Sunday, May 31, 2009

Straits Times celebrates 50 years of PAP rule

Saturday's edition of the Straits Times was a surreal one.

Pages 2 and 3 of the main section was devoted to the paper's own defence against allegations of unfair coverage of the recent AWARE controversy. Its chief editor Han Fook Kwang wrote

I stand by the professionalism of our reporters. The personal attacks against the integrity of our journalists sadden me because they show the vindictiveness of our critics and the length to which they are prepared to go to attack our professionalism. In fact, there appears to be an organised campaign to discredit the media, with mass e-mail being sent, including to Reach, the government feedback portal.

The Straits Times has no hidden agenda to push this line or that, or to favour one group against another. On this story, as with others, we were driven by our desire to provide as much information to our readers as possible, in as timely a manner. That remains our primary objective.

Click here to read full article.

The date of the day's edition also happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of People's Action Party's first electoral victory in 1959. So true to its role as a nation building press, the paper devoted a supplementary section, consisting of some 7 to 8 full pages, to the historic occasion. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the overall thrust of the writing is clear - to attribute the success of a half-century of economic transformation to the policies of the PAP. And to ensure that the messages hit home, pictures of a young Lee Kuan Yew spring-cleaning on the streets in the 1960s are juxtaposed with modern highrise public housing.

Harder to swallow, however, are just how the paper conveniently whitewashed certain political truths to paint a simplistic triumph of the PAP over communists, such as

Two mentions of Lim Chin Siong are prefixed with labels of "pro-Communist" and "hardliner". That new evidence unearthed from the record office in London casting doubts on the accusations of Lim and his Barisan comrades as communists gets no mention. See here and here.

Operation Coldstore, which resulted in the detention-without-trial of opposition politicians, journalists, union and student leaders in 1963, gets a token mention.

That the key leadership of the main opposition party Barisan Sosialis were detained without trial, some for as long as 20 years, is not mentioned. See here, here and here.

That allegations of prison torture still persists to this day is not mentioned. See here, here and here.

That the PAP, after assuming power, closed down newspapers, ban jukeboxes and shut down establishments that purveyed "yellow culture", also gets no mention. See here and here.

You certainly won't see this kind of juxtaposition in the Straits Times.

Lee Kuan Yew leading a march in 1959

John Tan of the Singapore Democratic Party arrested in 2008

While Mr Han Fook Kwang boldly defends himself and the "professionalism" of the Straits Times over allegations of unfair reporting on the affairs of a women's charity group, we can only hope that it is not lost on him that this same standard of "professionalism" should extend itself to coverage of ALL issues, including our political history.

He should take good note of what his predecessor Leslie Hoffman said 50 years ago in an editorial entitled 'Threat to Freedom', written during the general elections when the PAP, led by Lee Kuan Yew, was lambasting the Straits Times for unfair coverage.

Not for a hundred years has the freedom of the press in Singapore been in such danger as it is today. If the People's Action Party is in a position to form agovernment, one of its first concerns will be to bring the newspapers to heel. This is the only construction that can be placed on the statements of PAP leaders, includingits chairman [Dr Toh Chin Chye] and secretary general [Lee Kuan Yew]. If this conclusion is wrong, it is easy for PAP to say so. Its leaders need only affirm their respect for freedom of the press, their respect for the right to criticize, their respect indeed for the rights of all political opposition. they must not, however, qualify their affirmation with "buts". Like the individual, the press is either free or not free. It can comment and criticize, subject to the laws of defamation and libel, or it has no soul to
call its own.

A censored press remains bad even when it produces good things. A free press remains good even when it produces bad things... a eunuch remains a mutilated being even if he possesses a fine voice. A great Socialist said that - Karl Marx. It may be that PAP's spokesmen do not mean all they say, or that they intend to do all that they threaten. They have said some quite monstrous things, not only about the press, and are likely to go on saying them, partly no doubt because they believe threats sometimes work but also because a strong section of their following expect it of them. There is occasionally a conscious "bold bad boy" pose about PAP leaders, as noticeable as their undress uniform of tieless white shirt and trousers. It would be foolish and reckless, however, not to pay PAP's leaders the compliment of believing that their threats, particularly against the press, are meant to be taken seriously.

It is ominous when the press is told, in an orgy of false witness by party leaders, that PAP believes in "objective reporting and the accurate dissemination of news." This has been the classic introduction to the repression of the press everywhere. Dictatorships, whether of the Left or the Right, begin their suppression of the truth by confining the press to what they call "the accurate dissemination of news." The papers then disseminate news as the party and its leaders instruct, or the press does not publish at all. It may seem fantastic that such a threat to freedom and liberty should confront Singapore in this day and age of political advance, but PAP's leaders have made it quite clear that they do not understand the fundamental principles of the freedom of the press. It follows that they do not understand the first principles of the liberty of the people.

18 newspapers in 2009?

And finally, this graphic - which compares the number of newspapers in 1959 against the number today. The list under 1959 is fairly accurate, notwithstanding that Singapore at that time was still under Emergency Rule and there were dozens of smaller newspapers published by political parties, trade union and universities.

As for the number of newspapers in 2009, I leave it to you to figure where are these 18 newspapers.

Newspapers in 1959

1. Straits Times
2. Singapore Free Press (shut down in same year after PAP came to power)
3. Singapore Standard (shut down in same year after PAP came to power)
4. Nanyang Siang Pau
5. Sin Chew Jit Poh
6. Utusan Melayu
7. Berita Harian
8. Tmail Murasu
9. Kerala Bandhu (a Malayalam-language paper)


wheregotfree said...

I agree about more freedom of speech but to be fair, PAP did what it have to do to help Singapore survive. The results are obvious for all to see.

Anonymous said...

It depends on what you mean by "survive".

Anonymous said...

No, the PAP did what it did, not to help the people "survive" or prosper for their own sakes, but rather to keep the masses in submission to their collective will in order to preserve and perpetuate the power of the ruling party and the personal interests of its favoured members and its benefactors amongst the upper classes of Singapore society. Wake up from Matrix Land! We are living in an Orwellian nightmare where totalitarians sleep with unscrupulous capitalists!

Anonymous said...

Singapore had survivied for centuries prior to the PAP and will continue to survive long after the PAP is gone.

Economic transformation is no excuse for muzzling the press and ill-treating political prisoners.