Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Law Minister says criticisms of Singapore are "Divorced from reality"

Singapore repressive? Nahhh, not possible, says Law Minister K Shanmugam.

Some points from a friend:
  1. Shanmugan totally missed the point on RWB ranking on by conflating press freedom with a country's internal stability.
  2. Tthe rankings are based on inputs by human rights activists/ press correspondents/ media
  3. Accusing the government sector (including the elites/ bureaucrats) of inappropriate behaviour/ corruption is part and parcel of any democratic state (provided there is 'sufficient' evidence or doubt). That's what whistleblowing is about. Defamation suits threaten and destroy the intent of free speech.
  4. I would ask Shanmugan to provide us with an example of a 'sharp' criticism from the local press on governmental policy in recent years. Just ONE.

'Divorced from reality'
27 October 2009
Source: Today Online - It is a modern, prosperous city-state based on the rule of law - but if you only read about Singapore in certain American publications, you would think it a repressive state that controlled people's very thoughts.

"As if that is possible in a modern, successful, wired and internationally connected city," added Law Minister K Shanmugam.

Tackling such "misperceptions among some Americans" as he addressed members of the New York State Bar Association's international section in town for a meeting, he alluded to how criticism of Singapore in relation to press freedom sometimes reached levels "quite absurd and divorced from reality".

Take the World Press Freedom index by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based non-government organisation, which last year ranked Singapore 144 out of 173 countries - below even Guinea, whose military junta of late was reported to have gunned down people and had women raped on the streets.

"This year, we behaved better - so we moved up to rank 133. Below Kenya, which saw riots following a disputed election," he quipped.

And then there is the Freedom House 2009 rankings which put Singapore on par with Iraq. Would a truly objective assessment give the Republic such a ranking?

"Our approach has therefore been to ignore the criticisms which make no sense - and we will continue to do better," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs.

One source of some media's dislike of Singapore: The famous tussles the Government has had with publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. The Government's stand, he reiterated, is: Criticise us, sure, but we demand the right of response. And if the line is crossed to making "allegations of fact against someone ... then there will be a libel suit".

It is not something the press are used to, so "every lawsuit is met with the same reaction - we are out to silence the press". But having read some of the articles at the centre of suits, he feels "it would have been perfectly possible to have been deeply critical of government policies ... without the addition of totally unnecessary remarks on some form of corruption".

In the political arena, too: "We have no problems with tough debate, criticism of policies. But ... if untrue statements are made that a person is corrupt or that he lied, or that he tried to help my family or friends, there will be a suit."

He added: "If it is said that someone is stupid or that policies make no sense and the policies are attacked vigorously, then you can't sue. There is public prerogative, to comment on policies ... It will be sensible to defend the policies and ignore the attacks on intellect."

Mr Shanmugam cited how Singapore scored 100 for Government effectiveness on the World Bank Governance Index, and ranked as the third least corrupt country in the world. He also expanded on the economic and strategic linkages between the US and Singapore - noting, also, that 10 of the 21 Singapore ministers have had some education in top US schools.

"This education, in our formative years, has made many of us admirers of many aspects of American society," he said.


Han said...


online casino said...

Do you think there is any internal motive behind saying this?

Seelan Palay said...

No I don't think so, most probably it's just the minister being 'divorced from reality'.

Anonymous said...

Dear Seelan,

Cherian George's piece makes sense.

Singapore doesn't have a free press by any stretch of the imagination. To say otherwise is absurd. But to rank the Singaporean press in the 133rd position is just as absurd.


Anonymous said...

hahahaha give the man a tiger, at least he pulled it off with a straight face!

BryanT said...

In the SDP website, you urged me to "continue typing long and insensible replies."

I didn't give a reply there because the moderator is likely to censor it.

Anyway, I think you are the type who peruse the Temasek Review. But just in case you missed them, I have some pretty long remarks under this TR post.

For your reading pleasure. BTW, there is no censorship there.

Seelan Palay said...

Thank you if you're perhaps admitting that you do make long and insensible replies.

It's funny to see how you "protest" about your "freedoms" when you don't get to say whatever you please.

BryanT said...

Seelan, I doth protest, of course, but not in the same vigour as the way SDP members fight for their freedom to express their party views.

But I have given up making putting my case to the SDP website moderator who seems to have a mine of his/her own when it comes to consistency of censorship standards. But they don't both me anymore; in fact, I take it as a good thing since I don't have to bother replying some of the barbs thrown :)

Meanwhile, you would have realised I have toned down quite a bit. Crudely, you can call it self-censorship, since that seems to be what the moderator (or SDP) intends. I shall be compliant (or should it be complaisant?)

Hey, isn't it ironic? I thought SDP is pretty unhappy that the "systemic restrictions" here in Singapore has stigmatised the people and coerced them into self-censorship. Quite a coincidental parallel both worlds, don't you think?

Anyway, you and I may not agree on many things, but I hope the disagreement can be confined to ideas and persons. Best wishes on your work.

Seelan Palay said...

Hi BryanT, there is an Internet term called 'Trolling': A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user's sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns". The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.

Best wishes on your work, whatever that may be.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous No.4,

Cherian very articulately addressed why singapore's place in the ranking RELATIVE to some other countries might be "absurd."

However he didnt really talk about why singapore's ranking is low in the first place.

