Fwd: MUST READ: Asia Sentinel -- An insider account by an expat sub editor of the Straits Times on how obsessively checked and rechecked every news item is in all Singapore papaganda medias to ensure no criticism of LIEgime nor mention of its criminal leaders guilty of murder, crimes, election riggings, theft of $1.3t [Prof BALDING]
- Sep 22, 2013 Expand MessagesView Source---------- Forwarded message ----------From: Robert Ho <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 21 July 2013 09:09
Subject: MUST READ: Asia Sentinel -- An insider account by an expat sub editor of the Straits Times on how obsessively checked and rechecked every news item is in all Singapore papaganda medias to ensure no criticism of LIEgime nor mention of its criminal leaders guilty of murder, crimes, election riggings, theft of $1.3t [Prof BALDING]
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Repression of the media in Singapore is nothing new, but recent clumsy interventions by the government have thrust the issue back into the spotlight. New licensing rules for news websites prompted a rare protest last month (June) that galvanized around 2,000 people, led by a coalition of bloggers and activists.
In the tightly controlled city-state, blogs and websites that are critical of the government have become increasingly popular as an alternative to the timid, state-influenced national press. Those sites have sparked a growing awareness among Singaporeans that the traditional media’s uncritical pro-government bias has done them a public disservice.
“Many Singaporeans feel that we deserve more than we get in our national press,” media studies academic Cherian George told the Singapore Writers’ Festival last November – a view that is echoed by many. He is the author of Freedom From The Press, which examines how the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled the country since 1959, has imposed strict controls over the media.
George was himself the subject of controversy earlier this year when, despite a distinguished career in academia and journalism, he was denied tenure for a second time by Nanyang Technological University, where he has been teaching.
Outraged students, colleagues and activists backed George, alleging government interference in the decision. “That the rejections of his tenure applications were due to interference from outside the university is beyond serious rebuttal,” wrote Mark Featherstone, a Canadian academic at NTU, in a letter to its management.
The episode highlighted the government’s enduring determination to suppress criticism, even as it seeks to project the image of a dynamic, first-world center of finance and enterprise. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – the architect of modern Singapore and father of the current prime minister – spelled out his views back in 1971, when he stressed that “freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.”
Even at 89 and officially retired from government, Lee remains a dominant figure, and his PAP shows little sign of relaxing its tight grip. However, in recent years feisty blogs and independent news websites have stepped in to fill the gap left by the mainstream media, and helped fuel growing discontent with the PAP. Web-savvy Singaporeans have increasingly turned to websites like TR Emeritus, The Online Citizen and Yahoo! Singapore for more independent reporting and critical news and views.
Yahoo! Singapore is one of 10 websites to be immediately affected by the new licensing regulations, with the others all run by mainstream local media groups. But critics fear the move is merely the first step towards a broader clampdown on independent online commentary and dissent.
“It is obvious that the new rules are to set and control the tone of discourse online, a concern which the Government has had for a while now,” wrote Andrew Loh, editor of the socio-political website Publichouse.sg. “The rise of social media, as an increasing number of Singaporeans get their news online, has now prompted the government to let go of its promised ‘light touch’ on the Internet.”
Global press freedom advocacy group Reporters without Borders already ranks Singapore a lowly 149th of 179 countries on its Press Freedom Index. The US-based Freedom House ranks it tied for 153rd, along with Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar. According to a 2012 Freedom House report, “ruling party members are quick to use harsh civil and criminal defamation laws to silence and bankrupt political opponents and critical media outlets. The vast majority of print and broadcast journalists practice self-censorship to avoid defamation charges.” The latest clampdown will probably see Singapore slide even further in both organizations’ rankings.
I recently finished a three-year stint as a sub-editor at The Straits Times, Singapore’s flagship daily newspaper. There I witnessed first-hand the close relationship between media and government, and the impact those ties have on the presentation of local news.
Control at the paper is exercised both overtly and through more subtle means. Self-censorship, meanwhile, is ubiquitous. I’ve worked for newspapers in five different countries and, like most foreign staff at The Straits Times, found the working practices in the newsroom there incredibly frustrating.
So-called “standard operating procedures” must be adhered to at all times, meaning that even minor changes to a story must be approved and made by a senior editor. This naturally leads to a lot of to-ing and fro-ing during the editing process, resulting in an enormous amount of wasted time and inefficiency.
