Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wikileaks Report: Singapore journalists refuse to obey the government

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have attached below a Wiki leaks report dated August 30, 2011, from American Embassy Singapore to US State Department Washington DC, which states Singapore journalists and reporters are increasingly finding it uncomfortable to accept Lee's government interference in their reporting in the island's state controlled press such as the Straits Times.

They are threatening to resign instead of succumbing to this unacceptable inference in newspaper reporting. In fact Miss Lee who was with the Straits Times Indonesian bureau did resign rather than continue with the state controlled paper.

According to the report, Singapore Ministers and senior government officials continue to demand of Singapore reporters and journalists to either distort the news or not print negative reports, so as to show the PAP Singapore government in a favourable light, in order to score points with father and son (Lee Kuan Yew and Son).

This is the sort of tactics that went on in the former Soviet Union's Pravda and Izvestia and presently in Kim Jong Il's North Korea, not something one would expect of a so-called "first world country".

Although this wiki leaks report talks only about press freedom, Lee Kuan Yew's one party state Singapore faces the same problem in all other areas. Lawyers are increasingly leaving the legal profession and today there are no more than 3,000 of them in the entire island.

Doctors and nurses are leaving the medical profession. The police force is finding it increasingly difficult to attract and keep qualified officers and their ranks continue to shrink. Almost every student that goes to more liberal countries for an education refuses to return. There are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of National service deserters who willingly accept permanent exile rather than return to Singapore for national service.

But the state controlled newspaper Straits Times does not have any of these stories. According to them, the news today could not have been better. I do not know who it is who said that dictatorships look good until the last 10 minutes. I suppose that is what is happening to the father and son government (Lee Kuan Yew and Son) of Singapore.

There is however one error in the American Embassy report below. It says "online speech is unrestricted" in Singapore. This is incorrect. Internet speech is as much controlled as it is in print. Although Singaporeans do criticize their government in the Internet, they only dare to do this anonymously. If anyone is identified within Singapore of this, he would be immediately arrested and charged. You will recall I (Gopalan Nair) too was arrested and jailed 3 months in Singapore for writing a blog post critical of their legal system while there. Had I written any of this within Singapore, I have no doubt I would have been arrested and jailed. The only reason why I am left alone now is because they are powerless in persecuting anyone outside Singapore. This should explain why every Internet article critical of the Lee Administration is always anonymous, as are the comments in this blog.

The wiki leaks report is reproduced courtesy of Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his Singapore Democratic Party website.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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Wikileaks: PAP ensures positive press coverage
Saturday, 03 September 2011
Singapore Democrats

Viewing cable: Singapore

Topic: Journalists Frustrated by Press Controls
Released: 2011-08-30
Origin: US Embassy Singapore

1. Summary: Singapore journalists say they are increasingly frustrated with GOS-imposed limits on their domestic reporting. Political leaders put pressure on the Straits Times (ST) staff to ensure that the paper's domestic coverage follows the government line.

Reporters say they are eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting, but they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line. Some reporters seek an outlet for their journalistic passions by serving as overseas correspondents, where ST allows reporters much greater latitude; others consider plying their trade elsewhere. Given that media restrictions are no greater now than in the past, reporters' increasing frustration may reflect this generation's rising expectations.

2. Comment: The traditional media in Singapore are certainly no more restricted today than they have ever been, and other than on race and religion, online speech is generally unrestricted. That raises the question why reporters seem to be complaining more, or at least more openly. We suspect this reflects in part a generational shift; younger Singaporeans are accustomed to having more latitude, and it likely grates on reporters not to be able to say in print the kind of things people routinely say in cafes or online. It may also be that the leaderships, own frequent suggestions of the need for (incremental) political reforms may be raising expectations that so far have not been met.

Government ensures positive local press coverage

3. Singapore journalists tell us they are increasingly frustrated with the obstacles they face in reporting on sensitive domestic issues. Reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore's leaders will likely come down hard on anyone who reports negative stories about the government or its leadership, name witheld (strictly protect), the new Straits Times (ST) U.S. Bureau Chief (former China Bureau Chief) told Poloff January 6. There is a growing disconnect between ST's reporters and its editors, with the reporters wanting to do more investigative and critical stories than the editors will allow. Name witheld lamented that the ST editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line. Name witheld said that unless one of the editors is a "Trojan Horse," someone that for years has successfully concealed any non pro-government leanings, none of them has the courage to publish any stories critical of the government.

4. The government exerts significant pressure on ST editors to ensure that published articles follow the government's line, name witheld said. In the past, the editors had to contend only with the opinions of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (now Minister Mentor) and former Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (now Senior Minister). However, a younger generation of government ministers is now vying for future leadership positions and one way for them to burnish their credentials with the old guard is to show they can be tough with the media, Name witheld said. As a result, several current ministers and second ministers (name witheld did not say which ones) routinely call ST editors to ensure that media coverage of an issue comes out the way they want it. While name witheld admitted that he knew of no editors who had been fired or otherwise punished for printing articles critical of the government, he said that is because all of the them have been vetted to ensure their pro-government leanings.

5. Name witheld speculated that while Lee's eventual passing may encourage the media to open up, the current crop of ST staff would only dare to buck the government's line if it were clear that the majority of Singaporeans were already opposed to the government's policy. Even then, the media would tread carefully as the government has an established track record of using the press, the ST in particular, to shape public opinion.

