PM Lee said in his National Day Rally message that “you don’t want everybody to be singing the same note but at least…it should be, we’re each saying different things but it blends together”.
So how did our 140th ranked press respond? By singing the praises of almost every point that PM Lee made in his speech, with hardly any of the critical analyses that they probably last used in their journalism classes in university. (Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan has written a more comprehensive commentary on the post-rally media-blitz.) I recall watching a Channel 8 or Channel U programme where this spunky, young female presenter was animatedly describing PM Lee’s speech as if our football team just won the World Cup!
Non-constituency MP Sylvia Lim pointed out in a recent speech that the more independent new media (i.e., the Internet) will “serve as a pressure point for the mainstream media to be more balanced to remain credible”. I hope she is proven right.
Our government claims its very tight media controls are necessary because we are a little red dot and cannot afford to have our media challenging our “national interests” (as defined by the Government) as this will throw our ship off course. We cannot, it continues on, become like the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan where quan2 ming2 luan4 jiang3 (all the people talk rubbish). Of course it’s convenient to cite hyperbolic examples to make Singaporeans think there are no benefits in having a politically independent press. Why not cite the examples of the much more responsible, free press in the US, the UK or even India?
Even in Israel, a small state surrounded by neighbours would like nothing more than to wipe it off the map, the press is much more independent and is not afraid to criticize public policy failures. For example, recently Haaretz, a leading Israeli daily, published a commentary stating that “(PM) Olmert must go” because he messed up his Lebanon adventure and wore down Israel’s deterrent power. Can you imagine TODAY publishing something like that? Their editors will probably get more than just a “robust response” from the Press Secretary to the Minister for Information.
In response to Singaporeans’ pleas for a freer media, the Government has liberalised our film, video and TV classifications, permitted and promoted a topless cabaret show, and most recently, lowered the age restriction for attending that show. These are the kind of censorship restrictions that most Singaporeans want to keep. Yet the Government relaxes them, I suspect, as a symbolic gesture to Singaporeans that they are loosening up, when they really aren’t, politically.
Our media doesn’t have to go the way of Taiwan or Philippines. All Singaporeans are asking for is for the Government to free up our media a little, to make it more in line with the rest of the developed world. Is that too much to ask for?