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.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Did you find this article interesting? If so, here's how you can encourage Mr Wang to keep blogging. Link.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang;

if the MSM(Main Stream Medias) are considered State Medias, then the State is responsible for the Medias.

How it works technically, Iam not sure, but based on the perceptions that most, if not all the Medias are Government related, controlled and even owned. I do accept that the Singapore Government to some extent is responsible for the Medias Contents.

IN ANY CASE, THE SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT ALLOW FOREIGN MEDIAS TO ENGAGE IN LOCAL POLITICS, SPECIFICALLY DAMAGING(in the eyes of the Media Watchdog) ONES. But Singapore fails to regulate the MSM from engaging in other Foreign Sovereigns' politics

As a Singaporean, I view the Local Medias, Main Stream Medias and State Medias as Official Medias. My simple reasoning is that they carry contents that the Ruler wants to disseminate, educate(maybe indoctrinations intended and included) and report other than the usual social, commercial and news(local/international).

The MSM are more the Voices of the Leadership than the News and Reportings of events. Public participations in their contents are negligible or almost nil.

As MSM are regulated to report only facts and truths, they are subjected to challenges when the facts and truths are suspected. It really is only a question of if there are truth seekers seeking justice in media reportings.


Anonymous said...

We've never left "Shut up and fall in line!"

Anonymous said...

True, Especially when they trivialized the increasing imported serious crimes While trying to propagate that GST help the poor.

Anonymous said...

MSM should be known as Main State Media.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang. One could say that this is a case of the chicken coming home to roost. The Government's heavy handed policing of the media will show more and more contradictions in the future because of new developments in the web. It is crucial to have a loyal but perceived to be independent, and separate from the government, voices/think tanks/organizations. The protests and demonstrations organized by netizens against the unfair treatment of the Beijing Olympics are clear indications of the power of independent voices - not on behalf of government but of the nation and the people. It would be a sad indeed when someone stands up for Singapore only to be berated or dismissed for being another state sponsored voice. The government, in its wisdom (presumably this goes with the high pay?) might do well to bear this in mind.

Anonymous said...

LKY once said that to really have control you must control 3 things -the media, the economy and the police/armed forces. But I guess this doesn't apply to developed countries like US or UK. They don't even have a Ministry for Information or Culture. Freedom of speech is the culture.
There is no denying that the state and media in Singapore has a embarrassingly passionate embrace. Some even said it is overdone.
But to our PAP govt, no shame or embarrassment at all, just like their multi million $ salaries because they said this is necessary for Singapore to survive and have good leadership. To hell with what you think and feel otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Good point Anon 11:49. Such independent, non-state, non-partisan voices/think tank/organisation should also be given regular space in the mainstream media if the govt wants credibility to be restored to it.

The trouble is PAP fears that everyone has an axe to grind and any strong views are soon perceived to be destabilizing resulting the sacking and transfer of editors in charge.

That said, I wonder why there is hardly any such think tanks around nowadays after a few were dissolved and one member Raymond Lim inducted into PAP as minister, waoh.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest that the title shd be "The State and the Media and Their Embarrassingly Deadly Embrace in Singapore"

As Pontius Pilate said, "What is Truth?"

Anonymous said...

I thought that our MSMs are state-controlled, that is why the Malaysian Government protested to the Singapore Government. Mr Wang, your early examples are clear.

So, apparently the Malaysian Government did not separate the state and MSM, like your example of US Government and NYT.

Even they can realize the tight link between the Singapore Government and our press.

Mr Wang, spot on.

Anonymous said...

I just replace "Malaysia" with "US" and you can that see how hypocritic is our Government spokeman's following statement :-

"Although developments in US affect Singapore, we must be disinterested external observers, not partisan participants in their domestic politics".

If I remember correctly, our LKY deems it fit to have commented in his opinion that Obama is not a suitable candidate for US President or words to that effect. So may I ask our Goverment spokesman whether his statement would be equally be applicable to our MM.

If not, please stop preaching your high moral grounds to others. If you continue to do so, we can only regard our PAP leaders as no better than as mere hypocrites!

Just look at how hypocritic our Gover

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I voted for you. I find this article of your insightfully delivering, with the message brought home by the last statement in the article --- certainly a sharp and concise punchline.

Anonymous said...

The media were coerced to sleep in the same bed with the gov't. and this partnership cannot continue indefinitely.
Both parties have lost a lot of credibility within Singapore and it not surprising the media is ranked 154th.

The truth is determined by this gov't when it concerns them.
Nothing but good stuff about themselves is propagated by the media.

There is also a stumbling block in this gov't where they have one 'wise guy' that never passes up a chance to make comments on neighbouring countries.
He is just incorrigible.

socguy said...

Sure we can encourage Mr Wang to keep blogging, but can we encourage him to do more?

Anonymous said...

The fact that PM secretary wrote to TODAY shows that MSM is really under the control of the Govt.The Malaysian High Com should write to TODAY and not to the Spore govt.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you statement, "Sure we can encourage Mr Wang to keep blogging, but can we encourage him to do more?"

The likes of Mr Wang is definitely needed more than before, especially since the brotherhud of bicycle lovers have decided to pull out of the SG bgs.

I feel he owes us an obligation to fill up the hole. Keep up the really got post Mr Wang and I just want to say I and all my colleagues voted for you!

singaporean son

Anonymous said...

