Andrew Loh -
“Let me also assure you that there is no attempt to discriminate against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP),” said Ms Han Chuan Quee, Vice President, Corporate Services at Channel NewsAsia. She was replying to the SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan who had written to Mediacorp – the company which runs TV station Channel NewsAsia – on why the SDP was excluded from the station’s Talking Point programme.
In February, Mediacorp aired an episode of Talking Point with members of the main political parties on the changes electoral boundaries. In that programme, the ruling People’s Action Party was represented by two members, with one each for the opposition parties, namely the Reform Party (RP), the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and the Workers’ Party (WP).
Dr Chee, unhappy that his party was not invited to give its views on the programme, wrote to the station to ask for its reasons.
“This is not the first time that the SDP has been excluded from Talking Point,” Dr Chee wrote. “In a previous episode, the programme also invited the NSP, WP, and RP but kept the SDP out.”
Dr Chee said “it is unfortunate that Channel NewsAsia (CNA) has chosen to discriminate against the SDP” and that “it is important that your news organisation discharge its journalistic duties responsibly and in an even-handed manner.” (Read the full letter here.)
Ms Han’s reply went into some description of how the programme came about and the “[many] considerations [that] go into the conduct of such a forum.” (Read Ms Han’s reply here.)
In his response, Dr Chee wrote: “The Talking Point programme has been airing for years. During that time, the SDP has never been invited to be on it. Other parties have - repeatedly. And you expect people to believe that there is no discrimination against us?
“Just because you say that there is no attempt to discriminate against the SDP doesn't make it true. You need to demonstrate it.”
Dr Chee proposed that the station “do an episode where the PAP is invited to present its Budget and the SDP its Shadow Budget with both sides having an intelligent and robust debate on the matter.”
Mediacorp has yet to respond to the proposal.
In March, the Today newspaper, which is owned by Mediacorp, published a report about how the political parties are using New Media in the run-up to the upcoming elections. The first part of the report was dedicated solely to the PAP. The second part looked at the opposition parties’ online activities – except the SDP’s.
“The SDP is not mentioned anywhere in the report,” the party said in an article on its website, “despite the party having the most number of friends on Facebook among all the opposition parties.”
“This black out by MediaCorp comes on the heel of its television programme Talking Point which also invited the various opposition parties to discuss the general elections, conspicuously excluding the Singapore Democrats,” the party said.
The SDP accused “the PAP and its media” of “keeping SDP news away from the public eye.”
The SDP is the only opposition party so far to have offered an alternative proposal to the Government’s 2011 Budget. It is also the first party to unveil what is ostensibly its election manifesto for the General Election. “It’s About You – Prosperity and Progress for Every Singaporean”, a 47-page publication, was launched at Speakers’ Corner in November last year. (Read TOC’s report.)
Of all the political parties in Singapore, the SDP is recognized as the most active online, with regular daily updates on its website, including numerous videos of its activities, and articles on the party’s stand on various issues. It also has active Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
Offline, the party too has been working the ground. It has conducted events, activities and walkabouts in the constituencies since the last election and even earlier. This author can’t recall any reports in the mainstream media about any of these.
With the elections possibly just weeks away, it is incumbent upon the mainstream media that it fulfills its responsibility of fairly informing voters of the various parties’ activities and stands on issues.
It should not, indeed it must not, “play politics” or be beholden to any political party, ruling or otherwise.
If “there is no attempt to discriminate against the Singapore Democratic Party”, as Ms Han assured the party, then Mediacorp should explain to Singaporeans why, it would seem, reports of the SDP’s events and activities are rarely given any space, if at all, in its tv programmes and its newspapers.
Is there a ban on the mainstream media in reporting on the SDP?