It has been announced that Mediacorp will be broadcasting a series of speeches which will be delivered by our ministers from 7 June (Sunday) to 20 June (Saturday) via its free-to-air television channels. The speakers featured will be Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
The Prime Minister’s Office has said that the national broadcasts will give the public insight into the government’s view of “what a post-COVID-19 future looks like for Singapore. The speeches will also provide Singaporeans with an overview of how the government plans to see the country through the pandemic to “emerge stronger”.
The timing for the public broadcast of these speeches is curious.
Just recently, Dr. Michele Khoo, who is press secretary for the spokesperson for Leader of the House, Grace Fu, had said that live broadcasts of Parliament risk turning the House into a “form of theatre” and do not add to transparency.
Khoo also took the opportunity to reiterate that the Government had no plans to broadcast Parliamentary sittings live.
In attempting to justify her position, Khoo also stated that demand for such live broadcasts was low. She based her opinion on viewership numbers for major speeches such as the national budget that are broadcast live which are only approximately a tenth of that of free-to-air TV news.
This is not a fair comparison. Speeches are prepared in advance and read. It is not the same as watching MPs engage in debates which have an impromptu element to it and where MPs will have to think on their feet. People will be far more interested in watching a live debate than a speech being read.
However, if we are using her line of logic, why are we suddenly broadcasting so many speeches if viewership of speeches is so low?
It leads one to wonder if the sudden U turn could be because of the looming elections? With the outbreak of COVID-19 still underway, it is likely that campaigning activities for the imminent general elections will be greatly reduced.
Are broadcasts a way for the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) to reach the masses in a way that opposition candidates can’t (with the suspension of rallies and the like). If so, is this fair?
It is also noteworthy that Mediacorp is owned by Temasek and the CEO of Temasek is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. How did Mediacorp reach its decision to broadcast these speeches if there is data that viewership for previous speeches are low?
Is the PAP utilising an advantage that opposition candidates do not have?