Jul 31, 2008

Your Education And Other Miscellaneous Regrets

A rather charming coincidence. Just two days ago, I wrote these words:
"In a future post, it will be interesting to explore the reasons why so few Singaporeans enjoy their careers. Personally, I think it all begins with the way the education system pushes students to choose courses which are "useful", "practical" or "in-demand" (rather than the courses for which the student has a genuine interest). But for now, let's just stick to the baby issue."
Then yesterday, the Straits Times published this article:

ST July 30, 2008
More than half of workers in S'pore regret choice of study
By Clarissa Oon

A GLOBAL recruitment company has found that more than half of workers in Singapore regret what they chose to study back in school, polytechnic or university.

One in three is also uncertain about their ultimate career choice, according to an online survey by Kelly Services. It was released on Wednesday.

The findings are distilled from the answers given by more than 2,000 people who had sought Kelly Services help to land a job. They form part of it global survey of 115,000 people by its offices in 33 countries.

People of all age groups, educational levels and professions took part and in Singapore, most were in business, engineering, financial services and information technology.

One person who can identify with the survey results is Ms Aileen Toh, 34, a legal officer for 10 years.

'A lot of times, I have wondered if I could have done something else, but I was never sure enough to make a complete career switch', she says.

She considered, but ultimately turned down, a marketing job in a charity several years ago because she was not sure if the work suited her and if there were long-term career prospects.

A tiny minority of people are born lucky. They arrive on this planet with such prodigious natural gifts that there can be little doubt as to what their true calling is. Mozart, uncannily musical as early as age three, is one example. Steve Irwin, in love with a 4-metre pet python at age six, is another. There is no choice - they have to do what they have to do, and since choice is actually a dilemma, there is no dilemma for them.

The rest of us have to go by a process of elimination. By late adolescence, the average person is more likely to know what he's not cut out to do, rather than what he is. For instance, the person may know very clearly that he has no aptitude for numbers; and has no talent for sales; and has a strong tendency for seasickness. That tells him what jobs he should avoid. But he is much more uncertain about what he's good at or what he really enjoys.

The problem is more intense in Singapore, due to our pragmatic culture. Young Singaporeans don't generally grow up with the idea that they should explore and discover their own individual interests and strengths. Instead, they grow up being told that they should seek to excel in what the school wants them to excel in.

The education system itself - and it is a powerful one - is configured to systematically classify and categorise students, and channel them in specific directions towards fulfilling the nation's perceived economic needs. The culture perpetuates itself. Beyond the policies and the programmes, it is a mindset. To go against the system is to take a risk, and our culture has developed to be one that's highly adverse to risk-taking.

That observation was often made, back in the early 2000s, when the Singapore government tried to promote entrepreneurship through various incentives and schemes. (Notice that since then, the government has fallen silent about those efforts. Basically, they didn't work too well).

Pragmatism has bitten the government elsewhere too. Despite the government's efforts to encourage more people to have babies, our birth rates are falling. And many people decide against becoming parents, for purely pragmatic considerations. For example, a reader commented on my previous post as follows:

"I'm male 40 single and not planning to marry. Even if I do, I will not want to have children. Why?

I spent the last 10 to 15 years working hard to reach my current position in a electronic manufacturing industry(not very high, comfortable enough).

Now with the high cost of living and in-flood of FT, I don't think I will change my mind on marriage.

Besides worrying about losing my job, I'm stuck with it. Hate it but can't live without it."

You can't fault a person for thinking like this. Firstly, it's his own life, and secondly, the reasoning has its own logic.

Just remember though. Pragmatism, if overdone, can have its drawbacks. One of them is regret - about the paths in life you might have taken, but never did. Marriage is one example of such a path; parenthood is another. Career is the third example - see the ST article above.

Jul 29, 2008

A Personal Baby Insight From Mr Wang

The national baby discussion goes on. Every day you can read something more about it in the newspapers.