Colleagues who wrote op-eds that were even mildly or humorously critical of the government saw their pieces spiked without discussion, although sometimes a senior editor would ask them to alter or omit the offending parts.
Journalistic standards were generally sloppy and compounded by poor English language abilities among many reporters. One reporter freely admitted to this writer that quotes used in stories were sometimes made up, which should not be surprising to anyone who reads the paper carefully.
However, this is not to criticize individual Straits Times’ reporters, as there are some fine journalists at the paper who often voice their frustrations in private. Rather, these problems can be attributed to an institutional culture that encourages self-censorship and strongly discourages initiative, creativity and investigation.
The Straits Times’ editors “live in dread of offending the government”, wrote another former employee at the paper, Australian journalist Rodney King, in his 2006 book The Singapore Miracle: Myth and Reality.
One of the paper’s “most fundamental editorial principles” is that “reporters must be closely supervised to ensure that they write only what the paper and the government want. To this end, layer after layer of copy checkers, sub-editors, check subs and finally senior editorial staff are constantly supervising, overseeing, chastising, checking and re-checking everything that the paper’s reporters do and write. Moreover, sensitive issues must first be cleared with government ministries.”
This was still true when I worked at the paper, and it was not uncommon for reporters to alter their stories at a very late stage because the “newsmaker” or a government department wanted to alter the wording of a quote or headline. For example, the Prime Minister’s Office let senior editors know that politically sensitive statistics – such as those on immigration – may be carried in the story but not highlighted in headlines.
King also writes of a culture of bullying in the newsroom, a “punitive atmosphere that has bred risk-averse attitudes that inhibit innovative reporting.” I found this, too, to be true.
Time and again Singaporean reporters at the paper failed to ask the right questions of interviewees or include all the information a reader would expect in a well-reported news story. This can be explained by reporters’ excessive deference to authority, or a fear of appearing anti-government or being punished by for making minor mistakes.
Contrary to popular belief, The Straits Times’ parent company, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), is not government-owned. However, by law newspapers need annual permits and newspaper companies must issue management shares to government nominees – thus giving the PAP enormous influence over appointments and editorial direction at The Straits Times.
A confidential cable from the US embassy in Singapore to the US State Department released by WikiLeaks in 2011 highlighted these issues and revealed a growing rift between younger reporters and the paper’s editors.
“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 [sic] the line,” it said, quoting two Straits Times journalists in a conversation with a US diplomat.
Indeed, the close links between senior editors and the government are apparent. The current editor, managing editor and an executive editor all collaborated on a 1998 book entitled Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas, a gushing portrait based on interviews with the former prime minister, whose personality still towers over Singapore. Other editors are said to have close links with the Internal Security Department, the country’s feared intelligence agency.
The US embassy cable also quotes reporter Chua Chin Hon as saying that the government “exerts significant pressure” on editors and “has an established track record of using the press, the ST in particular, to shape public opinion… Chua admitted that domestically focused ST articles often read like Public Service Announcements.”
This can sometimes lead to some odd news sense in a paper that considers itself an “authoritative provider of news and views.” For example, the day after Pope Benedict resigned in February, making front-page headlines around the world, the story was tucked away on an inside page while the front page was devoted to stories about a G-30 report the deputy prime minister was involved in and a review of private ambulance services.
“Singapore’s official media really are abysmal – tedious, irrelevant, smug, prurient, prudish,” says Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a former senior Reuters editor who is based in Singapore and now blogs about regional media issues. “They are slickly produced, of course, and plenty of money is spent on them to give them the appearance of being high quality and of being genuine newspapers and genuine TV news broadcasts. But money can’t buy authenticity and it can’t buy independence. The Singaporean state media can never be credible because they are not free. They are mouthpieces of the state, their loyalty is not to their readers but to the state, so they will always be hollow and uninspiring.”
It is not only The Straits Times that comes under government pressure. So far this year, several websites have been forced to apologize and remove posts under the threat of legal action for defamation or contempt of court. And In April, cartoonist Leslie Chew was arrested under the colonial-era Sedition Act for a cartoon on his Facebook page which suggested there was discrimination against the country’s Malay minority.
In June, a freelance film-maker was given an official warning for contempt of court after posting on her blog two video interviews in which Chinese bus drivers who had been involved in an illegal strike made allegations of police brutality. The film-maker, Lynn Lee, had earlier been questioned by police and had her mobile phone and laptop seized, leading to complaints by supporters that she was being harassed and intimidated.
