LETTER SENT TO PERMANENT SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & THE ARTS, SINGAPORE, AND FEEDBACK UNIT, MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, YOUTH & SPORTS, SINGAPORE
I read your team's letter providing various guiding points on what your team might consider "partisan" columns or commentary in newspapers:
- articles that "offer no alternatives or solutions"
- articles hidden behind pseudonyms
- articles that dress up "polemics" as "analysis"
- articles that "distort the truth"
- articles of a "partisan player in politics", who "presents himself as a non-political observer"
I have included your team's letter at the end of my letter below for your convenience.
Your team did not indicate if all these points are needed before a piece is considered partisan or if at least one point is necessary. In this letter, I have applied the latter, which is the easier test to implicate one.
If this is the case, with all due respect to your team, I find your team's criteria partisan and subjective.
WHY PARTISAN & SUBJECTIVE
Firstly, please help me to appreciate the methodology used by your team to decide these criteria since your team's letter did not indicate the objective basis of such criteria.
Your criteria appears expand the natural meaning one tends to associate with the word "partisan". Vernacularly, it is arguable if the word "partisan" and "column" can co-exist since the phrase could well be redundant.
Secondly, I would like to point out the great injustice this criteria would do if it were to apply carte blanche to our newspapers.
Immediately, we will not see excerpts of speeches by our national leaders running in our newspapers.
It also does a disservice to the heritage of independent Singapore since one of our founding fathers - Mr S Rajaratnam - wrote some of his more robust published commentaries under the shadow of a pseudonym.
Your rather sharp rebuke of the commentator also goes against the respect for plurality of views, which the current government has championed on many an occasion.
It also seems to go against the spirit of diversity that readers today seek from the press in Singapore.
SOLUTION & ALTERNATIVE
For these reasons and in the interest of "constructive criticism", it is also my view that these criteria need to be reviewed and subject to a consultation. Sadly, the irony here could be that mine may well be a view which your onerous criteria above perhaps class as partisan.
Nevertheless, your team owes the public a duty to show that these criteria is in synch with the current accepted standards of commentaries that our society seeks from its media.
Furthermore, since your team has welcomed alternatives, I would like to propose one.
Please allow our newspapers to carry a section called "PARTISAN", with an appropriate disclaimer. This section could then feature views that an independent committee of readers - perhaps approved by your team initially - might consider partisan. After all, it is your team that has recognised that one "is entitled to his views" and I encourage your team to translate this entitlement into a measurable outcome.
In the long run, this can be a useful outlet for featuring articles caught by your onerous and subjective criteria of partisan articles. I hope your team will consider my ideas.
Letter from K Bhavani, Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, published in Today (Singapore) on 3 July 2006.
Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.
The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.
There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.
mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.
These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.
Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.
As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.
mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.
mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.
It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.