I have lots of thoughts on this topic. And unfortunately, too little time to blog them all. Today I'll share just one small thought on the "career versus babies" theme.

Many women say that they do not want children because they want to focus on their careers. You must have heard that quite often. What you’ll rarely hear in Singapore is a woman saying that she truly loves her job and is passionate about it. (I should add that the same applies to men).

Gallup’s studies are clear on this. Here's an article which says that Singapore has one of the most disengaged workforces in the world. This means that compared to most other countries, people in Singapore simply aren’t very interested in their work. A human resource study has shown that 82% of employees in Singapore are indifferent about their jobs; 12% strongly dislike their jobs and only 6% love their jobs.

(And if you just look around your own workplace, you’ll probably find that the people who really love their jobs are greatly outnumbered by the people who don’t).

In a future post, it will be interesting to explore the reasons why so few Singaporeans enjoy their careers. Personally, I think it all begins with the way the education system pushes students to choose courses which are "useful", "practical" or "in-demand" (rather than the courses for which the student has a genuine interest). But for now, let's just stick to the baby issue.

So how is this relevant? Well, the next time you meet a woman who has chosen a career over having kids, ask yourself what that really means. It means that the woman has decided not to have kids, so that she can focus on something else.

And 94% of the time, that “something else”, her career, is something that she strongly dislikes, or just doesn't care about.

Sounds like a strange lifestyle choice, doesn’t it? Then again, human beings are peculiar creatures. Meditate on that, the next time you sit in your office at 10 pm working on a useless and painful project for your unappreciative, grumbling boss. This is what you sacrificed your family life for.

A clarification. I am not saying that if you hate your job, you should have children. But suppose you do want children. Then further suppose that you, like most Singaporeans, don’t really love your job. In that case, your career aspirations should not hold you back. In the first place, why aspire to what you find uninspiring?

Jul 23, 2008

Human Rights And The Government Baby Incentives – Part 1

In recent weeks, we have seen public discussion on two apparently unrelated topics. The first topic was human rights. AG Walter Woon sparked off that discussion with his controversial comments associating human rights with hypocrisy and fanaticism:
“Noting that human rights is “now a religion among some people”, he said: “You have, like in some religions, the fanatics. And it’s all hypocrisy and fanaticism (for these people) to set the views, as the leading spokesmen, of what is acceptable and what’s not.”
The second topic was about how to get Singaporeans to have more babies. MM Lee Kuan Yew started that discussion when he revealed that (1) the government is planning to introduce new procreation incentives, and (2) we would seek to use countries like Sweden and Norway as our models.

At first glance, these two topics – human rights and childbirth – seem quite separate. After all, aren’t human rights just all that silly nonsense spouted by Chee Soon Juan and other clowns? As for babies, well, that’s a serious matter, for babies are our economic defence against the perils of a rapidly aging population. Right?

Here’s a curious point which the Singapore government has missed (or has chosen to be silent about). On the procreation issue, we now seek to use the Nordic countries as our model. But we haven’t realized that their parenthood policies are actually quite significantly influenced by human rights considerations. And this is quite true of European countries in general.

How so? Well, for example, let’s look at a rather well-known human rights treaty - the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, for short). The treaty tackles a range of issues relating to women, including pregnancy, motherhood, maternity leave, childcare support, and the involvement of fathers in raising children. Article 11 says:
2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;

(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;

(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities ....
Now if you are a country which takes human rights seriously, the fact that you are also a party to CEDAW will inevitably influence your national policies. CEDAW will lead you, as a state, to focus on the welfare of the mother, and the welfare of the child, and even the welfare of the father. And you will incline towards the view that just by the fact that a family is a family, there are certain rights its members ought to have. After all, they’re human.

However, if you are a country which likes to say “Oh, human rights are just an invention of the West; me, I’m Asian, and I’ll have nothing to do with those hypocritical human rights fanatics," then the fact that you’re a party to CEDAW doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

You may still want to support procreation, but the motivations are different. For example, the Singapore government seeks to promote higher baby production, but its motivations are purely economic; the aim is to generate a steady stream of future workers for Singapore Inc..

