TOC: Our values and direction

Choo Zheng Xi / Editor-in-Chief

If you have been following TOC regularly, you would have noticed some changes and improvements to our coverage.

As a form of participatory media, we think it’s important for us to share with you, our readers and stakeholders, how we will continue to evolve and improve in the years to come. We’d also like to share with you our core set of values and ideals, as well as our organizational direction, so you have a sense of what keeps our website going and so that you can be a part of that process.

Our website is premised on a core set of foundational objectives. They are:

1) To be a platform for civic participation

2) To make our government accountable, transparent and representative

3) To create a culture of media freedom in Singapore

Civic participation

TOC believes that a functioning democracy requires contributions from all members of society. We believe that it is in the country’s best interest to involve each and every Singaporean, especially vocal critics of this Party centric narrative, a chance to shape the future of our country.

For too long, the national dialogue has been stunted by its over-reliance on a unitary national narrative: that Singapore is synonymous with the PAP government.

This has not been helped by a timid media, which has branded itself a “nation building press”. In reality, the “nation building press” has failed to provide Singaporeans with alternative perspectives, which genuine nation building requires.

By thinking of, and writing about issues of national importance, Singaporeans can begin to take ownership of issues which will affect all of our lives. Participation is the true key to a sense of belonging, not a conditioned monolithic national education.

Hence, it is our policy to provide strong coverage to activist events and initiatives which might not otherwise get a national airing. Activism needs to stop being a dirty word in our country, it needs to be encouraged. This activist spirit of courage in the face of opposition and creativity in execution is what our country needs to move ahead.

This principle of civic participation also underlines the creation of our newest feature, TOC International, which reaches out to overseas Singaporeans and keeps them involved in discussing national politics.

We also believe that the much touted “youth apathy” is a self-fulfilling myth: young people need to be involved as they are the policymakers of tomorrow. Hence TOC’s focus on recruiting youth writers and reporters.

The second characterization of our national narrative that TOC rejects is the notion that our country is a company: Singapore Inc. This mercenary culture is bad for nation building. In the late David Marshall’s words, we have become “worshippers of the Golden Calf”.

If Singaporeans share no idealism except the logic of the free market, we will sell our citizenships to the highest bidder, the country that can accord us the better standard of life. We believe that Singapore’s success should be judged on how well we take care of our poorest and most vulnerable, and not how well we remunerate our elites.

This consideration informs our commitment to cover cost of living issues, the growing income gap, the lack of empathy of highly paid civil servants, as well as coverage of the stories of the poor and underprivileged in society.

Open, accountable and representative government

Civic participation will lead to frustration if our enquiries are met with bureaucratic stonewalling, and our feedback goes down administrative black holes. The efforts of citizens to participate in the national discourse need to bear fruit.

TOC believes in the dictum that a government should fear its people and not the other way round. Members of Parliament (MPs) that are voted for in batches of six are not individually accountable to their constituents, and the deterrent effect it has on opposition challenges leaves government MPs untested on the electoral field of battle.

In between elections, citizens need to have the right to hold their MPs to account. This is where civil liberties such as the right to free speech and assembly are critical to public expressions of dissatisfaction.

This informs our consistent advocacy for a fairer electoral playing field and stronger protections for civil liberties.

Also in line with this objective, TOC will continue to focus on articles asking probing questions of our elected leaders and municipal functionaries.

We are also working to develop a team of specialist commentators to write on questions of accountability relating to public finances and government policies.

Media freedom

A free media culture is crucial for the development of critical thought. The mainstream media has shortchanged Singaporeans by choosing to tell only One Singapore story, but the dominant and domineering political culture is largely to blame for the timidity of our press.

This desire to see more balance informs our coverage criticizing the mainstream press.

TOC understands that we have a positive role to play in creating this culture of media freedom. We will not be blindly critical of the established press, if the real reason for their timidity is political interference. Instead, we will support and encourage all individuals who believe that the purpose of journalism is to speak truth to power, regardless of their institutional affiliations.

TOC recognizes that in playing the media critic, we need to impart all our writers with an awareness of the ethical standards and tools of journalism. We too will be held to account if we fall short, and rightly so.

We believe that credibility and quality are key to TOC’s future. In light of this, we are embarking on a process of honing our writers’ skills through intra-institutional experience sharing and regular meet-ups.

At the same time, we maintain an open-door policy for articles and contributions, and our team will work with you to see that your thoughts are shared with our readers.

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