Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom of the Press

Is there freedom of the press in Singapore? There is an appropriate Chinese saying:"To each his own virtue and wisdom." The PAP government wallahs will assert that freedom of the press is the cornerstone of the PAP government. Many people believe it is a myth and that you get as much press freedom here as you get in Myanmar, perhaps not as bad.

Have you heard of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) ? You can be sure it is not some kind of charitable organisation. It is some kind of a government behemoth exercising supreme control of all news publications, English and vernacular. At its head is a PAP heavyweight who had been a deputy prime minister. The widely=circulated broadsheet, the Straits Times, like all the other vernacular newspapers, comes under the jurisdiction of SPH. There can be no illusion about loosening its tight grip on the newspapers or any deviation from its rigid policy.

The Straits Times is the pet newspaper of the government which it has nurtured from time immemorial. The paper has held a monopolistic position for as long as can be remembered and from time to time feeble efforts had been made by enterprising newspaper competitors to break this monopoly but all met the inevitable fate of folding up. So the Straits Times preserves its monopoly as the English broadsheet.

The Straits Times is a household name which is not surprising considering its antecedents. It claims to be the people's mouthpiece and will show no fear or favour. But does it live up to its vaunting? Have you tried to get a letter or article critical of the government published by the Straits Times? The chances are that you will never see it in print, especially it the critical writing is from an opposition politician. The most recent instance is a letter critical of Dr. Lee Wei Ling, daughter of the Minister Mentor, in reply to her presumptuous article of 4 January 2009 which the Straits Times published. The letter was rejected by the Straits Times and it had to be posted on the internet under the pseudonym of Patriot.

So where is the freedom of the press? In fact many Straits Times readers have eschewed this newspaper out of disgust with its biased reporting of local and international events and turned to the internet for their daily news consumption. It is understandable for the Straits Times staff to adopt what the Chinese say "a black tortoise with its head drawn in" attitude. The Chinese use this saying to taunt those who show cowardice. I cannot imagine any of the staff showing audacity in publishing anything frowned upon by the powers that be. He will not only lose his pants but his rice-bowl as well. The right to reply which the government wallahs insist when dealing with intransigent foreign publishers cuts no ice with the Straits Times.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Quandary of Dr. Lee Wei Ling

It is unenviable to be the prestigious and publicity-seeking daughter of an illustrious Minister Mentor father whose "benign" character has to be encountered in order to be appreciated and believed. The daughter is non other than Dr. Lee Wei Ling whose pampered life has seen her ascending to the pinnacle of her career.

She is very fond of writing moral-sounding articles to the press commenting on political and social issues and it is inevitable that, because of her social standing, sometimes she ventures into not insensitive territory like extolling her family characteristics., which may not find consonance with some satirical critics.

So it should have come as no surprise, or should it be a surprise, to Dr. Lee that a sharp-witted critic going by the pseudonym of Patriot should have written a pungent letter castigating her for her self-eulogising article of 4 January 2009. What the critic found particulary disgusting was Dr. Lee's reference ;to her mother's talk of suffering and deprivation which was good for the soul which the critic said was utopia to the ordinary people. The writer did not mince his words and his letter was quite understandably rejected by the Straits Times. So he had to post it on the internet. Some heads would have rolled if the Straits Times had the audacity to publish the incisive letter. We are talking about the Straits Times which claims to be the people's mouthpiece without fear or favour but what we are seeing is a mouse sadly lacking in courage when it is most needed.

A letter to Dr. Lee Wei Ling by the Patriot is therefore only available for viewing on the internet. So far there is no response from Dr. Lee and she is not known to be not internet-savvy. She is either irked by internet critics and refuses to lreply or finds her position untenable because the criticisms are too substantial to refute. Either way is not a good reflection of her character, firstly as her own prestigious self and secondly as a daughter of an illustrious father.

This enlightening episode should be a invaluable lesson to Dr. Lee Wei Ling and should curb her enthusiasm of her tendency to moralise her so-called altruistic messianic pursuit which may not go down well with the public if persisted ad nauseam.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Singapore's Scenario After Lee Kuan Yew

The subject of Singapore's scenario after Lee Kuan Yew never fails to fascinate the politically-conscious Singapore citizens, indeed any Singaporean who has the interest of the well-being of Singapore at heart.

First, let us start with the longevity of the so-called founding father of modern Singapore. It may not be known to many people that he ingests a certain amount of health-giving supplements to maintain his good health. Could he also be imbibing elixir to prolong life? Well, he is also very conscious about his cosmetic appearance and might have received some form of cosmetic treatment to enhance his appearance to exude charisma to his audience. It is quite natural for a person to want to have longevity in life and MM Lee is no exception. So it will be quite some time before MMLee passes into the next world unless he is struck by lightning like his iconic Merlion in the meantime.