6. Name witheld admitted that domestically focused ST articles often read like Public Service Announcements. Name witheld noted that how the government intends to push a certain policy is often foreshadowed by extensive media coverage (published before the official policy announcements). As an example, name witheld pointed to the government's recent decision to assist retirees who lost investments in "mini-bonds" following the collapse of Lehman Brothers (ref A). That decision followed a spate of media coverage casting the retirees, plight in sympathetic terms.

7. In contrast to the informal restrictions placed on domestic reporting, ST reporters are given wide latitude in their coverage of international events. Name witheld said he enjoyed a great deal of freedom during his stint as ST's China Bureau Chief, and he expects to enjoy similar freedom during his new assignment as U.S. Bureau Chief. However, due to the expectations placed on editors, name witheld said he would likely never advance higher up the ladder at ST.

ST reporter confirms local media restrictions

8. Name witheld (strictly protect), a reporter for ST, confirmed the disconnect between editors and reporters. Name witheld highlighted the internal debate over the amount of coverage that the paper would dedicate to opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) following his death in September 2008. Name witheld said that while the editors agreed with reporters' demand for extensive coverage of JBJ political career and funeral (ref B), they rejected reporters' suggestions to limit the amount of coverage devoted to (relatively long) eulogies provided by Singapore's leaders. The leaders' statements took up a significant portion of the allotted space, name witheld lamented.

9. Name witheld also admitted that reporters practice self-censorship. Recalling the case of a journalist in Malaysia who was arrested for reprinting a politician's racially charged comments, name witheld noted she would never write about any racially sensitive issues. However, self-censorship is not really needed as most censorship is done by the editors, name witheld said. Name witheld, who is now one of ST's Indonesia correspondents, echoed name witheld's comments about having greater freedom to report stories (without censorship) while abroad. Highlighting her discouragement with her life as a Singapore journalist, name witheld said she considers her current Indonesia assignment as a one-year test case that will determine whether or not she stays in the profession.

Novice journalists also wary of system

10. Singapore's journalism students think twice about building careers at home in the first place, according to online student journalist name witheld (strictly protect). Name witheld and two classmates in the journalism school at Nanyang Technological University started their own online newspaper, The Enquirer, to write free of editorial interference after the existing University-funded student newspaper refused to cover a campus visit by opposition politician Chee Soon Juan. When asked how he would reconcile his journalistic ideals with the realities of a career in Singapore, name witheld told Poloff that he feared it would be too "stifling" to remain here. Instead, he foresaw spending one or two apprentice years here before working somewhere else. Many of name witheld's journalism-school classmates think the same way, he said.


Anonymous said...

LKY characterized Islam as a ‘venomous religion to Hillary Clinton.

Now denies making this statement.

Says he has proof: "I looked up MFA’s filenote of the meeting. Nowhere does it record me describing Islam as “venomous”, nor did I say anything which could have given that impression."

MFA = Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a truly independent note taker.

This man keeps insulting people. Remember how he called Australians white trash of Asia, a remark which ended up preventing the SGX takeover of the ASX.

Anonymous said...

The PAP's answer to all of the poroblems you identify -

import more obedient department store dummies from the PRC.

Long live Chairman Mao, oops, I means Chairman LEE.

All praise the LEE dynasty.

We know what's good for you from cradle (stop at 2) to grave (no retirement).

Anonymous said...

Singapore's 'free' press

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

Former Today chief editor P N Balji, who has spent 35 years in Singapore journalism and is now a media consultant, said the leaks "tell an old story", and there is a need now to study how the old media is trying to meet the challenges of the new media.

"There is enough evidence to show how the old media is forced to come out of its comfort zone and publish stories which broke in the online world. Something we never saw, say five years ago," he said.

"A new relationship is developing between the government and media. The biggest loser, if The Straits Times continues to lose eyeballs, is the government. Then it will be without a pervasive platform to get across its message," he pointed out.

"How this relationship will play out will depend a lot on whether editors can make the big switch to the new normal in Singapore journalism and how the government will respond to such efforts," he added.

Anonymous said...

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement then: 'These press reports are based on American interpretations of confidential conversations that did not provide the full context and, in some cases, were from third party sources. As a matter of principle, MFA does not comment on leaks.'

That is all we will say for now until we consult Lee Kuan Yew and await his instructions.

Anonymous said...

No reason for the US Embassy or Wikileaks to lie. Lee Kuan Yew have every reason to deny the truth. After all these years of hiding the truth from Singaporeans, he is quite adept at doing so. Just one of those mundane denials.

Its his words against the US Embassy. Who would you believe?

He may be unassailable in his kangaroo courts. But this is Wikileaks and its about freedom of information. Let the whole world be the judges this time. Its useless denying what Wikileaks discloses. Wikileaks is authority enough and it is the internet that debunk such liars like Lee Kuan Yew.

Keep it up Wikileaks!

PAP internet brigade said...

It is a fact that the Intelligence section of the PAP Youth have been visiting China to learn how the Great Firewall of China works.

They return to Singapore, operate in shifts, starting from 6am each day monitoring Chat on discussion forums and Facebook etc.

They use nicks, like the one I am using, to rebut opposite views, troll, disrupt discussion or to spread half-truths to confuse others.