Reform Party: To Maintain A Reliable News Source, Government Must End Control Over Media

Chee Hong Tat, Minister of State for Communications and Information, said today (Saturday January 28 2017) that it was critical for Singapore to continue to have a national broadcaster that people can turn to as a credible and reliable news source:

“I think it’s critical for us to continue to have a credible national broadcaster that Singaporeans can turn to as a credible and reliable source of news, and also to understand what’s happening around them both locally and (in) the region,”

 This is just the usual pathetic justification for the PAP to maintain a media monopoly. Despite state control of the media since the 1970s, many Singaporeans still seem unaware of the fact that Temasek, run by the PM’s wife, owns Mediacorp and that the Government controls Singapore Press Holdings through the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. This gives the Government the right to directly appoint the management and the editors. Many former chief editors, like the late President Nathan, have been appointed directly from the Internal Security Department or ISD. So when Chee Hong Tat says that what we need is a “reliable” source of news he means one that can be reliably counted on to support the Government.

In fact the Government relies on state media to do more than just support it. It uses its lackeys in the state media to create fake news and defame and ridicule its opponents. When challenged on their lies and inaccuracies the state media does not apologise. Sometimes it amends the story without explanation or just removes it, as happened when the Business Times removed a piece making fun of death threats against the Reform Party’s SG during the Punggol East by- election.

As long as the PAP has a monopoly over the media we will not get a credible news source merely one that provides a constant diet of Government propaganda. There is not even an independent body to which you can appeal if the state media defame you or breach your privacy. We do not have an independent Press Complaints Commission unlike the UK. This has the power to compel newspapers to publish corrections and retractions to false stories and to publish apologies.

Over the last few years the Government has moved to tighten its grip even further on what little independent media there is. News websites are required now to register with the Media Development Authority and put up a deposit if they receive more than 25,000 views per day from Singaporeans. This will be forfeited if they fail to take down content that MDA objects to. In 2014 the Government closed down The Real Singapore, alarmed by its financial success, and then prosecuted and jailed its editors, one of whom was pregnant. Alternative news sites such as The Online Citizen (TOC), have been brought to heel by being designated as political and barred from accepting foreign advertising, even though they were set up by individuals connected with the PAP in the first place.

Now the Government looks set to tighten its grip on information to ensure that only its version of events gets out there. After Mindef lost the case it brought against TOC and Dr Ting Choon Meng under the Protection from Harassment Law (POHA), the Government has not denied that it is planning to amend the law so as to protect Government Ministries from what it views as false statements:

“At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making. Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention,”

 Eugene Tan, the Government’s preferred rent-a-pundit, has echoed this call for special protection for the Government, notwithstanding all the resources it already has to put its case across through its state media monopoly. Tan said it is not a question of whether entities require protection from harassment and falsehoods, but about protecting public bodies from having to devote resources in what may amount to a “war of attrition”, and ensure as little misinformation as possible.

 “There is little social value in protecting speech designed to harass or perpetuate falsehoods,” he said.

Unfortunately there is no symmetry. The Government is seeking to extend its overwhelming control of the media to put its propaganda across while at the same time stifling any criticism from independent websites or blogs by taking them down for spreading “false information” or forcing them to carry the Government’s rebuttal. As we have seen again and again, this right is not extended to individuals or the Opposition in the Government’s own media mouthpieces.

Reform Party also agrees it is vital for Singaporeans to have access to reliable news. However we differ from the Government. At present the predominant source of fake news in Singapore is the PAP Government. Singapore under PAP rule is about as far as it is possible to get from a democratic society.

We believe that you can only ensure the news is reliable if it comes from a plurality of sources in a competitive environment. Therefore we would divest Mediacorp as part of the process of privatizing and listing Temasek. We would also abolish the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act and allow anyone to start a newspaper. Finally we would not seek to apply the POHA to Government agencies that already have robust tools at their disposal to rebut criticism.



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