms Lim's rebuttal to Ms Elms' article is exactly as reported, we do not believe she had answer satisfactorily the issues raised by the latter.

Ms Lim did not seem to understand CSOs are important elements for IMF/WB meetings. It is imperative that they are visible to get their message across to the delegates. As Ms Elm has written:

"Even without the security measures, the delegates are already at a high risk of being disconnected from their publics. Most of the IMF and World Bank staff members are Western-educated economists, financiers or bankers. Most of the delegates, such as central bankers from member countries, have similar backgrounds. Academic research has shown the potential for closed thinking among those with similar experiences."

The crux of the matter does not lie in permitting outdoor protests. It is about giving CSOs an avenue to voice their concerns, worries and frustrations.

Besides using security as a blanket excuse for the banning of outdoor protests, she did not explain how her committee reached a collective decision:

1. Did the government engage the CSOs before the IMF/WB meetings ?

2. Are there any alternatives besides granting a small area for indoor protests ?

3. What are the security measures we need to take for outdoor protests? If these were not even discussed, how can we be sure that outdoor protests will turn violent and become unmanageable.

The message for Singaporeans

The writer wasn't really focused on Ms Elms' article or Ms Lim's reply. In the aftermath of the IMF/WB meetings where the Singapore government has received some negative publicity, it is crucial to limit or reverse the damage done to its reputation in the eyes of Singaporeans especially the post-65 generation.

In view of the recent government's efforts to engage young Singaporeans, it is not surprising they are keen to leave a favorable impression upon them. Hence the need to clarify and reinforce the message that Singapore is supportive of CSOs.

The fear factor is continually being used as a trump card to rebut critics who advocate the liberalization of Singapore politics of which allowing freedom of assembly and speech is a critical component.

The IMF/WB meeting may be over, but we will not be surprised by the mainstream's media renewed efforts to "micro-manage" the fallout and influence public perception in the days to come.


  • well thought article. I have bookmarked your blog. great site.
    good work and keep it up!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:05 PM  

  • the article has excellent analysis which highlights Ms Lim & Ms Elm's intention.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:12 PM  

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