Guilt by media when US TV goes into frenzy

Dear Mr Shanmugam,

I refer to your comments made at the New York State Bar Association International Section’s meeting as reported by the Straits Times on 30 Oct 2009.

You said you were shocked at how the murder of a Yale graduate student received saturation coverage in the media when you were visiting the US a month before. Was that your first ever visit to the US? Or was it because you haven’t been to the US for the past twenty years? Your ignorance of the US media culture is shocking indeed. Or is it feigned ignorance instead?

You said that the interview of a psychologist by a major national channel on the possible reasons why the suspect murdered Ms Annie Le amounted to the presumption of guilt rather than that of innocence which goes against the basis of laws today. But our own laws allow us to detain suspects without trial. Where is our presumption of innocence when we lock up doctors like Chia Thye Poh for 23 years without ever proving his guilt beyond resonable doubt? On what moral grounds do we criticise others when we ourselves are guilty of the presumption of guilt rather than of innocence?

You conveniently brushed off our poor press rankings as being irrelevant. If anything that is bad is brushed off as irrelevant, then we will never appear bad and will always appear good.

You said what is relevant is what works. But how do you know that which you have not tried doesn’t work? Try giving the press more freedom. Try allowing for more independent newspapers. See if they work. If you haven’t even tried them, you have no basis to say they don’t work.

You said that the press decides for itself what it wants to publish. But the press is largely owned by the government through shares owned by government linked companies. Current and past chairmans of the Singapore Press Holdings have always been important cabinet ministers. So while we don’t have media barons, we do have a media emperor. If you really wish to convince the world that the press decides for itself, allow for newspapers that have absolutely no link to the government.

You said it is bad for the press to attack policies. Then you might as well do away with the press altogether, just issue government statements.

Finally you said that the government doesn’t dismiss ciritcisms because we wouldn’t be successful if we had done that. There is no logic to your statement. China ignores criticisms and yet is successful.


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