Singapore Journalism’s Greatest Hits 2008: Good News for News Media

January 2nd, 2009

It’s too easy to recall the bad news that 2008 brought us, so to wrap up the year JOURNALISM.SG is remembering some of the good things that happened in Singapore journalism last year. Here’s our final list of five.

1) More space for filmmakers

For the past 10 years, the Films Act included a repressively broad ban on political films. At his National Day Rally in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong finally conceded that an “outright ban is no longer sensible“. Video will probably remain outlawed as a medium for political parties’ campaigns but, at last, independent documentary filmmakers should be able to tackle political themes without fear.

On the other hand: Until the amendment is tabled in Parliament, it would be premature to celebrate. After all, the outrageously broad ban somehow made it into the statute books in the first place, and not that long ago either. Concerned citizens and their MPs will need to scrutinise the proposed amendments.

2) The Online Citizen arrives

Online citizen journalism took a quantum leap in 2008 with The Online Citizen. Serious-minded and purposeful, it is emerging as the medium of choice in its chosen niche: alternative, independent analysis of Singaporean public affairs. It has also engaged in offline activism, strengthening its branding as a believer in active citizenship.

On the other hand: The Online Citizen, like other independent socio-political websites, has yet to crack the puzzle of how to incentivise writers to produce timely and thorough coverage of public affairs. Until then, mainstream media, with their capacity to hire full-time journalists, will remain the staple diet.

3) Ching Cheong is freed

After serving more than 1,000 days in jail, Straits Times correspondent Ching Cheong was finally freed in February. He had been accused of selling military information to Taiwan and organising a network of spies to sell state secrets to foreign powers. Ching Cheong has returned to work in ST’s Hongkong bureau. The paper had continued to pay his salary during his imprisonment.

On the other hand: Journalists continue to be victimised around the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 41 journalists have been killed in 2008; 125 were in prison as at 1 December – including 28 in China.

4) AIMS’ plea for MSM

AIMS, the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, said in its final report that to combat the “distortive” online material that the government fears, Singapore needs “a credible mainstream media”. Such warnings from within the establishment are welcome, because the government has the power to demolish the credibility of the mainstream press like Malaysia did.

On the other hand: Although it would speed up the exodus to unregulated online media and citizen journalism, the government may find irresistible the temptation to micro-manage the mainstream press even more tightly, precisely because no other medium can be controlled.

5) Tabla scores for print

In 2008, Singapore Press Holdings launched Tabla, a free weekly newspaper targeting the Indian expat market. Its apparent success suggests that there is still room in the Singapore market for niche print publications. Since print is still the main employer of journalists, that’s good news for the profession, as well as for readers who still love the look and feel of a good newspaper.

On the other hand: Tabla – like all those high-end lifestyle magazines – confirms that, in the eyes of the commercial news media industry, not all readers are created equal. It’s those who are valued by advertisers who’ll be best served. Another reason why strong public service media and alternative media are important.

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