Then the conundrum becomes this. Babies are economically useless. This is undeniable. They can’t type; they don’t wash dishes; and for a long, long time, they definitely won’t be doing any life sciences research in a R&D laboratory. In fact, babies are very much like Temasek’s investment in Shin Corp or Merrill Lynch. One day, they might generate good returns, but that will have to be in the very, very distant future. Meanwhile, they are just a huge, constant and bleeding economic loss.

This is not an obstacle, if you view babies and parents as humans, and by virtue of being human, automatically having human rights (like those under CEDAW). But what happens if you view babies merely as future economic units, and women merely as economic-unit-producing machines? The question then becomes – do you, as a government, really dare to bite the bullet? And put your money and political will into this very long-term, risky investment?

So far, the government has failed. From the time that "Two is Enough" gave way to "Have Three If You Can Afford it", the government has never succeeded.

[To Be Continued]

Jul 17, 2008

Old Kidneys and Young Kidneys

Recently I discussed the topic of organ trading. The ST article below raises an interesting point not previously mentioned in my old blog post nor by the readers who had commented.
ST July 17, 2008
Short queues for kidneys in Spain and Norway: Here's why
Kidneys from the elderly are accepted and more people are willing to be donors
By Salma Khalik

BEFORE considering organ trading, Singapore can increase its supply of kidneys by learning from Spain and Norway, says a top kidney specialist here.

The two European countries have short waiting lists for kidney transplants - unlike Singapore, where the average wait is nine years for the 560 people on the list.

Both countries accept kidneys from the elderly, whereas in Singapore, kidneys are taken only from people 60 years old and younger.

This immediately cuts off the supply of many kidneys every year. In Spain, a third of the cadaveric kidneys are from people over 60 years old.

Spain and Norway stand out in the world for their short list of patients waiting for kidney transplants. Their success has been cited in the current debate raging over whether Singapore should consider legalising the organ trade to meet the high demand here.

Organ trading is a criminal offence here and, in the last month, five men were charged in connection with the offence, the first such cases here.

The cases have resulted in some people calling on the Health Ministry to reconsider the ban on organ trading.

But before going down that route, Professor A. Vathsala, director of the kidney transplant programme at the National University Hospital, said Singapore should expand its organ donation programme first.

She has visited Norway and Spain and believes that some of their practices, such as removing the age restriction on cadaveric donation, could be adopted here.

Spain transplants both kidneys from an older donor - even someone in his or her 80s - into an elderly recipient.

'No organ goes 'wasted' to be buried needlessly when it can save the lives of so many others with organ failure,' she said.
The obvious question that comes to mind is whether older cadaveric kidneys and younger cadaveric kidneys yield equally good transplant results. (Strangely, the Straits Times article did not discuss this at all).

I did a quick Google search. The answer seems to be that younger cadaveric kidneys deliver better transplant results than older ones. How significant that difference is, I must leave to the experts to comment (a fair number of doctors regularly read my blog).

The next point to consider is whether the kidney patient would be better off with a transplanted old kidney, or with no kidney transplant at all. This could be a "beggars can't be choosers" situation. Your best bet might be with the old kidney, since a young kidney might never become available before you die.

Finally, back to the question of whether organ trading should be legalised. The way I see it, there are many ways to skin a cat, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. For example, we could legalise organ trading and at the same time, accept the use of older cadaveric kidneys. At the same time, we could continue to encourage "altruistic" donations from living donors etc.

The goal is to save lives. We can simultaneously pursue different paths to that goal.

Jul 13, 2008

Guilt & Innocence in The Criminal Legal System

ST July 12, 2008
Judge: No question of 'factual guilt' after acquittal
Justice V.K. Rajah takes issue with Govt's position on guilt and innocence
By K. C. Vijayan

A HIGH Court judge has taken issue with the Government's position that people acquitted of crimes may not necessarily be innocent.

Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah said it was a cornerstone of the justice system that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it was for prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said: 'If the evidence is insufficient to support the prosecution's theory of guilt, and if the weaknesses in the prosecution's case reveal a deficiency in what is necessary for a conviction, the judge must acquit the accused and with good reason: it simply has not been proved to the satisfaction of the law that the accused is guilty, and the presumption of innocence stands unrebutted.

'It is not helpful, therefore, for suggestions to be subsequently raised about the accused's 'factual guilt' once he has been acquitted.'

To do so, he added, would be to undermine the court's not-guilty finding. It would also 'stand the presumption of innocence on its head, replacing it with an insidious and open-ended suspicion of guilt that an accused person would be hard-pressed to ever shed, even upon vindication in a court of law.'

His remarks on acquittal, innocence and guilt came near the end of his written judgment explaining why he acquitted former teacher William Ding, 36, of molesting several schoolboys.

While he did not say so, his comments appear directed at the position taken by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in The Straits Times on May 8 and May 14.

The AGC was quoted in the first article as saying that a judge was bound by law to acquit a person if the prosecution could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
'This means that if there is any reasonable doubt, the accused gets the benefit of it. It does not mean that the accused was innocent in the sense that he did not do the deed,' its spokesman said.

The AGC later wrote to the Forum Page and said that the nuance of an acquittal was often not clearly appreciated by the public.

'(The accused person) may be guilty in fact, but innocent in law because the evidence was not there,' its spokesman said.

That position took many, including lawyers, by surprise. Lawyer N. Sreenivasan wrote to the Forum Page saying such a view was of 'grave concern'.

'If the prosecution, with the full resources of the police, the power to interrogate accused persons, interview witnesses, seize evidence and rely on various presumptions, cannot prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, then the prosecution should not cast any cloud on the acquittal of the accused,' said Mr Sreenivasan.

Ahh, this brings back memories. Once upon a time, I was a Deputy Public Prosecutor, so I'm well-acquainted with the matters discussed above. Let me explain the issues with a simple, narrative example.

Suppose an old woman, Mrs Lee, is walking down a quiet street late at night. Suddenly, Ah Beng comes up from behind and tries to snatch her gold chain. Mrs Lee screams for help. Luckily, two passers-by are nearby.

Kumar, a foreign construction worker, shouts loudly at Ah Beng who gets frightened and decides to run away. George, a big burly tourist from Canada, chases after Ah Beng and manages to catch him. Mrs Lee quickly dials 999, and two police officers arrive in five minutes.

Ah Beng is charged with attempted robbery. This looks like a very simple, clear-cut case, the kind that would be assigned to a newbie DPP, just for his very first solo court trial.

However, in the months between the offence and the actual trial, a few things happen.

Mrs Lee has a stroke. She becomes paralysed, and unable to speak properly.

Kumar gets sacked by his boss in Singapore and goes back to his little village in rural India where he will raise chickens for a living. The entire village has only one telephone, which usually does not work. Kumar is no longer contactable.

George's holiday comes to an end and he flies home to Canada. The police can contact him, but he's very busy with his family and career. "Will you fly back and testify in the trial in September?" asks the police.

"Don't be ridiculous," says George, "I already did you a big favour in catching the guy, the rest is up to you." And he promptly hangs up the phone.

At the trial, the judge finds Mrs Lee to be an unreliable witness because the judge cannot understand her slurred speech. Now paralysed, Mrs Lee cannot even hold a pen and write out her responses.

No evidence is available from Kumar, because the legal rules of evidence would require him to be physically present in court, to tell the judge what happened. And Kumar is just not there.

For the same reason, no evidence is available from George

The prosecution's only admissible evidence comes from the two police officers who had arrived on the scene that night, to see Mrs Lee, Ah Beng, Kumar and George.

