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.

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