Speaking during a dialogue session organised for forum writers to the Straits Times, ST Editor Han Fook Kwang admitted that the paper suffered from a perception that it is a " government mouthpiece". But he got the cheek to say with tongue-in-cheek: "But the test is if our readers believe in the paper and continue to buy it". It is pathetic that Mr. Han, who is just a cog in the massive government propaganda organisation is trying to ape his political masters in continuing to hoodwink the people as to the insidious political role of the Straits Times. What Mr. Han says about the Straits Times is not important because he is impotent himself and is not in a position where he can in any way influence the policy of the Straits Times.
What is of more concern to the discerning Singaporeans is whether there is freedom of the press in Singapore. Reporters without Borders ranked Singapore media 133th in terms of press freedom among 175 countries last year. Can there be press freedom when the mainstream media is tightly controlled by a forbidding organisation like the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)? It is not some kind of benevolent organisation but an omnipotent body formed by the government to oversee the mainstream media, especially the Straits Times, in its dissemination of government propaganda. At the head of SPH is none other than a former deputy prime minister who is also the spin doctor.
Under the circumstances, it will be naive to think that press freedom exists in Singapore. What the mainstream media,especially the Straits Times, dishes out to the public is what the government wants the public to read. Views, opinions or articles inimical to the government, especially from opposition parties, will find it extremely hard to get publicity, esecially in the Straits Times. Even letters unflattering to the government sent to the Forum suffered the same fate.
We will see the true colour of the mainstream media, especially the Straits Times, during the hustings for the General Election. Under the tight control of SPH, the PAP will have monopoly of the mainstream media, probably to the exclusion of the opposition parties. The opposition parties will most likely have to rely on the new media to support their election campaign. The Straits Times, being a government mouthpiece, is not likely to lend a hand to the opposition campaign. It will be just wishful thinking.
Although Singapore's population has increased, Straits Times circulation has shown a decline. It claims an inflated readership of 1.4 million. This shows that there are Singaporeans who cease to read the Straits Times because they are disgusted with its pro-government propaganda. These are the people who turn to the internet for their supply of local and foreign news and they could form a fairly substantial number. There are also some who read the Straits Times for its sports, social and financial news, skipping its propaganda.
One will have to be cynical to believe that there is press freedom in Singapore. This, at best, depends on the charitable whim of the powers that be.