Ah Beng's defence was that he was in a big hurry that night to meet his girlfriend. He was running down the dark street and accidentally bumped into an old woman, who thought he was trying to rob her.

Ah Beng further claims that George and Kumar arrived on the scene only a few minutes later, while Ah Beng was still trying to explain to Mrs Lee that he wasn't a robber. George and Kumar misunderstood the situation and pounced on him.

Mrs Lee cannot rebut this, because she cannot talk. George and Kumar cannot rebut this either, since they are not present in court.

(Correctly) presuming Ah Beng to be innocent, and (correctly) assessing the evidence available to him, the judge (correctly) declares that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Ah Beng is acquitted. He happily walks out of court a free man.

Ah Beng had 2 previous convictions for robbery, and in each case the modus operandus was similar - both his earlier victims were women walking alone in quiet streets at night. This was another fact which the rules of evidence forbade the prosecution from telling the judge, during the trial.


The general idea goes like this. A crime happens, and the investigation process yields a lot of evidence that X did it. However, for technical or logistics reasons, some of the evidence cannot be presented in court to the judge, or has to be presented in some greatly reduced form.

Based on the evidence actually available to him, the judge then proceeds to acquit X of the offence.

I do agree with VK Rajah that it is unhelpful for the prosecution to raise suggestions about the accused's factual guilt after he has been acquitted. It simply isn't very constructive.

The only purpose it serves is to defend the AGC's own public image - vis a viz the public's comments like "Oh, how could AGC even have charged this poor innocent person in the first place" etc.

Well, perhaps image defence was all that Walter Woon wanted to do, in this particular case. But from this perspective, VK Rajah's statement is also in the interests of defending the image - of the courts.

Clearly it isn't very good for the courts' reputation if the general public starts believing that a man isn't necessarily innocent just because the judge says so, or that a man isn't necessarily guilty just because the judge says so. Then people will start saying, "Well, what is the use of having judges then?"

The heart of the matter, the real essence, is something a bit too subtle for the man in the street. In the end, we just have to accept that the criminal legal system is imperfect. Criminal law is simply not a maths question capable of exact solutions.

Some factually guilty persons may be found legally innocent. Some factually innocent persons may be found legally guilty. Real life is too complicated for such things to never happen. The system has to constantly work towards minimising such risks and occurrences, that is all.

How good a job is the system currently doing? That's another kind of question. I shall not comment, since I've left that particular system behind me. Nowadays my legal playground is the financial derivatives industry across Asia.

Jul 10, 2008

The International Bar Association And Its Report on Singapore

The International Bar Association is an organisation that brings together lawyers, bar associations and law societies from around the world. Globally, it has a membership of 30,000 individual lawyers and more than 195 bar associations and law societies.

The IBA also has a Human Rights Institute, of which Nelson Mandela is the honorary president. Just yesterday, the IBA HRI released a report on Singapore, expressing concern about human rights and the independence of the judiciary in Singapore.

This report was 72 pages long, divided into eight parts, and concluding with 18 recommendations for the Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore government.

Sometimes you just cannot help but admire our Law Ministry. They must have employed some highly-skilled speed readers and writers. On the very same day that the report was released, the Law Ministry has already responded.

ST July 10, 2008
Govt rebuts law group's attack on S'pore judiciary
International law body's criticisms unsubstantiated, Law Ministry says
By Lydia Lim

A REPORT issued by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute has drawn a sharp rebuttal from the Singapore Government.

The 72-page report, decrying Singapore's perceived limits on freedoms and alleging executive interference in the judiciary, was issued yesterday, just eight months after the IBA held its annual conference here last October.

Responding to media queries, the Ministry of Law said the aspersions cast on the Singapore judiciary are unsubstantiated and contradict what IBA president Fernando Pombo said here then.

In his opening speech at the conference, Mr Pombo noted that 'this country has an outstanding legal profession, an outstanding judiciary, and outstanding academical world in relation to the law'.

