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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the gala celebrating CNA's 20th anniversary on Fri (29 Mar 2019). Source: CNA/Facebook

PM: We’ll continue to work hand-in-hand with CNA to promote “national and social objectives”

Speaking at the 20th anniversary dinner of CNA yesterday evening (29 Mar), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government will introduce the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in Parliament on Mon (1 Apr) to counter fake news. This is not an April’s Fool joke.

He said that the government has accepted the proposals from the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to tackle the problem. The new Bill will give the government the power to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate online falsehoods, he added.

PM Lee said there is no shortage of people these days producing fake news to mislead the public for financial gains, sowing social discord or even radicalizing others.

“If we don’t protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society,” he said.

He added that the public can obtain accurate information on Government policies or issues of public interest by checking the government’s “fact-checking” website, https://www.gov.sg/factually.

PM Lee: Govt a key partner of CNA

At the dinner, PM Lee urged CNA to continue upgrading itself, investing in its people, building new capabilities and taking advantage of Singapore’s status as a media and technology hub.

“The Government, as one of your key partners, will work hand in hand with you,” PM Lee said. “We share an interest in fostering an informed society through quality journalism, and we will continue to work with you to promote national and social objectives through our public service broadcast programmes.”

However, according to a US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks several years ago (https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09SINGAPORE61_a.html), the Singapore government is more than just a “partner” of the mainstream media in Singapore.

For example, the leaked cable quoted Chua Chin Hon, then ST’s bureau chief for US, saying that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”.

Chua said that unless one of the editors is a “Trojan Horse,” someone that for years has successfully concealed any non pro-government leanings, none of them has the courage to publish any stories critical of the government. But Chua also admitted that he knew of no editors who had been fired or otherwise punished for printing articles critical of the government. That is because all of the them have been “vetted” to ensure their pro-government leanings, Chua said.

It also revealed that the lower-rung reporters are “eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting, but they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line”.

For Mediacorp, its Editor-in-Chief is Walter Fernandez. He was previously an SPH scholar and started his career as a reporter in ST. During his time at SPH, he was also seconded to the Istana to serve as a research officer to then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew to help him with his memoirs. He went over to Mediacorp in 2001 and rose through the ranks to become Mediacorp’s Editor-in-Chief in 2013. Presently, he is also the Director of Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Director of Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). SLA and MPA are both statutory boards of the Singapore government.

Government sponsoring Hokkien comedy shows on Channel 8

In any case, the government does work with the Temasek-owned Mediacorp, who owns CNA, to promote “national and social objectives”. It sponsors Hokkien comedy shows like “Happy Can Already” and “Eat Already?” broadcast on Channel 8 on every Friday afternoons.

Actor-director Jack Neo who was involved in some of these government-sponsored Hokkien shows said, “The Government’s old style was very heavy on information and less focused on being entertaining. But if you want to spread a message, you need to have more entertainment and information. This is the way to make people remember.”

“They (govt) understand that to reach this group of elderly (people), it is important to use a language familiar to them,” he added. “If the Government insists on doing things like they have done so in the past, where messages are communicated mainly in English and Mandarin, then we may never be able to effectively reach a specific segment of the community.”

And at times, even PAP MPs like Baey Yam Keng would appear in these Hokkien shows, getting airtime and impressing on HDB heartlanders how the government is taking care of Singaporeans with its “national and social” policies. The PAP MPs would also be “praised” by the characters in these comedy shows.

Judging from the 70% votes the PAP government garnered in the last GE, indeed, the heartlanders must have thought that the PAP MPs are good.

Strangely, till date, none of the opposition MPs have been invited to appear on these Hokkien shows.

CNA journalists have no intention to be watchdog of govt

During a seminar held at SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) on 12 Oct 2016, Steve Chia who is a Presenter / Editor at Channel NewsAsia for 13 years said, “Media is not the…watchdog to pounce on politicians and not to hold people accountable. That is not our role here.”

Speaking also at the seminar was his colleague, Lam Shushan, a producer at CNA for 4 years. She said, “I don’t want to be the watchdog of politicians”. Low Minmin, a producer at CNA for 5 years talked about the censorship that she had to face when producing stories for the platform.