I had no illusions about the independence of the local media when I first started my job as a [——] in Singapore. I knew that my work would be edited, and possibly censored for political safety, and I was mostly fine with that - no media channel anywhere in the world is entirely free from some form of editorial trimming, after all.
What I didn’t bargain for was individual self-censorship, unspoken policies and rules, and the stoutness with which people swallowed their journalistic dignity and integrity (because it does exist, even strongly, in some places) to toe the party line. Incredible as it seems, reporters in Singapore do have the same fierce pride in their work as reporters anywhere else; I think this is especially evident in sections of the media that don’t touch on politics.
But when it comes to political news, particularly something as sensitive as the elections, many of us leave our brains and consciences at home and resign ourselves to doing what we’re told and writing what’s being dictated. To some extent I appreciate the rationale of this - there really is a very close watch being kept on the media and when we’re kept in line it’s largely for our own safety.
However, as someone still young and naive and idealistic, it’s hard for me to swallow the indignation I feel whenever I see the local media doggedly ignoring its otherwise sharply-honed news sense. Articles and TV programmes are edited to balance out pro-opposition views; awesome camera opportunities - like the opposition rallies - are studiously left out of media coverage; banal and unfair quotes and tactics are highlighted and headlined simply because they are tools of the ruling party.
The Australian also published a revealing look at the links between the Singapore press and the feared secret police:
There's Chua Lee Hoong, the ST's most prominent political columnist. She might be Singapore's Maureen Dowd, except The New York Times's Dowd didn't work with the secret police for nine years. There's Irene Ho on the foreign desk. She was also an "analyst" with Singapore's intelligence services. So, says Cheong, was Susan Sim, his Jakarta correspondent.
And there's Cheong's boss, Tjong Yik Min. From 1986 to 1993, Tjong was Singapore's most senior secret policeman, running the much feared Internal Security Department, a relic of colonial Britain's insecurities about communism in its Asian empire. Now Tjong is a media mogul, the executive president of SPH, Singapore's virtual print media giant, which controls all but one of the country's newspapers.