Foreigners are not exempt either. British journalist Alan Shadrake, then aged 76, spent five weeks in prison in 2011 after being found guilty of contempt of court for “scandalizing the judiciary”. His crime: writing a book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock, which dared to suggest that the judicial system was open to political interference. Amnesty International described his sentence as “a sharp blow to freedom of expression”. The book is unavailable in Singapore bookstores.
US crime fiction writer Jake Needham also experienced the vindictiveness of local authorities following the publication of his novel The Ambassador’s Wife, which features a Singaporean detective determined to solve a murder even if it puts him in conflict with his superiors.
“The Ambassador’s Wife, although it was a novel, made its own waves in Singapore because it did not portray every single member of the Singaporean police force as absolutely dedicated to tracking down the killer,” he wrote on his website earlier this year. “Politics can apparently have nothing to do with crime in Singapore, although that would make the police force there pretty much unique in all the world. Then there’s another problem, too. In Singapore, the absence of unreserved praise for local institutions is generally viewed as unfair criticism.”
Before publication, he said, “the press in Singapore gave it a huge amount of publicity”, as there isn’t much popular fiction set in the city-state. Afterwards, “not a single mention of The Ambassador’s Wife ever appeared again in the Singapore press, not a single review of it was ever printed there, and orders from bookstores and book distributors in Singapore promptly dried up.”
The latest move to regulate news websites has sparked a significant backlash. The country’s Media Development Authority now requires sites “that report regularly on issues relating to Singapore and have significant reach” among local readers to apply for licenses that must be renewed annually.
They must also post a bond of S$50,000 and remove any objectionable content within 24 hours of receiving a warning. The MDA defines prohibited content as “material that is objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Singapore laws.”
Two days before the protest on June 8, more than 150 local websites blacked out their content for 24 hours in protest at the new rules. Most replaced their home pages with a black screen saying “Free My Internet.”
“Fortunately the internet means it is now possible to be well informed about Singapore without ever having to go near The Straits Times and other official media, and that is why the new licensing restrictions are such a concern,” says MacGregor Marshall, the former Reuters editor. “The state appears to want to suck all the life out of online coverage of Singapore and make it as dull as the official media… Singapore is a grown-up country now, and this is 2013, and it is about time [the authorities] realize they need to have a genuinely free media.”
* This article first appeared on Asia Sentinel and is reproduced with permission.---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Robert Ho <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 15 July 2013 10:19
Subject: MUST READ: Andrew LOH -- Shoddy journalism by papaganda medias damaging the high standards of Singapore bloggers
“Were they helping to clarify and reject online rumours, or were they helping to spread them or even create them?” Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim asked on 9 July 2013 in Parliament.
He was referring to some online postings during the period when S’pore was covered by the haze. (See here.) He cited several examples of “rumours” being propagated online to justify the government’s introduction of new Internet censorship regulations.
I wrote a piece to rebut the minister. Read it here: “Yaacob Ibrahim’s opportunism and cheap shots“.
Taking pot shots at the online community has been quite the norm, compared to the government’s attitude towards the mainstream media. As far as the mainstream media are concerned, ministers heap praises on them. Former minister for Information and Communications, Lui Tuck Yew, described the mainstream media as “a trusted source” which is “accurate, timely and balanced in its reporting”. (See here.)
But there are enough instances to show that Mr Lui’s praises of the mainstream media are not as deserved as he might think.
In June, the government mouthpiece, Straits Times, and its owner – Singapore Press Holdings – were issued a “stern warning” by the Attorney General for conducting an illegal by-election poll.
On 12 July, the Straits Times again contradicted its own report on Yaacob Ibrahim’s accusations against blogger Ravi Philemon. Questions were raised about the report – see here – but there has been no response from the reporter or the paper.
Also on 12 July, this report appeared in the Straits Times. It was a report of a blog post by the National Development minister, Khaw Boon Wan. (Read his full blog post here.”)
The report’s headlines said: “‘Overwhelming response’ from locals applying to be crane operators”. But all that the report said – and indeed Mr Khaw’s blog post said – was that the “overwhelming response” was actually “enquiries” by “Singaporeans eager to find out more about the job.”
Being eager to find out about a job is not the same as applying for the job, as the headline claimed.
This is what the Straits Times’ report itself said:
“In his blog, Mr Khaw said the Building Construction Authority received “an overwhelming response” of more than 1,200 enquiries from Singaporeans eager to find out more about the job.”
