Andrew Loh /
When Channel Newsasia (CNA), the local television news channel which claims to provide “an Asian perspective” to issues, produced its Talking Point programme on the changes to the electoral boundaries, it invited the People’s Action Party (PAP) and just about every major opposition political party – except the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
It wasn’t the first time that the SDP, and in particular its Secretary General Dr Chee Soon Juan, has been ignored by the mainstream media, of course. But the omission in the Talking Point programme was a glaring reminder of the bias of CNA.
Perhaps CNA has realized that the absence of the SDP in its programmes brings into question CNA’s intentions and whether it has become an active political player which bows to the dictates of the ruling PAP. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the SDP and the PAP, in particular, between Dr Chee and the PAP’s mascot, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. The two gentlemen’s feud goes back some 20 years.
So, perhaps trying to appear “fair” and “professional” and “non-partisan”, CNA has invited the SDP to its next programme on the upcoming General Election. In a letter to the SDP on 22 March, CNA’s Executive Editor Ms Lee Siew Hoon says:
“Channel NewsAsia is producing a television forum for political parties to discuss both long and short term challenges facing Singapore. The one-hour programme will adopt a structured format with timings allotted to a moderated discussion as well as to parties to state their positions on issues.”
All well and good. But of course there’s a catch. Ms Lee provides it:
“On behalf of the channel, I cordially invite you to nominate a party representative to participate in the programme. The representative must be a CEC member and office holder in your party. In addition, he or she must be eligible to stand for the coming election. For your information, MediaCorp is extending the invitation to the PAP and four opposition parties.”
The conditions effectively rule out Dr Chee from representing the SDP on the programme. This is because of Dr Chee's bankruptcy status, which makes him ineligible to run in an election.
It’s a point which the SDP did not miss, of course. No one could. So, the party’s Chairman, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, wrote in reply to Ms Lee:
“I fail to understand why you have stipulated the conditions in your invitation which effectively rules out Dr Chee Soon Juan as a participant on your programme. Can you please explain the rationale behind your conditions? Why can't the SDP choose our representative without any restrictions imposed?”
Mr Gandhi explained that as Secretary General of the SDP, it was only natural that Dr Chee represented the party. “Who we send to speak should be decided by our party and no one else,” Mr Gandhi said.
The party is awaiting CNA’s response. You can view the exchange of letters between the SDP and CNA here.
On Wednesday, Dr Chee was among those invited as speakers at a forum organized by the National University of Singapore’s Political Science Alumni (NUSPSA). The forum was titled, “GE 2011 – What’s at stake for Singapore?” You can read a report of the proceedings by Alex Au here.
In his opening address, Dr Chee revealed that when the invitation was sent out to the SDP, the party informed the organizers that it would be sending Dr Vincent Wijeysingha to represent the party. The organizers however said that they wanted the leaders of the political parties to address the students instead.
The SDP obliged and Dr Chee was the party’s representative, along with Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of the Workers’ Party, and Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Secretary General of the Reform Party.
The PAP too was invited and indeed it was represented at the forum as well. But it was Mr Michael Palmer – not the leader of the party which the forum organizers had said they wanted.
“I was expecting to see Mr Lee Hsien Loong here today,” Dr Chee told the audience, to laughter.
The obvious question is: Why did the organizers insist on the SDP being represented by its party leader while accepting a “lesser” person than the leader of the PAP to represent the PAP at the forum?
Ironically, one of the topics discussed at the forum was the climate of fear in Singapore. PAP’s Mr Palmer steadfastly denied that there was such a thing, taking a totally opposite position from the other speakers, although Ms Lim did not really speak about it.
Perhaps this climate of fear is exhibited through self-censorship or bending to the wishes of the powers-that-be, as could be deduced from the behavior of both CNA and the NUSPSA.
After all, what is so hard about letting political parties decide who should represent them?
I hope CNA realizes that its role as part of the mainstream media is to be a platform for the parties to express their positions freely, at a crucial time when Singaporeans need information to make an informed choice in the General Election.
Trying to dictate to the parties on who should be their representatives is just stupid, really.
Being disqualified from standing for elections, after all, is not a crime.
It certainly doesn’t mean that you should be shut-up – or shut out - least of all by a news channel which claims to be a "channel of record", whatever that means.
Why is CNA so afraid of having Dr Chee on its programmes?