Former (tenure not renewed) NTU professor for WKW School of Communication and Information, and current professor at the Department of Journalism in Hong Kong Baptist University, wrote a post on his blog, Air-Conditioned Nation, about SPH’s misplaced ‘defence’ of ‘pseudo-freedom’ of its press position, adding that the way the press behaves today was “exactly what Lee Kuan Yew designed the press system to do”.
He singled out two recent incidents. One, the censorship done by the Straits Times in its report on a recent talk at NUS which Prof Tommy Koh attended. Two, the recent closure of the political desk at the Straits Times to merge into the Singapore Desk, and the redeployment of former political editor, Li Xueying, on suspected displeasure from the PAP leadership towards her reporting and stance.
While Straits Times denied any infringement on press freedom, Cherian feels the workings in these news organisations only reinforce the ‘pseudo-freedom’ that Lee Kuan Yew so put in place in the Singapore press system. While Singapore falls into neither the category of the adversarial press like the New York Times or the Washington Post, nor the likes of The Global Times in China, that is an overt, total mouthpiece, the ‘fake media freedom’ model is specifically instituted by Lee Kuan Yew to help in PAP’s political hegemony and stranglehold on power.
“There are newspapers around the world that struggle for press freedom. There are others at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, like China’s Global Times, that unapologetically serve as mouthpieces of the ruling party.
The Straits Times in Singapore is in neither category. It operates under laws that compel the press to align itself with the government, which is not its fault — but it tries to deny it. Instead of struggling to be free, it struggles to be seen as free.
..This is conformism and self-censorship at an advanced level, where gatekeepers do what’s required of the powers that be while insisting, maybe even believing, that they are acting independently.”
Mr George, at the book launch of Singapore, Incomplete.
In the article, he referenced a chapter on the press in Singapore from his own book, Singapore, Incomplete where he detailed how Lee Kuan Yew specifically enacted laws like the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (1974) which essentially destroyed individual and family ownership of newspapers and instituted a ‘profit-based’ media company management model, whose main shareholders (management shareholders who have 200 times voting power compared to normal shareholders) are NTUC Income, OCBC Bank, etc. whose ‘common trait’ was that they were all ‘deeply invested in Singapore’s political stability’ and hence would favour and tilt the balance towards ‘favourable news’ for the PAP instead of ‘popular’ news, news that the people can feel emotional towards or that represented what the people wanted to speak after.
This after learning from experience that it were those who put ideals ‘ahead of profits and even personal safety’, like the former chairman of Nanyang Siang Pau (later forcefully ‘merged with Sin Chew Jit Poh to form Lianhe Zaobao), Lee Eu Seng, who was detained under the ISA for 5 years, that posed the most serious ‘threat’ of fighting for justice and reporting the truth, much like The New York Times and Washington Post are all owned by family businesses. Lee Kuan Yew saw that those who do not fall into such categories and have ‘profit-minded’ management tended to employ ‘tamer editors’.
Meanwhile, MediaCorp is even more fully-controlled and is wholly owned by Temasek.