There have been many instances of such shoddy and below-par standards of reporting by our mainstream media in recent times, especially.
The latest incident happened only 2 days ago, when the double-murder of a man and his son took place in Kovan. As the police were investigating the incident, the Straits Times put out this report with this headline:
The report said:
“A “short, fat” man in his 50s could be the person police are looking for in connection with the Kovan double murder.
“Chinese morning daily Lianhe Zaobao said on Friday that the suspect was a man in his 50s. Evening dailies Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News also said the suspect was in his 50s, and added that he was “short” and “fat”.”
The rumour was also carried on other Straits Times portals – such as STOMP:
The report was repeated on another of the Straits Times portals, entertainment site Lollipop. (See here.)
The suspect, Mr Iskandar Rahmat, is 34-years old.
He is neither “short” nor “fat”.
Here is a picture of Iskandar (with head bowed):
What we have here is then this: a rumour was apparently started by the Chinese press – these were Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily, according to what the Straits Times said.
The rumour was then carried and propagated by several Straits Times portal, including its own website, STOMP and Lollipop.
Does this not strike you as awfully similar to what Mr Yaacob Ibrahim charged blogger Ravi Philemon for having done – reposting a “rumour” about the haze? (See here: “Ravi Philemon spreading rumours? Or ministers trying to score political points?“)
Ravi was castigated quite publicly indeed – with the minister mentioning him twice in his attacks on Ravi during a speech the minister was making in Parliament.
Straits Times, 9 July 2013
In the same speech he made, Yaacob Ibrahim said:
“[We] expect high standards in the physical world of news reporting. Why are we not expecting the same standards from those reporting news online?”
If Yaacob Ibrahim means what he says about expecting “high standards in the physical world of news reporting” – which I presume he means the mainstream, professional media – then he perhaps should put his money where his mouth is and speak up as forcefully as he did – when he attacked Ravi and the other “prominent members of the online community” – when the mainstream media falls short as well.
The reach of the mainstream media is much wider and far-reaching than many of the blogs of these so-called “prominent members of the online community”. In any case, Yaacob Ibrahim had already introduced and rammed through new censorship regulations to stifle the reach of these blogs.
Instead, Yaacob Ibrahim should show that he is fair in his treatment of the media – whether new or traditional.
But will he?
Will we see him speak up on how the Chinese papers and the Straits Times had spread the false rumour about the Kovan suspect? Or the many other times when the press here fell way short of the “high standards” Yaacob Ibrahim expects of them?
In Yaacob Ibrahim’s own words:
“Were they helping to clarify and reject online rumours, or were they helping to spread them or even create them?”
We did not even see Yaacob Ibrahim speak up when the Straits Times broke the law and conducted an illegal by-election poll.
Thus, I’m not holding my breath that the minister will speak up when the mainstream media put out false information.
Read this: “Singapore journalist on self-censorship: we can’t be controversial, we have to play the game“.
* Andrew helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore’s most influential media persons in 2011.////////////////////////////////---------- Forwarded message ----------From: Robert HO <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 31 March 2009 16:45
Subject: How Singapore lost its Opposition, through cheating, election rigging, stuffing fake votes, and cheating election rules
How Singapore manage to “lose” its opposition over the years
March 7, 2008 by admin
By Eugene Yeo
In a recent interview with the online newspaper Malaysiakini, Dr Mahathir commented that it would be a “disaster” for Malaysia if it “loses its opposition” as in Singapore.
As a Singaporean who grew up during the Mahathir years, Dr M’s tolerance and embrace of the opposition came as a pleasant surprise given his autocracic tendencies exhibited during 22 years of iron-fisted rule.
He may even come across as being “magnanimous” and “gracious” when compared to the PM of this country who once threatened, in his very own words, to “fix the opposition” if more were to be elected into Parliament.
Indeed, is this the reason why there is no opposition left in Singapore ?
Since Singapore was separated from the Federation in 1965, politics on two sides of the straits had been dominated by a single mammoth entity - Barisan Nasional, a motley coalition led by UMNO in Malaysia and the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore. Ironically, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), one of the main opposition parties in Malaysia was an offshoot of the PAP, being formed by the Malaysian PAP cadres in 1966.
Barisan Socialist’s fatal mistake
A flip through the history books will tell us that Singapore always has an active and vibrant opposition presence since the first legislative elections in 1955 held by the British colonial government in which the PAP, then in the opposition, won three seats.
