The following is the content of an email I sent to several ministers on 18 October 2013.
I write to express my deep concerns about the mainstream press promoting and stoking racism and xenophobia in their reports.
On 18 October, Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, said, in reference to complaints about discriminatory job advertisements:
“It is important to not stoke up hate and ill will as some are doing. It does no one any good.”
Indeed, over the years, especially the last few, the government has taken pains to remind and urge Singaporeans not to fan the flames of hatred, in particular through racist or xenophobic expressions, among our people.
It is therefore with great concern that we are seeing such postings in the mainstream press which the government had described as “accurate, timely, and balanced” and “professional”.
On the same day that Mr Tan urged Singaporeans “to not stoke up hate and ill will”, The New Paper carried this on its front page:
The story is about an apparently Caucasian cyclist who has drawn public attention (and ire) with his behaviour on our roads.
The headline – “White with rage’ – is not doubt a double-entendre or pun on certain phrases. But more disconcerting is its implied racial reference (“white”) to the cyclist’s race.
One would think that race would have nothing to do with how one behaves on our roads. It is thus puzzling, to say the least, why the New Paper and its editors found it necessary to make reference (even if it’s a pun) to the racial make-up of the cyclist.
Indeed, some find the paper’s headline racist, as these comments on The Online Citizen’s Facebook page shows:
Commenter Red Herring said it best: “Actually the press is in the best position to resolve by speaking to this man about road safety and get a grip for goodness sake. Instead, it seems to be aggravating the matter.”
In a multiracial and multicultural society like ours, it is shocking that such blatant racism is being tolerated in the mainstream government-controlled press.
Yet, The New Paper is not the only paper which is responsible for such behaviour.
Last year, the Straits Times – which, incidentally, proclaimed itself the “most-read” newspaper in Singapore in 2012 – had this report:
As you can see, the use of a picture of what were apparently Muslim men in their traditional attire attending a Hari Raya event, for a story on drug abuse, is rather insensitive. The paper later issued this statement, after the public had criticised it:
“Some also felt that the picture accompanying the story was unfortunate. The photo could have been captioned better. It was taken in 2008 at the Pertapis Halfway House for recovering Malay-Muslim drug addicts.”
The paper, sadly, seemed oblivious to the reasons for the criticisms.
And while the government often and invariably continues to point its fingers at online blogs and netizens for “stoking hate and ill will’, the truth of the matter is that online portals of mainstream government-controlled newspapers are in fact guilty of even worse behaviour.
An example is the Straits Times online portal, STOMP. In the last two years or so especially, the portal has blatantly and consistently used xenophobic headlines in its articles, as highlighted here in these two blog posts:
Here’s a sample of the kinds of headlines seen in STOMP:
At times, the Straits Times would also give its support to such articles from STOMP by giving them prominence and promoting them on its (now-defunct) “Top Citizen Journalism Stories” column in its print edition, such as this one headlined: “I whacked a foreign worker who touched my butt on the train”:
The same story being promoted on the Straits Times broadsheet:
Mainstream papers like the Straits Times are widely-read.
The Straits Times boasts of a readership of 1.38 million, while The New Paper a readership of some 524,000. (See here.)
It is thus quite clear that the potential of stoking “hate and ill will” among our people, both Singaporeans and our foreign friends and guests, is highest with our newspapers and its online portals.
It is therefore disconcerting to note that while government ministers and Members of Parliament have spoken out against “netizens” for allegedly ill behaviour online, none of the same MPs and ministers have spoken out against the same kind of behaviour or reports by the mainstream press/media.
While government MPs such as Mr Hri Kumar call for us to “act against hateful conduct online”, we should perhaps pay more attention to the same kinds of hateful conduct and “hate speech and hateful ideas” (as Mr Kumar described them) propagated by the mainstream media as well.
It is thus my hope that the government will come out strongly to condemn such publications in the mainstream media, and if need be, bring those responsible for promoting such ill will to task.
Otherwise, the government’s silence and perceived biased treatment of ordinary netizens and those in the mainstream media/press will only give rise to even more discontent.
We hope that the government will be fair in handling such incidents.
PS: This letter is copied to:
– Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim
– Minister for Manpower, Mr Tan Chuan Jin
– Minister of State, MCI
– Perm Sec, MCI