50 Years of Singapore Television – An Exhibition

Celebrating Singapore Television 50 Years of Success through a series of exhibitions

Political Coverages

UNDERSTANDING SINGAPORE’S POLITICAL APPROACH

It is a well-known fact that Singapore’s political structure is not very egalitarian though it claims to be so, and it’s ‘hypocrisy’ has been subject to a brutal amount of worldwide criticism and judgement. This lack of freedom of speech points directly to Singapore’s undisputed ranking over the years by the Press Freedom index that is published yearly  by ‘Reporters without Boarders’. Singapore ranked 149 out of 179 countries in 2013. Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 1.31.26 AM

This censorship of the press  is most evident in it’s political coverage over the years but has seen some development of late. The presentation of political information and the approach in which it is brought across to the nation through television has also seen some changes.  Is this change in the dissemination society driven or does this change in dissemination approach drive societal changes? These are the 3 areas that will be discussed further in this section.

1. Censorship of political media 

2. PAP vs other parties

3. Society driven or drives society

Censorship of Political Media 

As we all know, Singapore since the time of the first legislative assembly in 1959, the People’s Action Party has won more than the majority of the seats up until the 2011 general elections.  PAP has won every single seat in the Parliament till 1981 and in 1984 the first seat was won by an opposition party by J.B  Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party.  However, Mr Jeyaretnam did not stay in politics for long as he was briefly imprisoned, sued by members of the Parliament and then declared a bankrupt in years to come since his election. His bankruptcies disqualified him for several periods from parliament and no shops would stock his books: he was forced to sell them on street corners. The video below is a snippet from a documentary by the Discovery Channel many years later.  There was a obvious lack of media coverage on this incident up until this documentary was released in 2011. His battle with Lee Kuan Yew had been ongoing for decades and he suffered a great deal of injustice and he estimated he had paid out more than 1.6m Singapore dollars in damages and costs which prevented him in re-entering the political scene of Singapore. His plight was never covered by Singapore media company-Media Corp and still hasn’t. However, they have aired this documentary in Singapore in 2011 on the Discovery channel which proves for some sort of fairness of media coverage-though still minimal.

Remembering Mr J. B Jeyaretnam

Mr Jeyaretnam is not the first person to face such an uphill battle against the Parliament of Singapore. In fact many other politicians have faced countless lawsuits with minimal basis for conviction yet the long drawn out processes leech of their funds and suck the well dry till they too have to declare bankruptcy. It is common knowledge that once declared a bankrupt, you are not able run for elections in Singapore.  Here are just some of the the defamation suits in Singapore to name a few.

1987

Lee Kuan Yew sues Far Eastern Economic Review for defamation. Damages unknown.

1988

J.B. Jeyaretnam sued for slander for allegedly implying that Lee Kuan Yew had abetted Teh Cheang Wan’s suicide and helped to cover up Teh’s corruption. Jeyaretnam was found guilty and was ordered him to pay damages of S$260,000 plus costs to Lee.

1994

International Herald Tribune and journalist Philip Bowring were sued for defamation by Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong for an article that referred to ‘dynastic politics’ in East Asian countries including Singapore. In that settlement, Bowring agreed not to say or imply that the younger Lee had attained his position through nepotism by his father Lee Kuan Yew. $950,000 in damages were awarded.

1995

J.B. Jeyaretnam was sued twice for libel by Indian PAP leaders for an article in the Workers’ Party newspaper, which alleged that a number of those involved in an event called the Tamil Language Week were government “stooges”. Total damages of S$465,000 and S$250,000 in court costs were awarded.

1997

Tang Liang Hong sued for defamation by Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, Lee Hsien Loong and Tony Tan and several other PAP MPs for making statements which falsely questioned their integrity, during the 1997 general elections. A total of 13 judgments were entered against Tang for defamation. Damages were assessed by a judge of the High Court at a total of $8,075,000. Tang fled the country and has not returned to Singapore since 1997 and continues to live in Australia.

11 defamation suits were also filed by Goh Chok Tong against J.B. Jeyaretnam for announcing that Tang Liang Hong had made two reports to the police against Goh. PM Goh alleged that his “reputation, moral authority and leadership standing have been gravely injured both local and internationally.” Damages of $20,000 were initially awarded. Goh appealed against the ruling and the damages were raised to a total of $120,000 including court costs.