In 1961, left-wing members of the PAP, led by Lim Chin Siong and Dr Lee Siew Choh left the PAP and form Barisan Socialis taking away 35 out of 51 branches from the parent party.
In February 1963, many members of the Barisan Socialis were arrested by the Internal Security Department (ISD) for “subversive” activities to set up a communist state in Singapore including its charismatic leaders Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan.
Despite that, in the 1963 state elections, Barisan Socialis won 13 out of 51 seats to become the largest opposition in Parliament. [RH: Actually, Barisan Socialis won about 2/3rds of the seats during counting but LIE KY caused a fake power blackout of about 6 hours during which everybody was asked to leave the City Hall counting centre so that he could fake, cheat and rig the votes. When power was 'restored' after 6 hours, the Barisan Socialis landslide WIN became a landslide LOSS, winning only 13 out of 51 seats].
After the elections, in a series of “anti-communist” and “anti-subversive” activities, the ISD would continue to arrest many members of the Barisan Socialis, including its MPs thereby crippling the party. However, the killer blow was not dealt by the PAP but by a disastrous move which led to serious repercussions for the opposition till today.
After Singapore’s independence from Malaysia, Barisan Socialis MPs began to resign one by one in 1966. Though the Barisan Sosialis’ official position was to ‘take the fight to the streets’, in reality, the party believed that Singapore’s future was in serious doubt and felt pointless to continue the political struggle. In the by-elections for these vacant seats, the PAP had a clean sweep. Calls for blank ballots by the Barisan Sosialis went unheeded.
By 1968, there was no opposition member of parliament and it would take another 13 years before the opposition parties could win a seat in parliament. Since then, the party itself has failed to win a single seat in parliament. Later in an election rally in 1980, party chairman Dr Lee Siew Choh apologised to the voters for what they did in 1966 and admitted what they had done was a grave mistake.
PAP consolidates its power
It was to be a mistake that the opposition in Singapore never recovered from. Barisan Socialis’s dramatic capitulation gave PAP 12 uninterrupted years of complete power and hegemony in Parliament in which they used the advantages of their incumbency to consolidate their presence and position in all branches of the government and civil society.
Important institutions of the state which are previously independent, such as the press, civil service and grassroots organizations came to be dominated by the PAP and their continued stranglehold on them has kept the opposition weak and subdued to this day.
Without a free press, the media soon became part of the PAP’s propaganda machinery constantly extolling the virtues and achievements of the government where criticism are almost unheard of. At the same time, laws are strengthened to curb basic freedoms of speech and assembly guranteed for citizens under the Constitution. Political activism especially in the university is severely curtailed with transgressors being jailed or exiled, most notably the prominent student leader Tan Wah Piow.
A subservient press and a subdued civil society serve only to perpetuate the PAP’s unbridled penetration into all aspects of Singapore be it the judiciary, HDB which builds the flats 90% of the population lives in, the NTUC supermarts in which Singaporeans buy their groceries and even kindergartens for the next generation.
The PAP’s presence and pervasiveness is so complete that it will not be exaggerated to compare it to the Communist Party of China. Singapore has been turned into a virtual police state.
In fact, the PAP’s strongman Lee Kuan Yew once said unashamedly to a foreign journalist that he is proud to admit that the PAP is the government of Singapore and verse versa.
More importantly, the PAP’s absolute control of Parliament, state resources and even the Election Commission under the PM’s Office enables them to change the rules at will to serve their own narrow political interests.
HDB flats in opposition wards such as Potong Pasir were not upgraded even though its residents pay taxes like the rest of Singapore.
Gerrymandering is rampant with single constituencies singled out as the bastions of the opposition being partitioned and amalgamated into bigger GRCs which have ballooned over the years further tip the playing field to the favor of the PAP.
The opposition is often ridiculed and demonized by the media as foreigner saboteurs, enemies of the state or some lunatics fresh out of IMH. Not surprisingly, the ranks of the opposition continue to be decimated throughout the years.
Nipping the nascent opposition in the bud
Though the opposition is severely weakend, Singaporeans continue to yearn for an opposition in Parliament to check on the PAP whose paternalistic style of governing involves forcing unpopular policies down the throats of citizens has caused increasing voices of dissent to emerge from Singaporeans
In 1981, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party won the Anson seat in a by-election with 51.9% to 47.1% of the vote to become Singapore’s first opposition MP since 1968. He was again re-elected to the same seat in 1984 as one of only two opposition politicians to win in that election.