In its report, the IBA Human Rights Institute, a sub-section of the association, acknowledged Singapore's good international reputation for the integrity of its court judgments in commercial cases.

But it said that for cases involving politicians, there were 'concerns about an actual lack or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence'.

The ministry pounced on this in the report, noting that it had failed to provide evidence.

It slammed as 'feeble justification' the report's argument that 'regardless of any actual interference, the reasonable suspicion of interference is sufficient'.

The ministry noted that the defamation suits brought by People's Action Party members usually related to scurrilous and untrue allegations against them.

The decisions of the courts in these cases were matters of public record, it noted, adding that it is 'also absurd to suggest that honourable and upright judges in commercial cases become compliant and dishonourable when dealing with defamation cases involving government ministers'.

'Every society must find and decide the appropriate balance between rights and responsibilities for themselves,' it added.

On second thought, perhaps the speed of the Law Ministry's response is not surprising. After all, if you look at the contents page of the IBA HRI report, you'll see that Section E goes like this:
E. Current human rights issues

1. Freedom of expression (Singapore's obligations under international law)

2. The use of defamation laws to stifle political opposition and expression
Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam
Tang Liang Hong
Chee Soon Juan

Restrictions on the freedom of the press
Far Eastern Economic Review
International Herald Tribune
The Economist

Government control over the media in Singapore
Asian Wall Street Journal

Restrictions on the Internet
Chen Jiahao

The Independence of the Judiciary
Judge Michael Khoo
The trend of the courts in defamation cases
The courts in the Jeyaretnam appeal

Rights of assembly
Falun Gong - Mrs Ng Chye Huay and Mrs Cheng Liujin
In other words, there's nothing new. We've seen and heard it all before. We know that these sorts of problems and issues exist in our nation - and the rest of the world knows it too.

There's nothing in the above list which hasn't, at one time or another, been raised in some way by, say, Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; the US Department of State; Reporters without Borders; or even the World Bank.

And so the Law Ministry should be able to respond quite quickly. In essence, the response is just about the same as has been given dozens or hundreds of times in the past -
"You are wrong, we are right, we know best, you don't, Singapore is a special case; we're different from everyone else on the planet; and so we should always get to do things the way we please.

Do you disagree? Are you trying to make trouble? We'll either sue you; ban you; fine you; revoke your PR status or your newspaper licence; lock you away on Sentosa Island; zap you with the riot squad; get our police officers to physically encircle you with their arms so as to restrain your movement; or call in the army should you win in a freak election."
It's always the same stuff. Just a matter of cutting and pasting and shifting the words and sentences around, to achieve the desired degree of politeness or hostility, in each particular case. A quick response is really no problem at all.

Jul 5, 2008

The State and the Media and Their Embarrassingly Passionate Embrace in Singapore

If the New York Times published an article criticising some aspect Singapore, the Singapore government might get upset - with the New York Times. But the Singapore government would not get upset with the US government.

And that's because we all understand that the NYT is the NYT, and the US government is the US government, and the opinions of the NYT are not the opinions of the US government.

Similarly if the BBC published a report criticising some aspect of Singapore, the Singapore government may get upset - with the BBC. But the Singapore government would not get upset with the UK government.

And that's because we all understand that the BBC is the BBC, and the UK government is the UK government, and the opinions of the BBC are not the opinions of the UK government.

However, in our own backyard, things seem to be somewhat different. Here's an example.
ST July 5, 2008
S'pore media should not take sides: PM Lee's press secretary

THE press secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to the Today tabloid newspaper, taking issue with recent articles on the wife of Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

'Although developments in Malaysia affect Singapore, we must be disinterested external observers, not partisan participants in their domestic politics,' Mr Chen Hwai Liang said in a letter addressed to the paper's editorial director, Mr P.N. Balji.

He was referring to a report headlined 'Under fire - the 'First Lady-in-waiting'', which appeared in Today on June 27.