2001

After the 2001 general election, Chee Soon Juan was sued for defamation by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for remarks he had made during the campaign about an alleged loan to Indonesian President Suharto. Chee lost the lawsuits and was ordered to pay damages of S$300,000 to Goh and S$200,000 to Lee.

J.B. Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt for an overdue installment on the damages that he owed to PAP ministers.

2002

The makers of a 15-minute documentary submitted written apologies and withdrew it from being screened at the Singapore International Film Festival after they were told that they could be charged in court for violating the Films Act which banned political films. The film was entitled A Vision of Persistence and was a documentary based on Mr Jeyaretnam.

Pay special attention to the events in 2002. 

Another interesting case surrounds Mr Francis Seow. He ran for the Parliament of Singapore  as part of the Workers’ Party team that contested the Eunos Group Representation Constituency in the 1988 General Election However, his team managed to secure 49.11% of valid votes, losing marginally to the PAP stronghold. He is now in exile from Singapore from lawsuits by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. His interview recounting the events that led to his exile is in the video below. There was again no coverage of by the Singapore media at that time of his struggle.

An interview by singaporerebel

PAP vs other parties 

The People’s Action Party dominate the Parliament of Singapore for over 50 years.

The campaigning time for elections in Singapore is very short so that the media coverage of opposition parties are kept at a minimum. The legal minimum campaign time, from when the election is announced to polling day, is nine days that is minimum campaigning time is generally used in Singaporean elections.

Walkover rates for parliamentary elections are extremely high when compared to international norms. Since 1991, walkover rates have hovered around 50% for each election. This means that around 50% of the seats of each election are uncontested and the PAP wins them by default without constituents having to cast a single vote. Even before the votes are counted, the PAP has more or less won the election due to extremely high walkover rates.

The development of news coverage of the opposition party has both progress and stagnated at the same time. How is that so? The ways in which PAP deals with the opposition is more fair in terms of media coverage in the daily news. Following Singapore’s independence there was little to no media coverage on opposition rally speeches  unless one were to attend the rally itself. Minister at that time, Lee Kuan Yew on the other hand dominated the media with constant replays of his rally speeches-and rightly so as he was the man in charge. There is no blatant slander of the opposition parties though there have been harsh criticism from PAP members towards opposition parties broadcasted by the news up until now for fair reporting. Also, successes of opposition parties is also covered in the daily news broadcast.

However, there are still major disadvantages for the opposition parties as they are still given very little air time to promote their message but that is also for PAP to control the external threat to their position of authority. For example in this political forum, 50% of the time is given to PAP and the other 50% is given to all the opposition members which is severely unbalanced. However, it is a fact that PAP holds more standing in the eyes of the public and they do make up the vast majority of the Parliament which must also be considered.

Society Driven vs Drives society

You may consider this slant one sided and biased but this account of facts is not to dissuade one’s sense of solidarity to PAP and its Ministers. It is merely an account of the manner in which PAP has managed the media coverage and used it in their favour. This however does not mean to say their governing of this fine nation should be put into question. What should be discussed is the power of media and it’s influence on it’s society. Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew governed the Nation in it’s infantry years with an iron fist with positive reinforcement. However, with votes that are slipping in recent times is the iron grasp of PAP slipping? Is this due to a whole new pool of alternative media sources such as Youtube and Twitter? We must question what drove this change. Was the change in the attitude towards PAP due to the influx of opposition supporting media despite the control of mainstream media by the government? Or was this a change driven by society itself, demanding more freedom of speech as they have learnt from the highly publicised countries like America? Then does the control of media images truly influence an educated and discerning view like the people of Singapore today like it did decades before?

References

http://www.academia.edu/405459/Social_Media_and_Opposition_Parties_Networking_for_Singapores_General_Elections

http://utwt.blogspot.sg/2012/02/history-of-defamation-suits-and-other.html

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5giJsO4GueyzUqx9uvcrMc3QcIUGA

http://therealsingapore.com/content/opinion-polls-and-secrecy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Singapore

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