Just because there are some anomalies in the rankings doesnt mean that one should dismiss the whole report entirely or that one cant extract useful information from the report. Furthermore he's said that the report on each country is based on the perceptions of respondents situated in the countries in question, and that produces inconsistencies. He didnt mention that the questions posed to these respondents are very specific and factual, not at all like the subjective opinion-seekers he made them out to be. It feels like he took the flaws in the ranking process, stretched them to their most ridiculous implications and painted the entire effort as being an exercise in futility.

BryanT said...

I am perfect aware of the term "trolling". I hope that people are also aware of the (correct) meaning of ad hominem.

Wiki explains it well. I like especially this part explaining the phenomenon:

Person 1 makes claim X
There is something objectionable
about Person 1
Therefore claim X is false

Is my intention "to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group", or are some people perhaps allowing themselves to be caught in an ad hominem well?

Anyway, I am happy you did not censor my comments, and I am not obliged to exercise self-censorship here. I am sure you know the agonising feeling of being the target of censorship or imposing a mental constraint on how you express yourself. I was hoping that you could state your stand.

Seelan Palay said...

Haha BryanT.. lighten up, you're not the only person in the whole world wide web who's had their comments moderated.

Maybe sometimes you have to look at yourself too.

Anonymous said...

1) "Just because there are some anomalies in the rankings doesnt mean that one should dismiss the whole report entirely or that one cant extract useful information from the report."

No, there were not anomalies. There was just one, but significant enough to derail the comparative use to which RSF's Press Freedom Index aspires.

2)"However he didnt really talk about why singapore's ranking is low in the first place. "

No, Cherian didn't. Because he did not need to state the obvious. Even you know the reasons why.

But Cherian did say this: "My guess is that such an approach would cause Singapore to leapfrog over dozens of states in the table and land somewhere in the 50-100 range: a middle-ranking and far-from-ideal state, but hardly an international pariah."

Now, the Singaporean press, in his view, is "far-from-ideal." Cherian did not pull any punches.

3) You seem happy to accept rankings and reports of this nature.

Let me end by asking you one question: what do you make of Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index in which Singapore is ranked 5th?

Will you accept their findings wholeheartedly as RSF's? Or do you choose to trumpet only those in which Singapore does badly?


Seelan Palay said...

It's quite hard for me to distinguish which Anonymous is which, maybe you can use nicknames to make the conversation easier. But whatever works for you also lah.

Anyway a senior representative of Transparency International recently spoke to me told me that they may have been 'mistaken' about certain things and would like to reexamine them.

BryanT said...

Seelan, thanks for the consolation that I am not the only one being censored on the SDP website. It sure feels good to know that I am not alone and to know that censorship is so rampant there.

I suppose I should be elated that my comments are still occasionally accepted by the censor.... err, I mean moderator.

Frankly speaking, when I first visited the website and saw everyone saying the same thing ("well done SDP", "champion of democracy", "down with dictatorship", etc... I am sure you get the picture) I was wondering why there were no converse viewpoints.

I thought that those with alternative views were simply hounded out by the "regulars" there. Initially, I was also under the illusion (or delusion) that Singapore's "champion of freedom" would surely not be hypocritical enough to exercise censorship when it preaches otherwise publicly.

Well, I know you will laugh at my naiveté, but I admit I was.

Anonymous said...

"Anyway a senior representative of Transparency International recently spoke to me told me that they may have been 'mistaken' about certain things and would like to reexamine them."

Yes, Seelan. That is all very well. My point is simply this: might RSF, as Cherian pointed out, been 'mistaken' about some things themselves?

Singapore isn't utopia. Singapore isn't dystopia either.

Seelan Palay said...

No place in the world is utopia or dystopia either. And I don't particularly have any issue with Cherian George, but I do think that Singapore's got it fundamentally wrong on many aspects, and these fallacies will unravel more and more in time to come.

Seelan Palay said...

Hi BryanT, I never said that you are not the only one whose comments are being moderated on the SDP website, I said you're not the only one being moderated on the world wide web. You might have accidentally or purposely misinterpreted my reply, but I don't appreciate you putting 'words into my mouth'.

And like I said before, you might want to look at yourself in the mirror first.

Perhaps spend a bit of your abundant free time commenting on the amount of actual censorship that happens in our mainstream media every single day. Or maybe that's not a problem to you and you'd rather just spend all your time criticizing the SDP.

Anonymous said...

"I do think that Singapore's got it fundamentally wrong on many aspects, and these fallacies will unravel more and more in time to come."

Dear Seelan,

Would you care to blog on these issues?


Seelan Palay said...

Dear Anonymous, I sincerely wish I had more time to.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Anonymous, I sincerely wish I had more time to."



Anonymous said...

"Anyway a senior representative of Transparency International recently spoke to me told me that they may have been 'mistaken' about certain things and would like to reexamine them."

Dear Seelan,

For the 2009 index, Singapore was ranked third, an improvement from the previous year.

Your source, or should I say, your alleged source,confirm or not? Don't tell big stories leh.


Seelan Palay said...

Haha Anonymous, it is not in my interest to tell "big stories" leh.

Noticed that I mentioned on the 1st of November that I was told 'recently', meaning that the research & results for the 2009 released in mid November were prepared way before hand.

I have even more information that I'll hold on to for the time being, cause I don't Anonymous persons such as yourself claiming that I'm telling "big stories".

And even IF TI ranks Singapore as high next year, maybe I'll know the reasons why :)

lr said...

Anyway all of you, the Transparency International's latest index is an index on 'Corruption Perceptions' and NOT Transparency itself. Just take note.