Friday, September 2, 2011

The Government and the Media in Singapore

Interesting article about the 90 cents newspaper.

WikiLeaks: Significant gov’t pressure put on ST editors

By Yahoo! Singapore

SingaporeScene – A senior staff member of Singapore's largest newspaper admits there's "significant pressure" on its editors to follow the government line, according to a newly released WikiLeaks document.

As a result, reporters within the paper are "increasingly frustrated" with the restrictions on what they can report and often seek overseas postings where restrictions are less.

The document, which appears to be a written minute taken in 2009 at the Singapore Embassy, highlighted the private views of two Straits Times journalists and a then-journalism student.

Chua Chin Hon, who is currently the paper's US bureau chief, was quoted as saying that reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore's leaders will "likely come down hard" on anyone
who reports negatively about the government or its leadership.

Without naming names, he also recounted how several ministers at the time "routinely call editors" to ensure that media coverage of an issue "comes out the way they want it."

Chua also said that ST editors had been vetted to ensure their "pro-government leanings" and that while local reporters are "eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting... they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line."

In the WikiLeaks cable, Chua pointed out how there is extensive media coverage before the government intends to push out a certain policy, adding that some articles read like "Public Service Announcements".

He cited how during the 2008 collapse of Lehman brothers, there was a spate of articles writing about the retirees who lost money in the mini-bonds in a sympathetic manner, and this was followed by the government's decision to assist those retirees.

Singapore's largest newspaper has often been criticised for its pro-government stance.

Another reporter, Lynn Lee, who is currently the paper's Indonesian bureau chief, confirmed the restrictions on local media, highlighting the internal editorial debate over the covering of the opposition in Singapore.

An example she gave was the conflict over the amount of coverage that the paper would dedicate to opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) following his death in September 2008, saying that while editors agreed with reporters' demand for extensive coverage of his funeral, they rejected reporters' suggestions to limit the amount of coverage devoted to eulogies provided by Singapore's leaders.

In the end, the leaders' statements took up a significant portion of the allotted space, Lee said.

In addition, Lee revealed that self-censorship was a common practice for reporters.

She said that she would never write about any racially sensitive issues, citing the case of a journalist in Malaysia who was arrested for reprinting a politician's racially charged comments.

In contrast to the limitations imposed on local reports, Chua said that the paper's reporters are more free to write about international events. Chua said he enjoyed a great deal of freedom during his stint as China Bureau Chief.

The leaked cable also contained the views of then-journalism student Chong Zi Liang, who said he could see himself working locally for one or two years before going off somewhere else, because he thought it was too "stifling" to remain in the country.

The document is part of a collection of 251,000 unedited and confidential US diplomatic cables that can be found on the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, founded by Julian Assange.

In the latest batch released online, several more can be found about Singapore.

One talks about the state of Singapore's opposition in 2004 and another on how the government actively co-opts talented Muslims to become Members of Parliament.

Last year, WikiLeaks revealed what key Singapore diplomats thought of neighbouring Asian leaders as well as what former leader Lee Kuan Yew thinks about North Korea.


Anthony said...

While this info is an open secret, i'm curious.. Was this leaked by an insider at the S'pore embassy?

Anonymous said...

Wikileaks also includes claims that Teo Chee Hean is a cancer survivor. Sure or not?!?!?!? Would take this with a pinch of salt...

"According to Koh, the GOS would normally
use the DPM position to groom a potential future PM; Teo, who
is PM Lee's contemporary and a fellow cancer survivor, is
unlikely ever to become PM but is considered a "steady pair
of hands."