Later, however, Jeyaretnam was brought down by a series of politically-motivated charges and fines in a successful effort to disbar him and prevent him from taking part in future elections. Two months after his 1984 re-election, he was charged for allegedly mis-stating his party accounts.
In 1986, a district court found him innocent of all charges but one; the prosecution appealed and the Chief Justice ordered a retrial in a district court. At the retrial, Jeyaretnam was declared guilty on all charges. The judge sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment (later commuted to one month), and fined him SGD5,000, sufficient to disqualify him from standing for election for a period of five years. He was also disbarred.
In the 1988 election, Jeyaretnam was barred from contesting due to his 5-year disqualification. However, he did attend election rallies to help out his fellow party members. At an election rally, he challenged the PAP’s claim to being an open and transparent government, and asked whether any investigation had been conducted as to how the Minister for National Development, Teh Cheang Wan, had obtained the tablets with which he had committed suicide, in the midst of being investigated for corruption.
After the elections, Lee commenced proceedings against Jeyaretnam, alleging that the latter had slandered him as his words at the election rally were understood to mean that Lee had committed a criminal offence by aiding and abetting Teh to commit suicide, and thereby, had covered up on corruption. The action was heard by Justice Lai Kew Chai who found a case against Jeyaretnam and ordered him to pay Lee, damages of SGD 260,000, together with interest on the amount and costs.
Jeyaretnam was subsequently being sued successfully for defamation in separate lawsuits in 1995 and 1997 resulting in over $S500,000 in damages. He was only discharged from bankruptcy and recalled to the Bar last year.
The plight of Jeyaretnam as well as other prominent opposition leaders who have been embroiled defamation suits such as Tang Liang Hong, Francis Seow, Gopalan Nair and Chee Soon Juan have caused Singaporeans to shun politics altogether particularly the young, capable and professional intellectuals who have much to lose.
Politics in Singapore has acquired such a sordid reputation that even the PAP has problems recruiting new candidates to stand for elections, let alone the opposition which has long been discredited and dismissed as a bunch of crankpots by the PAP and the state media.
The Wayang of today - PAP’s approved “opposition”:
In 2001, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, long seen as one of the few brave leaders in the opposition who dare to challenge the PAP, resigned abruptly from the Workers’ Party, citing lack of party’s support for his fight against bankruptcy.
Mr Low Thia Kiang who became the WP’s Secretary General swiftly pledged to chart WP from the “confrontational politics” promulgated by his predecessor and to serve as a “constructive opposition” in Parliament. He was later accused by Jeyaretnam for helping the PAP to oust him.
Low’s open deference to the PAP has made him an instant blue-eye boy of the regime and the media. MM Lee praised him in public as being “credible” and “acceptable”. The media began to run favorable reports on WP and its new generation of leaders. This ringing endorsement by the establishment net WP the biggest number of votes during the last General Election in 2006 with 2 MPs in Parliament.
Though decried often by detractors as being intolerant and insensitive, the PAP leadership does retain a certain degree of political acumen to realize that Singaporeans are getting tired and fed up with the ruthless and uncompromising approach it adopts towards its adversaries and the fact that there will always be support for the opposition.
Since you can’t beat them completely, might as well co-opt the acceptable ones into your fold!
During the GE 2006, MM Lee gave his definition of what a “First World opposition” should be - in short, an “opposition” that is compliant, cooperative and does not confront the PAP so that its MPs can continue to breeze their bills through in Parliament without any problems.
His words were directed at Low who by then was gaining a reputation as a “credible” opposition MP. Parliamentary sessions became more like a meeting with few questions asked or issues debated. Even PAP backbenchers and NMPs are more vocal than Low.
In a lame attempt to live up to the PAP’s “expectations” of him, Low went further by restricting his “opposition” to only making a few token speeches in Parliament and praising the PAP for its governance and laws in public. He even renounced the tag of “opposition”, preferring to call WP an “alternative party” providing an “alternative” to the PAP.
In Malaysia, it is possible to get two ideologically polarized parties like DAP and PAS to collaborate in the civil campaign “Bersih” to call for free and fair elections. Not so in Singapore where WP leaders and members shun SDP like a plague and are eager to be seen aligned to the PAP by inviting its leaders to WP’s 50th anniversary dinner last year.