At an international Rotary award presentation recently MM Lee quoted a Chinese proverb: When the coffin is closed, you will have the final verdict. It could be prophetic and Singaporeans or even non-Singaporeans who outlast him will be enlightened on the pros and cons of his political career by true historians. Maybe it is premature for anyone to conjecture the verdict but this would not prevent some zealous souls from giving it a try.

The first thing that may happen post-MM Lee may be the renaming of Changi International Airport as Lee Kuan Yew International Airport in commemoration of the founding father of modern Singapore. The internet has given some indication of this possibility. So air travellers post-MM Lee will experience the thrill of taking off and landing at Lee Kuan Yew International Airport. MM Lee will be smugly watching from his lofty perch in his ethereal world the excitement down below, if you believe in the uncanny or life after death. Does it surprise you if such an eventuality does happen post-MM Lee? There is no dearth of surprises in Singapore.

The political atmosphere post-MM Lee will definitely be more liberal with more open political assertions without anyone having to look constantly behind his back. Who knows in time to come the political structure may evolve into a two-party system, not necessarily by any of the present opposition political parties. By a process of subtle political awakening among the PAP elites over the political future of the country, there may emerge a group of political crusaders with the conviction that the country be best served by a two-party system. It may not happen with the present generation of PAP elites but the next generation may be a better bet. With a two-party system, Singapore can live up to its reputation of being a true democracy. You can hardly call it a democracy now with a one party dominance.

Singaporeans can be pardened if they believe that there will be greater political freedom with the passing of the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. At least one cannot help feeling that he is the eminence grise.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Tibet Conundrum

The name Tibet never fails to conjure up in one's mind a turbulent region in western China where from time to time violent resistance broke out by loyal belligerent followers of the exiled Dalai Lama against Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama mounted a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet on 10 March 1959 and fled with thousands of his followers to India where they were settled in Daramshala in northern India. Year after year the Dalai Lama sought from his assumed position of strength in refuge in India to negotiate with China for independence of his so-called mother country,Tibet, greatly encouraged by support from the United States and his western allies, in particular the European Union.

The political events in Tibet do not normally capture the interest of the ordinary people very much, and those who have more than a fleeting interest on them do not really have a good grasp of the situation except from what some of the western newspapers tell them.

Historically, Tibet is an undisputed part of China ruled before the 1959 uprising under an
oppressive feudal slavery system headed by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama had amassed an
enormous fortune concisting of 27 farmsteads, 36 plots of grasslands, 160,000 taels of gold, 100,000 taels of silver and caches of jewelleries. In addition he owned 6,700 peasant slaves and 120 house slaves. Not a bad accumulation of astronomical wealth for a Dalai Lama exercising political and divine powers. Does it surprise you? Any wonder why the Dalai Lama wants to have his position restored in an independent Tibet?

Need I have to describe the slavish conditions of the Tibetan peasants under the Dalai Lama's regime? The current Panchen Lama said on 15 March 2009 at the Tibet Democratic Reform of 50 Years Exhibition in Beijing that a million of Tibet peasant slaves will not get respect and freedom without the Chinese Communist Party. The departure of the Dalai Lama signified the end of the Tibet peasant salavery system.

Mr. John Norris, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State reiterated to to a delegation from the Tibet self-governing region led by its deputy head of the standing committee (reported on 19 March 2009) the US government stand of recognising Tibet as an inseparable part of China and absolutely not supporting Tibet independence. The Dalai Lama has apparently reduced his demand to autonomy for Tibet, but with an expansionary implication. Will China relent?

After the Dalai Lama, where is Tibet heading for? The Dalai Lama is getting on i age at 74 and there is no anointed successor in sight. Could one be found in good time, someone with a similar international stature who could command the absolute loyalty and obedience of the Dalai Lama's belligerent adherents in and out of Tibet? It will be interesting to watch development.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The augury of the lightning strike of the Merlion

Lightning struck the crown of the Merlion at around 4.30 p.m. yesterday when it was raining and cement scraps could be seen falling from where it was struck. The Merlion has been shifted to its present site at the mouth of the Singapore river in 2002.

The Merlion symbolises Singapore and what omen does ther lightning incident convey to the Minister Mentor and the Singapore government who are not immune to feng shiu or the Chinese form of geomancy? For the next few days there are bound to be speculations among the more religious-minded Chinese whether this is a sign of good or bad omen for Singapore. There is bound to be some disfigurement where the lightning struck but one observer who was looking at it from a favourable angle interpreted this lightning strike as taking the brunt of disaster meant for Singapore and could be a good omen. Others may think it sounded a bit far-fetched and may see it as a sign of bad omen coming at a time of severe economic recession.

It is interesting to see how MM Lee or other members of the Singapore government interprete it. Or they may think it is a meaningless exercise which may lead to unrealistic optimism or a feeling of pessimism depending on how the lightning incident is interpreted. Withholding of official comments may lead to a plethora of bizarre interpretations by interested parties which may not reflect kindly on the government.