Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Mainstream Media's Non-Coverage of the White Paper Protest

The recent non-coverage of the protest at Hong Lim Park this past Saturday has once again demonstrated how captured they are by the PAP. Bertha Henson had the best commentary on this, but then again, she should; she used to be part of the establishment, which gives her not just insider information but also the freedom to speak, now that she's no longer working for SPH.

One minor quibble, Bertha, if you're reading this. I would prefer if you distinguished between the PAP and the Government. I know it's understandable to use G. as shorthand for the PAP-controlled government, given Singapore's history, but it should bear repeating that the PAP and the Government of Singapore are not one and the same thing.

Bertha had one good piece of advice. Go read OB Markers by Cheong Yip Seng, former editor-in-chief of the Straits Times.

After reading his memoirs, I can categorically state that I have a better understanding of the pressures that editors and journalists in the mainstream media face, being excoriated sometimes by both the public and cabinet ministers for the same published articles. If there was ever evidence that people view things in a way that confirms their preconceived notions and suspicions...

I can also state categorically that I empathize with the view (espoused by LKY) that the mainstream media has the role to educate and persuade the public to certain points of view for the benefit of the country.

To a point. On matters of national security and foreign policy for example. But I am far from convinced that this is an appropriate role for mainstream media on other matters of national policy where the paths ahead are less clear. Like population growth. Open, informed and vigorous public debate would be preferred to propaganda.

Cheong Yip Seng's memoirs were in fact more interesting for what they did not cover rather than what they did cover. Part apologia and part hagiography (of LKY), they skipped over how the media has been used as a political weapon to silence and/or discredit opposition party politicians, and to muffle criticism or hush up failures by government agencies or processes under the rubric of "protecting confidence in the government".

But to me, this is now all moot. I no longer read the Straits Times, and I stopped watching TV a long time ago. Ergo, I no longer consume mainstream media in toto.

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