14 July 2007

The Government's Forced Prostitute

(This post evolved out of my comments on a post entitled Silence is not always golden on theonlinecitizen. The post criticises the lack of scrutiny by Singapore's mainstream media on the government.)

In recent weeks, a chain of non-replies from the government concerning many issues, the termination of Alfian Saat as a relief teacher for example, has infruriated many bloggers. Even moderate bloggers like Bernard Leong advocated for more openness in the government's reply and letters to the media. And as inevitable as the Second Law, the mainstream media gets a beating for not scrutinising the government over these matters and not pursuing the non-replies.

With regards to the non-replies and silences of various government departments regarding numerous affairs, I believe it is something on which the government has to seriously change its attitude. Such attitudes, more than just make people lose faith in the government and the civil service, can propel others to believe in alternative (and not necessarily true) explanations. This may be dangerous as it propagates falsehoods on the government and undermine the trust between the civil service and the people. And with no official explanations, they can hardly be blamed.

However, I do not agree with criticising the media for not playing the role of the watchdog like in so many democratic countries. I do not deny - in fact, I strongly support - the concept of the media being the watchdog of the government. Being a proper, massive organisation with professional journalists to probe and analyse various aspects on and reports of the government and its actions, hardly any other is better at fulfilling this role. However, at this point I'd like to emphasize the need, if thus is the case, for more media organisations to emerge. Left to its own, a media organisation will inevitably adopt a particular stand or point of view, so a greater number means a greater variety, leading to a more balanced airing of different perspective on a single issue. It is as pointless as the current situation if the media turns from the government's lap dog to a mad dog which bites at everything the government has.

However, I can hardly fault the media for taking up the role it took. The rules and regulations governing the media - the Newspaper and Printing Act - effectively gives the government the control of information. The media, in my opinion, can only take a small portion of the blame, if at all. After all, which media would like to see its readership fall? Which journalist would like to work under a heavily scrutinised and censored environment? Blaming the media is like shooting the hapless messenger. Of course, there are always those who are truly sincere in their flattering of the government, but we must caution ourselves against a hasty generalisation just as much as believing everything the media prints.

Of course, one could argue that the journalists ought to sacrifice themselves for their journalistic pride and freedom of expression. Yet, if these employees of the media can be kicked aside and replaced so easily, can we blame them for being concerned with their jobs and income? After all, if they are unwilling to write favourable or refrain from criticising the government, someone else would be willing to do the job, and the situation on the whole remains the same. Or, can we blame them for bowing down now, so that they can stay longer to push the boundaries of these regulations as far as they could go? Let's not forget that, these people are in the public, their faces known, unlikes the criticising mass of the netizens who are largely anonymous, and whose job is not directly affected by what he or she writes.

Instead of shifting the blame onto the media, I would instead focus my criticisms on these regulations that bind the muzzle of the watchdog. The media is not, as David Marshall once famously said, "poor prostitutes" of the government. If anything, the media is a forced prostitute of the government.

12 July 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the first movie I've watched in a cinema outside Singapore. A little on this: I went to the Dendy Cinemas at Canberra Centre on 110707, the first release date globally (and a day before Singapore). Yao rightly commented that this was probably the only moment you can see kiasuism in Australians; the queue outside the cinema was pretty intimidating when we arrived half an hour before screening time. This, however, can be understood as the cinema was free seating.

Back to the film, Phoenix is done quite well as a whole. In my opinion, it scores better than The Prisoner of Azkaban, which was too quirky and cliche to my taste, and The Goblet of Fire, which saw a very rushed pace and off-character acting. In terms of storyline, Phoenix did very well in building up the profile for Umbridge. It started off slick and smooth, and progressed at an excellent pace. But once it neared the end, things started getting too fast. I have read the book so I could at least follow what was going on, but Yao, who never, was quite lost at the end. It appears to me as if the director took his own time to develop the character of Umbridge and stew the plot into the appropriate mood, and then suddenly realised he was running out of time and flipped through the last few chapters. And suffering from the same flaw of GoF, the supposedly emotional and touching part was quite blundered. It just didn't fit into the flow, like a jarring rock breaking the surface of a smooth river. And there wasn't even the "mourning" part; it was as if Harry took a bowl of Forgetfulness Potion.

One of the major challenges that I thought would trip the filmmakers was building up Umbridge, but they amazed me: Dolores Umbridge was successfully ported to screen. Of course, there were some minor differences between the Umbridge from the book and the film, but the essence of her character was very well captured. Imelda Staunton, who plays Umbridge, brilliantly nailed the character's wickedness and provocativeness, sizzling with nastiness that would make one feel like stamping a boot into her face. Another excellent portrayal is Alan Rickman's of Severus Snape. Although he has quite limited screen time, he really did shine with what he was given. Undoubtedly, fans of Rickman and supporters of Snape will be thrilled. Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Bellatrix Lestrange was pretty good as well, but she could've gotten a larger slice of screen time. In fact, considering that the film is slightly more than two hours, the directors could've loosen up the pace of the ending which would, at the same time, give her more time on screen. Finally, whether it was because of irate fans or not, Michael Gambon's Albus Dumbledore was closer to the books now, and I think he did fine with that character.

For someone who has read the book, the story was adapted quite well; for someone who hasn't, he or she may be a bit lost at the end, but the movie is otherwise excellent. In fact, I would even say it is the best Potter movie so far.