In one interview with the Straits Times last year, Low infuriated opposition supporters by defining the role of the opposition as a ”watchdog” and not a “mad dog” alluding to SDP’s Chief Chee who has been the most voracious critic of the PAP.
With WP betraying the opposition’s cause to become a pseudo-subsidiary of the PAP, the opposition in Singapore is not only “lost”, it has also been rendered completely impotent and irrelevant.
The PAP’s “taming” of the opposition and its tacit approval of WP has severely curtailed the boundaries in which future opposition parties can operate.
In other democracies, the opposition is expected to check on the ruling party by voicing its concerns and criticism freely without any fear or worries to the extent of being confrontational. Across the causeway, no opposition party will survive if its leaders prostitute themselves to Barisan Nasional with boot-licking antics of the WP.
In Singapore, thanks to the new WP under Low Thia Kiang, the role of the opposition has now been denigrated to that of a “docile”, “compliant” and “non-confrontational” “alternative” voice in Parliament.////////////////////////////////
The politics of judicial institutions in Singapore
BY Francis T. Seow, former solicitor general of Singapore.
This is the text of a lecture given in Sydney, Australia in early 1997.
IN the past decade Singapore, along with the other newly industrialising countries of Asia, has been touted as an alternative model of economic development. Its high standard of living, measured in economic terms, and freedom from foreign debt, among other aspects, has been envied by less fortunate nations. More recently, features of Singapore society have been cited with approval by overseas commentators -- its law and order regime, compulsory savings, maintenance of parents legislation to compel children to look after their aged parents, to name a few. While these may be desirable, the manner of their implementation depends on certain anti-democratic and authoritarian structures and institutions. Today, I intend to look at one of these - the judicial institutions.
I was astounded when my attention was first drawn to an October 1993 Straits Times banner-headlines, Singapore's legal system rated best in world: Full confidence that justice will be fast and fair. It was, the newspaper crowed, "the most authoritative report on competitiveness of selected developed and developing economies."
The survey was purportedly carried out worldwide among 18,000 business executives, who had expressed "full confidence in the ability of Singapore's judicial system to mete out justice in society." Out of 37 named countries, Singapore scored top place, Australia shared seventh place with Ireland, Malaysia fifteenth place, while the United States scored seventeenth place, and the United Kingdom, a sad and distant nineteenth place. The authority for this conclusion was the 1993 World Competitiveness Report, published by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. This was the first time Singapore had scored top marks. Hence, the delirious headlines. As it seemed probable the World Economic Forum (WEF) knew something, which I did not, I wrote to it.
I inquired the criteria used, and of the 18,000 persons purportedly surveyed, how many have had personal experience with Singapore's judicial system? And, if so, in what capacity and over what matter? Were they represented by any local and/or foreign lawyers? Whether the survey included any English QCs, especially those who had appeared before the Singapore courts?... Any American lawyers or academics who had observed legal proceedings in Singapore? And whether the survey included newspapermen.
WEF explained that "... three criteria ... [had] been used to assess the ranking of the countries for ‘Justice and Security.’"
The three criteria were:
(1) serious crime: number of murders, violent crimes or armed robberies reported per 100,000 inhabitants;
(2) security, and
Of the three criteria, the third is germane to our discussion. I found its methodology flawed. Respondents were simply asked a bald question whether they had or had not full confidence in the fair administration of justice in Singapore -- Answer: Yes or No. No Singapore lawyers or litigants were apparently surveyed. How could these international business executives, ensconced in their air-conditioned executive suites, with little or no personal experience of Singapore's legal system, possibly give valued conclusions on the administration of justice in Singapore?
NOW to draw aside the curtain, to show you the true picture. Some history is needed to show how the legal system was systematically undermined by the prime minister after the People’s Action Party (PAP), came into power in June 1959. The senior crown counsel, Ahmad Ibrahim, was promoted over the solicitor general, A.V. Winslow, to the top office of attorney general. Ahmad Ibrahim was a Muslim, and his presence was useful to the prime minister, whose political objectives included merger with Malaya. A.V. Winslow, on the other hand, was a Ceylon Tamil, the first Singaporean in the colonial legal service to reach its topmost rung. The prime minister, however, saw him as too closely tied to the old colonial administration, and therefore politically unreliable. Several years later, Winslow was elevated to the high court bench but, significantly, was never assigned to try sensitive cases.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Ibrahim -- who had become a political liability but whose tenure of office was protected under the constitution -- was sent overseas as ambassador to the United Arab Republic. This lateral promotion is reminiscent of the practice of Chinese emperors getting rid of awkward officials by sending them out to govern the far-flung provinces.
