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.


Anonymous said...

i am afraid, prostitutes have more dignity. at least, they are true to themselves and is an erm...honest living.

Pandemonium said...

And what do you mean by dignity? Do forced prostitutes have dignity?