Minister: Press is free and credible enough to meet internet challenge

November 24th, 2007

Singapore’s information minister says the government is confident that mainstream media can continue to survive and even grow, despite the onslaught of online alternatives. Lee Boon Yang argued that mainstream newspapers and broadcasters had, in their favour, “professionalism and objectivity”.

Speaking at his ministry’s annual cocktail reception for foreign and local journalists, Lee said that the mainstream’s future would be assured by its “ability and commitment to provide accurate and credible information with thoughtful analyses and objective commentaries”.

His brief address made no mention of whether the government intended to invest in the credibility and appeal of Singapore’s mainstream media by giving them more freedom to pursue professional excellence without the threat of government retribution. Instead, the minister implied that the Singapore media is already independent enough. “The Singapore media has distinguished itself as a free, professional and responsible media,” he said.

Although Singapore’s leaders have in the past described the press here as “independent” – since the dominant newspaper publisher SPH is not government-owned – Lee Boon Yang’s use of the adjective “free” is unusual. Indeed, past statements have taken pains to reiterate Lee Kuan Yew’s 1971 statement that freedom of the press must be “subordinate to the primacy of purpose of an elected government”.

The minister ended his speech by reminding the Singapore media of its “heavy and responsible role in our nation building effort”. “Economic viability and social stability are vital for Singapore’s continued progress and success,” he said. “When we have to grapple with the threat of self-radicalisation resulting from the spread of religious extremism and terrorism ideology through the internet, we must not jettison the media’s critical role in strengthening social cohesion and resilience.

“In the age of new media, the Singapore media has an even more important role to inform our citizens with timely, objective and responsible news coverage, and sensitive and insightful analyses so as to prepare Singaporeans for engaging in an interconnected and globalised world.”

On the foreign press, he said that the spate of positive coverage was a “healthy trend”. He added that he did not need to dwell on the negative coverage as the government had always exercised its right of reply.

Read Lee Boon Yang’s full speech here.

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