There’s a producer at Mediacorp whom I bump into every now and then, and every opportunity I get, I ask him when Mediacorp is going to remake itself into a normal media company. He knows what I mean: he knows I am referring to the extreme bias the broadcaster displays whenever it comes to local political reporting. In answer, I get protests that Mediacorp is not biased and that it plays fair. I don’t believe him and he knows I don’t believe him. And the matter is usually left there until the next time we meet when I needle him again.
The challenge I usually throw at him to prove me wrong is this: When are you guys going to invite opposition party representatives to talkshows on a regular basis to discuss issues of public concern? TV stations in other countries do this routinely, why not Singapore?
There are three important qualifiers: Opposition party representatives. Regular basis. Discuss.
I know that the producer is going to cite last Sunday’s Talking Point as proof that Mediacorp is a normal broadcaster. I will tell him I am far from convinced.
1. Not all parties were invited. The Singapore Democratic Party was not. Nor was the Singapore Democratic Alliance represented, though whether the latter were invited or not I do not know. By contrast, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had two representatives. Why should that be?
(But before you blame Mediacorp, consider the possibility that it might have been the PAP that demanded two representatives and the exclusion of the Singapore Democratic Party and its leader Chee Soon Juan as a condition for participation.)
2. A one-off talkshow does not constitute “regular basis”.
3. A 30-minute program (less, if one netts off commercial breaks) does not constitute “discuss” in any meaningful way.
I’m not going to be commenting much about what was said in the program. You can watch it yourself and form your own opinion:
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The pity is that it was aired on Channel NewsAsia. How many people watch Channel NewsAsia? It has acquired such a bad rep over the last two decades, hardly anyone I know watch it regularly anymore. Nonetheless this would have been an opportunity missed, because most Singaporeans don’t get any chance at all of hearing opposition leaders speak, and this was a rare moment.
Don’t get me wrong: These leaders have not been shy about speaking. But our mainstream media so thoroughly denies them regular exposure, most Singaporeans only know of opposition leaders (if they can even name them, which is highly doubtful in my opinion) through the filter of warnings not to be associated with such “dangerous” characters. Most Singaporeans don’t know them; they only know of them. Like how we don’t know what it feels like to have our hands burnt in a fire, we only know of it and we have been told enough not to try.
For the apathetic Singaporean, watching Goh Meng Seng (National Solidarity Party), Kenneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party) and Eric Tan ( Workers’ Party) speak in that program would have been an eye-opener. They are not rabid, they are not demonic, they do not shrilly demand the destruction of our middle-class life. They do not fit the caricature that our government’s propaganda machine draws of the opposition. They come across as moderate, reasonable and earnest men. And so would Chee Soon Juan and Vincent Wijeyasinghe of the Singapore Democratic Party and Chiam See Tong and Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance had they been on the show. I can tell you that because I have met them, I have spoken with them, and they are not a lot different in terms of demeanour and intelligence from the three who appeared.
This is not to say that Indranee Rajah and Michael Palmer representing the PAP on the show are not intelligent or well-versed in the necessary facts. They are. And you can see they are personable and they can think on their feet too. My point however, is that Goh Meng Seng, Jeyaretnam and Eric Tan are not that different; you’d be hard put to say they are not in the same class in terms of intellect, command of facts and dedication to duty.
Yet many Singaporeans are afraid to put these opposition representatives into parliament. They buy into the propaganda that only the PAP has “quality” candidates, propaganda that can only be sustained if the media blackout is kept up. Because once you see them up close and hear them talk you will know you’ve been lied to all these years. Interestingly though, now that Channel NewsAsia has hardly any viewers left, they can relax a bit and let three of them (but not Chee Soon Juan) appear on the telly, secure in the knowledge that nobody would notice and thus have their minds changed.
Will our parliament be poorer if we had fewer PAP members in there and more opposition members like the three we have just seen? I don’t think so. Will Singapore be threatened with decline and economic crisis if these three men and more were voted into parliament and given a chance to continue the debate there? I don’t think so. Quite the reverse. I think we will all be richer for it.