This quoted various Malaysians describing Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor as 'arrogant' and 'ambitious'.

Also criticised by Mr Chen was a subsequent note from Mr Balji, headlined 'Leave it to our readers to judge', which was published on July 3.

The latter was in reply to a letter from the Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore, Datuk N. Parameswaran, taking issue with the June 27 report.

Both of Today's articles 'took a slant which cast doubt on your newspaper's objectivity', said Mr Chen.

'Singapore media reports on events and developments from around the world in order to keep Singaporeans well-informed and aware of what is happening around us. But it is important for the Singapore media's reporting of political developments in other countries to be objective and factual,' he said.

'In particular, it is unwise for Singapore media to take sides, especially when it involves our immediate neighbours,' he added.
Basically, TODAY published an article. The Malaysian government was unhappy with it. To appease the Malaysians, PM Lee Hsien Loong's office had to make it clear publicly that it didn't approve of TODAY's article.

As I had earlier said, if the New York Times publishes an article, we expect that it's really a New York Times article - not a US government press release. But in Singapore's case, such expectations shrink drastically.

Thus if a Singapore newspaper publishes an article which a foreign government finds somewhat "out of line", the Singapore government may well choose to intervene directly and publicly (as shown in this case). Otherwise the foreign government might assume that the newspaper had published the offending article with the Singapore government's implicit or explicit approval.

No one really believes that the Singapore press has its own independent opinions. Certainly not the Malaysian government.

Jul 3, 2008

When The Media Starts To Smell Fishy

ST July 3, 2008
Vivian's visions from the Internet
Political messages in new media are susceptible to populist pitfalls, he says at RI dialogue
By Jeremy Au Yong

WHEN Dr Vivian Balakrishnan gazed into a crystal ball yesterday on how the Internet would change local politics, three visions popped up.

They were: more diverse views, louder political discourse and politicians delivering their messages in stylish, short multimedia packages, a phenomenon he labelled 'YouTube politics'.

But this future is fraught with pitfalls, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports told students of Raffles Institution, which had invited him to give a talk on new media and its impact on politics.

As he spelt them out to the 2,000 students, he urged them to use their heads when reading online: 'In the midst of such an exponential growth in information, determining what is true or false is going to be extremely difficult... I have no easy answer except to ask you to be sceptical and to think and be careful.'

To illustrate one pitfall, he pointed to those who still believe that the sun revolves around the earth: 'Because you have an interconnected world, people with far-out ideas, or even wrong ideas, will be able to find someone who also believes the sun revolves around the earth and reinforces those beliefs.'

A diversity of views did not always end up in a 'fundamental truth'. New media allows wrong ideas to be reinforced, he said.
After all this time, our dear leaders are still tossing out all these same old boring red herrings.

"In the midst of such an exponential growth in information, determining what is true or false is going to be extremely difficult ..." Vivian says. But suppose you lived in a highly controlled society where information was very limited. Would it then become easier to determine what's true or false?

Heheh, go think about it. Also, go think about who would be in the position to selectively feed you the information that you do get. The controllers of your society, of course.

"New media allows wrong ideas to be reinforced," Vivian says. And what about old media - would it reinforce only the "right" ideas?

Well, perhaps you would say so. Especially if you belong to the ruling party and the state controls all the old media organisations. Including the ideas that the media organisations write about.

In another ST article today, Vivian offers the following remarks:
He also noted that if the traditional press loses credibility, people would go to the new media.

'There are very few national newspapers with as broad a coverage and obsessive attention to detail and accuracy as our mainstream media,' he said.
Oh certainly, Vivian. In fact, last year, I was even told that the overwhelming majority of readers consider the Straits Times "important" to their lives, and a definite "must-read".

Who told me this? The Straits Times itself.

And did the Straits Times have the statistics, the figures to prove it? Ah yes, certainly.

And how did the Straits Times come up with those statistics and figures? LOL, click here.