Another significant move was the designation of Justice Wee Chong Jin -- a relatively recent recruit from the bar -- as chief justice over the more experienced acting incumbent. Like Winslow, he was also identified with the old order. Wee's political acuity and industry had recommended themselves to the prime minister, who once again ignored the claims of seniority and experience to further his political agenda.
THE sudden transfer in 1986 of senior district judge, Michael Khoo -- one of the ablest judges to grace the subordinate court bench -- to the attorney general's chambers following his acquittal of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, an opposition MP, and, more significantly, the prime minister's political bêtre noire, (Among the many colourful epithets were: "hustler", "skunk", "mangy dog", "charlatan", and "political riff-raff". Hansard, Parliamentary debates, March 19, 1986, cols. 688-689, 720.) on all politically-inspired charges, save one, of financial impropriety, engendered much controversy. From being the respected head of the subordinate judiciary, Khoo overnight became a mere digit within the attorney general's chambers.
The prosecution appealed the acquittal. The chief justice allowed the appeal with the unusual instruction for it to be retried before another district judge. Jeyaretnam's application for the retrial to be heard before a high court judge to enable him to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council -- Singapore’s ultimate court of appeal in London -- was refused. At the re-trial, he was predictably found guilty, and convicted. His appeal against the conviction and sentence was heard by Justice Lai Kew Chai, who dismissed his appeal, and varied the sentence to month’s imprisonment, plus a fine, which was high enough to disqualify him from sitting in parliament.
Meanwhile, Jeyaretnam alleged in parliament that Khoo's transfer had caused "public disquiet," implying that it had been motivated by political considerations, which he expanded to include both the chief justice and the attorney general, as being "beholden" to the prime minister for having extended their respective appointments beyond their legal retirement age. In a rancorous parliamentary debate, it emerged that Khoo's transfer was not a "routine departmental transfer," as claimed by the prime minister. In the result, Jeyaretnam was expelled from parliament, and disbarred from law practice.
Jeyaretnam appealed the disbarment to the privy council, which, in allowing the appeal, roundly castigated the chief justice and the Singapore courts for their legal reasoning. It was a telling indictment of Singapore’s courts. The privy council held that two innocent persons had suffered a grievous injustice -- fined, imprisoned and publicly disgraced for offences of which they were not guilty.
This was the same privy council, which the prime minister had earlier praised as the acme of Singapore's judicial independence, when he cautioned future PAP governments against interfering with its status in the judicial infrastructure:
"I can only express the hope that faith in the judicial system will never be diminished, and I am sure it will not, so long as we allow a review of the judicial processes that takes place here in some other tribunal where obviously undue influence cannot be brought to bear. As long as governments are wise enough to leave alone the rights of appeal to some superior body outside Singapore, then there must be a higher degree of confidence in the integrity of our judicial process. This is most important. (Author's underlining)" Lee Kuan Yew in parliament, March 15, 1967.
This sentiment was also echoed by the minister for law, S. Jayakumar, who -- in a blunt reference to Jeyaretnam's series of legal failures, dismissed his remarks as the "jaundiced view of a person who has not had satisfaction in the courts as he would have liked" -- asked: "How many countries are there in the world that he can refer to where there are appeals to the privy council in criminal and civil cases ... other than Singapore? That is the litmus test of our judicial system's independence."
The judgment of the privy council reflected severely on the integrity of the Singapore judiciary -- and was seen by many as solemn confirmation of their own unspoken misgivings about its independence. Any other government -- to use an Americanism -- would have rolled with the punch but this was a government whose sensitivity to criticism was proverbial. As long as the privy council handed down judgments supportive of the prime minister and his government, its status at the apex of Singapore’s judicial infrastructure was inviolable. With that crucial decision, the privy council sealed its own doom. The minister for law, ignoring his previous rhetoric, moved in parliament for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council decrying it as being "interventionist" and "out of touch" with local conditions -- a decrial questionable both in law and in taste.
Asked about the abolition of the privy council, Goh Chok Tong -- who had succeeded to the premiership in 1990 -- responded that, in allowing Jeyaretnam's appeal against his disbarment, the privy council had "gone outside its prescribed role" and was "playing politics." It was a disgraceful statement, as well as wilful contempt of Singapore's own superior court, but as Juvenal -- the Roman satirist -- once said: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards
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