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     FrontPage Edition: Wed 2 Nov 2005

Press Freedom and Good Governance

Source: www.gov.sg

SPEECH BY MR GOH CHOK TONG, SENIOR MINISTER, AT THE 5TH ANNIVERSARY DINNER OF TODAY NEWSPAPER, 31 OCTOBER 2005
An Excerpt
"Western liberals often argue that press freedom is a necessary ingredient of democracy and that it is the fourth estate to check elected governments, especially against corruption.
"But a free press by Western standards does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity.
"An international NGO, Reporters Without Borders, publishes an annual Press Freedom Index. Singapore does not rank high in this index.
"When Singapore was first ranked in 2003, we were placed 144th out of 166 countries. In 2005, we moved up 4 places to rank 140th out of 167 countries. Still, nothing to be proud of. After all, the other four original ASEAN countries were all ranked ahead of Singapore. Indonesia was ranked 102nd - followed by Thailand at 107th, Malaysia at 113th.
"The ranking of the Philippines was a surprise. Having occasionally read extracts from the Filipino press, I have always been under the impression that the Filipino press is extremely free. But the Philippines was ranked 139th only 1 position higher than Singapore. Also, to my utter amazement, I discovered that even struggling war-torn Sudan was ranked at 133rd, 7 places ahead of Singapore.
"Should we be embarrassed because we are near the bottom of the ladder in the ranking? Should we be worried that investors may be put off? Not at all.
"What then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in 1959 is still our position today. He told a foreign correspondent then, 'You are not going to teach us how we should run the country. We are not so stupid. We know what our interests are and we try to preserve them'. Mr Lee proved that he was right. By the time he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, he had transformed Singapore from the Third World to First. Not only that. Singapore has one of the cleanest and most efficient governments in the world.
"Transparency International¡¯s 2005 survey of corruption perception for 158 countries ranked Singapore as the 5th least corrupt country. Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, which had better press freedom ranking, were ranked between 39th and 137th in that order. Sudan was a distant 144th.
"What about economic freedom and prosperity? The highly regarded US-based Heritage Foundation's Economic Freedom Index gave us top marks. Singapore was ranked 2nd out of 155 economies. Again, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines fell behind Singapore. They occupied positions between 70th and 121st.
"As for economic prosperity, Singapore is way ahead of many countries with better press freedom ranking. My simple point is this: it has not been proven that having more press freedom would result in a clean and efficient government or economic freedom and prosperity.
"I have taken the Reporters Without Borders¡¯s Press Freedom Index at face value. It is a subjective measure computed through the prism of western liberals. The Index was compiled based on feedback primarily from fourteen freedom of expression groups and 130 press correspondents. It lacks the careful research of hard data like the World Economic Forum¡¯s Report on World Competitiveness.
"Also, press freedom does not equate to press quality. As Reporters Without Borders pointed out in its report, 'The index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the press in the countries concerned.' Unfortunately, I have not come across any index on the quality of the press. However, I have travelled to many countries and seen their newspapers. I dare say ours are comparable with many of the better foreign ones.....
"Do not get me wrong. I do not favour a subservient press. An unthinking press is not good for Singapore. But press freedom must be practised with a larger sense of responsibility and the ability to understand what is in or not in our national interests.
"Editors need to understand what their larger responsibilities entail and to demand them of their journalists. Editors and journalists must have high personal integrity and sound judgment - people who understand Singapore¡¯s uniqueness as a country, our multi-racial and multi-religious make-up, vulnerabilities and national goals. By this, I mean that our editors and journalists must be men and women who know what works for Singapore and how to advance our society¡¯s collective interests.
"I do not know what our young journalists learn in their university courses but having our media play the role as the fourth estate cannot be the starting point for building a stable, secure, incorrupt and prosperous Singapore. The starting point is how to put in place a good government to run a clean, just and efficient system.
"Our editors and journalists must work for the public good in a practical rather than an idealistic way. They must report the news and present viewpoints with the aim to educate and inform without pursuing any personal or political agenda. Capturing readership is an important goal but to do so through sensational coverage is not the right way.
"Opinions and analytical pieces on salient issues are important for giving readers varying perspectives. However, editors should take a balanced approach so as not to allow the commentary and opinion pages of their newspapers to reflect only biased or partisan views.
"More importantly, news should not be slanted to serve a hidden agenda. The media is free to put across a range of worthy different viewpoints to encourage constructive social and political discourse. It should not parrot the government¡¯s position. It would lose its credibility if it tries to be the government¡¯s propagandist. A discredited media would not serve our national interests....."

Full Text of Speech

Source: www.gov.sg Media Release 31 Oct 2005

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