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Is Young PAP doing precisely what they had accused TOC of doing?

by: Siew Kum Hong/

On 26 July, TOC published an article titled “Statements like these do not help” by our contributor Ghui. The next day, the Young PAP (YP) responded by way of a FB note titled as “A YP activist’s response”. TOC has republished this FB note here.

Why we republished the Young PAP FB note

Some of our readers have wondered why we republished the YP response. Simply put, this is for fairness.

TOC aims to be fair and independent in our coverage of news and current affairs in Singapore, and in the publication of commentaries by our contributors. While the TOC community obviously has a distinctive point of view and a certain set of values, we believe that our mission requires us to set and enforce fair rules for everyone. This includes providing a space for responses, even critical ones, to our articles.

Some, like NTUC Fairprice, understand this. When we reported on the closure of NTUC Fairprice’s Hougang outlet, citing residents’ questions as to whether this was motivated by political considerations, NTUC Fairprice sent us their response to clarify and explain that the closure was due to commercial reasons. We ran this response in full “as is”, and we are glad that NTUC Fairprice engaged with us.

YP chose not to respond to the article on TOC. If they had asked, we would of course have agreed to publish the YP response, which would have allowed YP to engage the very same audience who had read Ghui’s piece. Nevertheless, in the interest of being fair to our readers and ensuring that our readers have the opportunity of hearing another point of view, we decided to republish the YP response. We respect our readers and know that they are fully capable of making up their own minds.

The Young PAP’s position

In choosing to speak only from its own platform, the YP has shown that it has not learnt from GE2011. Instead of going to where the audience is and engaging them, the YP chose to speak only from its own platform. This is akin to preaching to the converted in its own echo chamber. This does not bode well for the YP’s, and by extension the PAP’s, online strategy.

It is also curious that the YP seems to be retreating from the PAP’s own long-held view, that anonymous comments are likely to be irresponsible and hence should be dismissed. The FB note was titled “A YP activist’s response”, but no name or byline (or even a pseudonym) was published. When our Interim Chief Editor Ravi Philemon asked – on the YP FB page -- who the writer was, YP’s response was: “@Ravi, you’re free to write your own article in response if you feel so strongly about the mater.” – neatly ignoring Ravi’s question.

At TOC, we will only do this for TOC editorials, which represent the position of the TOC core team, whose identities are all publicly known. And we are always clear when it is an editorial. It may be that the YP does not operate in accordance with journalistic principles, the way TOC tries our best to. But in such a case, we can only conclude that the FB note represents the YP’s official position.

What does all this say about the Young PAP?

Unfortunately, that would be very troubling, because YP would then be doing precisely what they had accused TOC of doing: being “economical with the truth” and providing “cynicism and the poisons of envy, anger and hatred”.

The YP FB note described the TOC article as making “certain accusations” – which befuddles us, because the article doesn’t make any accusations as such, as opposed to some speculation as to what might be going on. It noted that the TOC article “bears no resemblance to the actual speech” – which of course it wouldn’t, because the article was commenting on something said in the speech. It suggested that TOC was “at best negligent, at worst dishonest”, which a clear reading of the article would’ve shown to be a groundless accusation that some people (but not us) might decide to sue for.

It is ironic that even as the YP FB note called for “honesty, accuracy, facts and the truth”, it contained at least one important error. It claimed that “If you take the time to listen to the speech, it is clear the PM is looking beyond any standard mould, because he wants diversity and change. Taking the underlined words out of context is at best negligent, at worst dishonest.”

Actually, these were the Prime Minister’s words:

“We are looking for a diverse group. Varied backgrounds, grassroots, public sector, private sector, people with thinking skills, people with leadership skills, people with mobilisation aptitudes. People who fit the standard mould and people who break the mould but make a special contribution to the team. …”

What is clear, is that the Prime Minister said the PAP was looking for different types of people, including “people who fit the standard mould”. And Ghui’s criticism, which we continue to feel is valid, was that the PAP should actually not be looking for such people at all.

Just like the YP, we would like all actors and players to be fair, reasoned and civil. But unlike the YP, we do not think that holding a different point of view is necessarily toxic in and of itself. The so-called “new normal” in Singapore politics shows that a plurality and diversity of views and perspectives exists. It is disappointing that the YP does not seem to recognize this.

Also unlike the YP, we decline to take the low road by demonizing others and ascribing sinister motives to their actions. Because Singaporeans do deserve better, and we intend to continue doing our best to place their interests first.