I refer to the article “DPM Tharman clarifies his views on the mainstream media, Bukit Batok by-election” (Straits Times, Sep 28).

It states that “Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has come out to clarify his views on the mainstream media and the Bukit Batok by-election, topics which he was asked about during a dialogue with students last week.

Mr Tharman also elaborated on his comments about the mainstream media, saying he regards the media as “serious-minded, responsible players in an evolving Singapore democracy – helping to take it forward, but airing views in a way that avoids fragmenting society”.

The Deputy Prime Minister was clarifying comments he made at a a dialogue last week, where he was asked by a student about media control and whether he agreed with the “gutter politics” of the ruling party during the 2016 Bukit Batok by-election.

In his post, Mr Tharman also clarified his remarks on the mainstream media.

Reiterating a point he has made in the past, he said while the mainstream media in Singapore is not a “free-for-all”, it is also not the “heavily controlled media that some critics caricature it to be”.

He added that the mainstream media “doesn’t wait around for instructions, and it doesn’t excuse everything Government does”, and in fact plays a crucial role in advancing democracy.

“In my opinion our media does a better job at advancing the collective interests of Singaporeans than that in several other Asian countries, where the media has added to a divisiveness in society not seen in a long time,” he said.

“Even in some of the mature western democracies, people are segregating themselves into media bubbles of their own – both in the mainstream and social media – and public trust in the media is now at an all-time low.”

He added that the mainstream media in Singapore carries all the important news of the day, including articles about both sides of the political debate.

Noting that Singaporeans read things and discuss them freely, he said: “So blaming the mainstream media for electoral losses is not a good strategy – it doesn’t square any more with the reality of a public that reads, follows issues and thinks more critically.”

He added: “We should keep this going – the mainstream media as responsible players in our democracy, helping to move it forward. We should hope too that the middle in the social media gets stronger, for Singapore’s good.””

In this connection, may I suggest that you read the following:-

… “So, is there something wrong with the subject Straits Times news report which said that “Singapore’s per capita liabilities was €36,075 at the end of last year, among the highest in Asia” – when in fact according to the report – Singapore’s debt is actually the highest in Asia?” (“S’pore No.1 in debt, No.1 in gross assets?“, Sep 28)

… “Singapore is already under increasing pressure internationally and domestically for its poor human rights’ record, 151st Press Freedom ranking” (“The S’pore model is out of date?“, Sep 26)

… “how do we account for our Press Freedom ranking of 151st in the world, and all the recent legislation and rules which have been criticised by Singaporeans and international human rights organisations, as attempts to undermine the freedom of expression in Singapore, political participation, etc.

For example, the Administration of Justice (Contempt of court) act, Protection from Harassment act, media licencing changes, changes to the rules in connection with the use of Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim park, etc” (“Sense of fear, constraint has reduced in S’pore?”, Sep 21)

… “the most obvious and most important quality of a presidential candidate is what I believe has not been mentioned and covered adequately in the several commentarities in the mainstream media so far on the presidential elections – that is to be independent and have the courage and willingness to stand up against or criticise the Government, if the President does not agree with the Government’s proposals to the President.

Otherwise, what’s the point of having a President in the first place as a check and balance on the Government – primarily in respect of the reserves and key appointments?” (“PE: Mainstream media commentaries – missing the obvious quality?“, Sep 10)

… “Some of my friends who read the above article said that they were rather surprised that there was no mention of what may arguably be the most significant and recent change in political campaigning that may be on everyone’s lips – kind of like missing the elephant in the room – that it is very unlikely that there will be any rallies for the upcoming presidential elections.

In this regard, according to the article “Presidential Election 2017: New rules to ensure candidates act with dignity” (Straits Times, Aug 31) – “There will be no designated rally sites for candidates in this election” (“PE: No rallies – who or what are we afraid of?“, Sep 8)

… “So what is Mr Teo and his committee to do?

Well, the best that can be done under these difficult circumstances, in my view, would be for the committee to accept that there is only one candidate who qualifies under the present rules spelt out by Parliament.

Why is the Straits Times through its editor-in-chief arguably, in a sense, already campaigning for a walkover by one of the candidates, even before “the notice of contested election is issued“?” (“ST editor: PE walkover is “the best”?“, Sep 3)

… “it is likely that there may be a walkover on 13 September.

If so, this would be the third walkover in Singapore’s history.

Are there any other countries in the world that has walkovers in their presidential elections?

Is our mainstream media (ranked 151st for Press Freedom in the world) arguably, preparing Singaporeans for possibly, the obvious foregone conclusion on 13 September?” (“Straits Times: 2 of the presidential hopefuls do not qualify?“, Aug 31)

… “Why did it take about 23 days for the mainstream media to as I believe to the best of my knowledge – to write about how ridiculous the statistics announced by the Government on 27 July was – that “the MRT system’s reliability has improved by three times since Mr Khaw Boon Wan moved to the Transport Ministry in 2015, but the minister wants to raise the bar much higher”? (“Khaw Boon Wan sets new rail network reliability target as MRT becomes three times as dependable as in 2015” (Straits Times, Jul 27)

Social media vs mainstream media?

Social media was then all abuzz about how ridiculous such a claim was.

For example:

– “Ownself exclude ownself?” (“MRT: Mainstream media took 3 weeks to “breakdown”?“, Aug 19)

And the above are just eight examples/instances of what the mainstream media has been doing in just the last two months of August to September alone!

Uniquely Singapore!

Leong Sze Hian

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