Sunday, 1 October 2023

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Freedom of the press or subordination?

by Khush Chopra

The rhetoric with respect to the proposed restructuring of Singapore Press Holdings’ media business into a not-for-profit entity in terms of how essential credible media is to Singapore’s interests, the independence of the news rooms, trust and quality journalism is becoming very surreal.

Late former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) mandated in 1971 that the news room must be subordinate not independent.

LKY said:

“What role would men and governments in new countries like the mass media to play?… The mass media can help to present Singapore’s problems simply and clearly and then explain how if they support certain programmes and policies these problems can be solved. More important, we want the mass media to reinforce, not to undermine, the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities.

[Several paragraphs later]

Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of of an elected government.”

Government appointed SPH Chairman designate Khaw Boon Wan now tells us that independent newsrooms are the key to success of SPH Media and that undermining independence of the newsroom will impact the success of SPH Media Trust.

The ST itself put it this way:

‘An independent newsroom is one of the crucial factors that will determine the success of the new SPH Media Trust, said the company’s chairman-designate Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.
“If you undermine that, you undermine what we are trying to achieve,” he added. “That is my position. It is, to me, crystal clear.” ‘

So please make up your mind. Which is it? Freedom of the press or subordination?

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in the explanatory note to Singapore’s 160th ranking in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index stated this;

“Singapore has been coloured black on the World Press Freedom Index map since 2020, meaning the situation there is now is classified as “very bad”.
Despite the “Switzerland of the East” label often used in government propaganda, the city-state does not fall far short of China when it comes to suppressing media freedom.”

Singapore continues its descent at the World Press Freedom ranking in 2021, dropping from 158 to 160. Singapore is in the bottom 20 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

We need to get real here. Is the SPH Media Trust Chairman suggesting he is independent?

Real or not?

Credible local media is essential to Singapore’s interests but neither the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government nor the designated appointee have the right in the full circumstances of the relationship between local mainstream media and the Government, including the provisions of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974 (Chapter 206) to make that claim or policy statement.

That they can say all this about newsroom Independence, a credible local media and trust with a straight face today beggars belief.

This is sheer hypocrisy.

Make no mistake about this. All that has happened here is that the PAP Government has simply tightened its grip on SPH newspapers discarding all previous commercial pretensions for SPH newspapers to be the Government mouth piece and propaganda tool they have always been.

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