Taiwanese-based Singaporean activist and blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling took to his Facebook on Thursday (26 September) to defend independent journalists and activist who have been smeared by politicians.
As someone who had first-hand knowledge of how the smear campaign works, Mr Ngerng said that he initially thought that the Singapore has a democratic government and there’s rule of law.
However, his thoughts changed after he was persecuted, as the state-controlled media reported his previous cases in favour of the government.
“So when I saw news sculpted in mainstream media to portray me in a certain manner, I knew that the so-called ‘news’, or actually the publicity pieces, were planned and prepared beforehand by the government to allow their message to be put out at the same time, to sway people’s mind at one go,” the blogger wrote.
After reading constant negative news published by mainstream media about him, Mr Ngerng explained that he tried to rebut them but couldn’t as he didn’t have the means to do it.
He also clarified that although many people think he has an army of supporters or other independent journalists backing him up, but in reality, the only mediums he had at the time to send across his points were his blog and Facebook.
As such, he said that when he read news about a particular minister smearing an activist and journalist, he said that he had to take the information disseminated by the minister with a pinch of salt.
Mr Ngerng was referring to what the Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said about TOC editor Terry Xu and New Naratif editor-in-chief Kirsten Han on Wednesday (25 September). Mr Shanmugam noted that TOC employs foreigners to write almost exclusively negative articles on social and political matters in Singapore, including content that seek to ‘fracture social cohesion’.
On the other hand, the Minister also said that Ms Han writes critical articles of Singapore but her site is heavily funded by a foreign foundation and receives other foreign contributions.
Seek information from alternative portals
Mr Ngerng pointed out that before one forms an opinion about another person that the government tries to smear, it’s important that they read what other sites have to say about the issue first. This is so they can make an informed judgment.
He explained how he personally checks the veracity of the news:
From my experience, I know now to search many alternative information portals, and to read news straight from the horse’s mouth – so I would try to locate government websites which had direct quotes or speeches of what the minister said, then I would search, in this instance, exactly what the activist or journalist said, and then if there are matters or fact, I would look out for various government sources, international reports, academic research or other news and analysis available to make up my mind from an evidence-informed perspective. This is what you should do too.
I know that if I do not take the steps above, I am not in a position to form an informed opinion, and I would not be in the position to label judgment. So, if you choose to listen to what the minister says, and how he chooses to smear Kirsten Han and Terry Xu, then you are complicit to the oppression. Not being willing to search for information, and then making a judgment based on a lack of basis is not neutrality. It’s a willingness to be bought over by the politically dominant perspective. You are choosing to be politically biased.
Separately, Mr Ngerng also stressed that many independent journalists choose to not blindly report on his comments as there’s a risk that their news sites could lose their reputation and credibility, especially if Mr Ngerng’s comments are not supported by facts.
“So, independent Singaporean journalists simply do not have such a ‘luxury’ of having government backing. They either get their facts right or they do not get hired, do not get a job,” he wrote.
He added, “And so, when I see independent journalists like Kirsten and Terry being smeared as agents or people part of a campaign trying to hurt PAP, I laugh. I laugh so hard. If they were trying to do so, I would have won all my cases now. Because not only would they, but the New York Times, CNN, BBC, etc, would have all reported about MY perspective, and would have brought down the PAP and whichever invisible foreign provocateur would have won now.”
Independent journalists always vet through information before writing
Mr Ngerng also noted that both Mr Xu and Ms Han have always been very careful in sieving through what he says about an issue. This is because they have to produce an article that’s both factual and tells a balanced story from both sides.
“Do you know how many times I become frustrated thinking, why aren’t they reporting about what I say about the CPF? Why can’t they write like how I do on my blog? Thing is, if they did that, then what makes them different from me, a raving lunatic, because that is what people think I sound like on my blog,” he elaborated.
He continued, “Basically, they have to do their jobs. They have to be responsible writers because if they do not, they lose credibility. Why do you think The Online Citizen remains the longest running independent news site in Singapore? It is precisely because of their editors’ insistence on being factual – and these last few years, it wouldn’t have been possible without Terry Xu. Similarly, Kirsten is a very respected journalist coming out from Singapore and her writings are published in many international platforms. If she has not been balanced and factual, she wouldn’t have such platforms, it’s as simple as that.”
Smear campaigns by politicians have no factual basis
On the other hand, the blogger also stated that there’s no factual basis for ministers to accuse activists for trying to upset and shame the government’s system.
He added that there are actually only a small number of activists in Singapore who are “truly overtly advocating for the cause that the PAP find threatening”. The rest of them are not willing to take the risk.
As such, he said that what’s happening in Singapore is a targeted smear campaign against the few activists and independent journalists left in the country who are trying to do their professional work in a very difficult environment.
“The smear campaign by the PAP against these individuals are therefore targeted at pulling down their reputations. But do you know why else the PAP has to resort to smear tactics instead of actually charge them? It is because the PAP knows it has nothing against them. When they have been reporting in balanced and factual ways – when you do your job professionally – what can people hold against you? Then, they will hurt you,” he wrote.
“Don’t let these people get hurt. Don’t read the “right” thing. Read multiple perspectives. Form your own opinions.”