Sadly I believe Xiaxue has higher readership than Mr Wang, Lucky and Mr Brown combined.

We need Mr Wang to have ... 3 more blogs!


Anonymous said...

Who is this Mr Wang? Don't hide behind "Mr Wang Says So". Come out into the open like the bloggers in Malaysia eg Raja Petra, Tian Chua or ex-Malaysian, Catherine Lim. Supply your particulars. Don't treat your blog like an underground cell. Heroes have to face the music sometime.

Only a coward will need to hide and take pot shots at the government and rally the readers against the authority with one-sided skewed comments on most occasions. The agenda is also quite obvious with other dissidents using thing as a political platform to try and down the incumbent government.

Well, care to post this thread or do as what is always implied here that only the national press suppresses different opinions.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

'Who is this Mr Wang? Don't hide behind "Mr Wang Says So"."

That was so ... boring. Didn't we cover this way back in 2005 or 2006? Which is ancient history in Internet time.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"The agenda is also quite obvious with other dissidents using thing as a political platform"

Who knows, you might be right.

According to the Straits Times, one particular political party has already arranged for its members to systematically go around leaving anonymous comments on other people's blogs - Link.

Anonymous said...

I agree. One find your write-ups skewed and out to discredit the authority. In the long term perhaps you hope to destabilise the government.

On that count, yes, come out into the open and stand up for what you promulgate or show yourself like Ms Catherine. Or at least let us have your handsome face displayed for identification purpose, if not your whereabouts on the site like our American hero, Gopal.

There has to be some accountability at the end of it all eventually. Everything has a price. Right?

Anonymous said...

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

Because they were thinking of themselves as best example mah.

But I agree with them lah. Hehehehe

Anonymous said...

@ annon 8 Jul 11:38am

Speak for yourself.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"Or at least let us have your handsome face displayed for identification purpose ..."

Oh, you must have managed to miss all my public speeches, eg at NUS and RJC, otherwise you would have seen my face for yourself.

Next time I will invite you, ok?

Tell you what, the next time I get invited to go on TV with George Yeo, I promise to accept, if you also promise to tune in, ok?

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid protaganists must come clean and reveal themselves; not readers though. They can stay anonymous.

When we are in fact trying hard to cultivating the ground with a political agenda then the equation changes.

An unregistered political website I believe must be treated differently from a benevolent one.

One can't have the cake and eat it. Can we?

So do post your photo and also your curriculum vitae for posterity and credibility.


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Nah .... I'm afraid of cyberstalkers. Recently I had a crazy one who kept sending me malicious comments about my family; children; job and claimed to have some relative in ISD who would have me locked up like Mas Selamat.

Why, he might even be you, haha.

Anonymous said...

i only know Mr Wang wants to be famous.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang. With reference to your posting of July 9 about the malicious cyberstalker who claims to have a relative at ISD may I make a suggestion. Lodge a formal complain with IAD about this chappie pointing out that this stalker will ruin the reputation of ISD and call the organization into disrepute by implying that it is open to manipulative influence.I am sre the chappies at ISD will understand the seriousness of the stalker's smear campaign, which I suspect is less directed at you than at ISD, and take the appropriate actions.

Anonymous said...

i just read off the yahoo!news that the International Bar Association submitted a 72-page report and 18 recommendations on the SG govt and human rights, that the Singapore should free courts from govt influence.

wonder if this IBA report and it's recommendations will be mentioned on our mainstream media...

Anonymous said...

I helped to write a research paper last year on Media Consumption in Singapore: http://satsueisha.com/2008/07/09/media-consumption-singapore-survey/

We found that the more people read Singapore newspapers, the more they distrust them.

Unknown said...

as bloggers, we don't crave for fame.
as singaporeans, we don't wish to destabilize the government.
as citizens, we only wish to contribute to fellow Singaporeans and helping them to know process information(whatever platform) accurately and independently.

the greatest mind is to contain 2 separate and opposing theory to a matter, then rationalize and stand on the right side.

mr wang, it seems like your blog is under attack from the government...

Anonymous said...

yes, the mouthpiece responded to IBA report: "Govt rebuts report questioning independence of Singapore courts".

See how hollow the rebuttals are ...

Think singaporean should download it and read it for themselves:

Anonymous said...

Dear interpreting,

you said "mr wang, it seems like your blog is under attack from the government..."

I must say this is also part of freedom of speech ....

Anonymous said...

Mr wang is finding fame. Sadly he doesn't and he's just smearing his "reputation". Mr Wang stop spoiling your reputation. Put this comment up if you dare.

Unknown said...

Dear anonymous

let all of us present our views and let Singaporeans judge for themselves.

unlike the traditional media, bloggers have no wish to censor dissenting voices.

we have absolute faith in every reader's judgment and analysis.

Anonymous said...

Y ppl like straits time becos only one company running it LOL

Anonymous said...

y do all these ISD ppl doing here LOL

Anonymous said...

I wonder"DO CPIB investigate PM,MM,SM"
BIG Question Mark???????????

Anonymous said...

It is a sad comment on the present Singapore system that everytime something or someone is "effective" (theough this may simply mean that questions are being asked)he or she comes under some form of attack. Surely the authorities could do better by being more alert at border crossings, catching absconded terrorists and ensuring the safety of our sportsmen/women?