DPM Tharman said S’poreans aren’t fools who read mainstream media blindly. He’s right.

Singaporeans are watching and taking notes.

By Belmont Lay | September 22, 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was engaged in a dialogue at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Wednesday night, Sept. 20.

The session was NTU’s inaugural Majulah Lecture, a new initiative by the university that aims to tackle topics relevant to the development of Singapore.

Tharman spoke on the key shifts in Singapore’s education system needs and then took questions, which he responded to with his usual candour and thoughtfulness.

Tharman doesn’t agree with gutter politics tactics

One of the things Tharman said at the dialogue has stood out.

He was asked to comment on a lack of independent media in Singapore and whether he agreed with the “gutter politics” employed by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders who resorted to mudslinging opposition candidates.

The perception was that the PAP had undermined an opposition candidate by bringing up past run-ins with the government.

This was perceived to have happened during the by-election in Bukit Batok in 2016, which was contested by Singapore Democratic Party’s Chee Soon Juan and PAP’s Murali Pillai.

In response, Tharman said candidly that he does not agree with the actions of his colleagues all the time, even as Singapore has become a more liberal place:

“The sense of fear, the sense of constraint is far less now. Yes, you get pushbacks and sometimes you may not like it. It doesn’t mean I agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues.”

He also said the PAP is defined by its honesty and remaining true to Singaporeans, and falling short comes with sanctions:

“That trait of the PAP shows up almost all the time. Sometimes the PAP itself falls short, and action has to be taken on individuals and it is taken.”

Singaporeans are no fools as they consume media critically

Tharman also said he has “great faith” in Singaporeans as they judged what happened during the Bukit Batok by-election and would judge the PAP at the next election.

Singaporeans also know how to read what the Singapore press produces and are more expressive owing to social media.

“I don’t think Singaporeans are fools. Even when they read what we call the mainstream media, they don’t read it blindly.”

“They know some things are more likely to come up on page four than on page one; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things. They have the social media as well. People talk more openly, they exchange views more openly, and they make judgements.”

ST covered Tharman’s more controversial comments but did not share it

To a large prophetic extent, Tharman’s comments on the mainstream media and Singaporeans’ nuanced reading of the hot button issues of the day in the press, rang through within a day.

This is so as Singapore’s newspaper of record, The Straits Times, covered the comments made by Tharman about the by-election and how Singaporeans are not fools, but conspicuously did not share the piece on its Facebook page.

In total, ST published three articles about Tharman’s NTU dialogue:

Questions raised about presidential election show that people want race to matter less: DPM Tharman by Amelia Teng

Biggest mistake is to think ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’: DPM Tharman on Singapore’s education by Amelia Teng

Tharman acknowledges occasional pushbacks, but says Singapore more liberal than before by Tham Yuen-C

Out of these three stories, only the first two of them got shared on Facebook:

The third story, which is the most political by Tham Yuen-C, pertaining to Tharman’s very comments on Singaporeans not being fools who follow blindly, was not shared.

Moreover, the time stamp on the article showed that it was published at about 3pm on Sept. 21, almost a day after the event.

Today and CNA covered it too

To be fair, the mainstream media in Singapore is not as monolithic as it is made out to be.

Tharman’s more controversial comments were carried both by Today and Channel News Asia.

Between the two though, CNA carried Tharman’s comments in fuller quotes compared to Today.

But here is still the most prophetic thing Tharman mentioned: His dialogue was eventually reported and tucked away at the bottom of the print version of ST on Sept. 21 on page four without a photo:

About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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