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20910329 public opinion and the media in singapore

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  • 1. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329) POLITICS OF THE MASS MEDIA POLS2231 QUARTER 2, 2012 Essay: Does the media in Singapore reflect existing public opinion? Wordcount: 2414 words STUDENT NAME: SITI AISYAH BAGARIB STUDENT ID: 20910329 1
  • 2. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329) Question: Does the media in Singapore reflect existing public opinion? AbstractThis essay aims to explore how the local media works in a hybrid authoritarian state such asSingapore and whether the media (broadcast, print and internet) accurately reflects existing publicopinions, namely in the areas of local policy making. I would argue that the media partly reflectpublic opinion and partly doesnt.In order to evaluate how and to what extent the media in autocratic Singapore reflects existingpublic opinion, we will be exploring the political, ideological and moral censorships. In addition tothat, we will be looking at case studies such as local policies regarding defamation; censorship andfamily-driven values; escape of extremist leader Mas Selamat Bin Kastari; third-personperceptions; study of third-person perception of television influence; the 2003 SARS outbreak andfinally; internet and social media.Finally I will conclude that traditional media in Singapore generally does not reflect existing publicopinion, especially in terms of political opinions. IntroductionAccording to the Encyclopedia Britannica, public opinion is “an aggregate of the individual views,attitudes, and beliefs about a particular topic, expressed by a significant portion of a community.” Inorder for something to be considered a public opinion, firstly there has to be an issue, a significantnumber of individuals expressing opinions on the issue and there has to be some kind of consensusamong at least some of those opinions (Encyclopedia Britannica). Public opinion is interactive,multidimensional, and continuously changing (Crespi, 1997). Sociologists point out that opinionscannot be regarded as public opinions if individuals do not communicate their opinion regarding anissue to other members of the public. Some of the ways public opinion can be expressed is throughsurveys, polls, public hearings, radio, television, print media and the internet.In Four Theories of the Press by Siebert, Paterson and Schramm, four theories were established toclarify the link between the press position and political environment. The four theories are theauthoritarian, the libertarian, the Soviet and the social responsibility theories. The authoritarianpress theory is described by Siebert, Paterson and Schramm as being based on the philosophy ofabsolute power of monarch and the government. Its main purpose is to support policies of the 2
  • 3. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)government in power to service the state. Only those who has a licence has the right to use themedia. Media is controlled by a mix of guilds, licensing and censorship. In an authoritarianenvironment, the press is an instrument for effecting government policy and its position is to nevercriticize political apparatus or officials in power (Siebert, Paterson and Schramm, 1963, p 7).Now that we have a background of an authoritarian press system, lets explore how the Singaporemedia works in a hybrid authoritarian state and evaluate whether the media-- broadcast, print andinternet, accurately reflect existing public opinions. 3
  • 4. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)The first response that comes to my mind regarding whether or not the media in Singapore reflectexisting public opinion would be that it does not mainly because of the present political, ideologicaland moral censorships. State power greatly affects the ability of the press to take a determinedstance against the government in any issues. Under an authoritarian regime such as Singapore, themedia is controlled so that it shows support for the government and its major policies (Siebert,Paterson and Schramm, 1963). Political RestrictionsThe ruling party in Singapore for the past 49 years has been dominated by the Peoples Action Party(PAP) (Singapore Elections, 2004). They are aware of the importance of the press in nation-buildingand its capabilities of contributing to the economic progress as well as the social and politicalstability of the nation. The press has to be licensed by the government and must accept thesubordinate role given to it and cannot execute its own editorial independence (Tey, 2008, p 882).Therefore, the press is restricted to simple journalism and straightforward reporting (George, 1998).According to the 2011 Freedom of the Press survey data, which assesses laws, regulations,economic and political pressures that influence and control media media content, Singapore is ratedNot Free (Freedom House, 2011).Even though media outlets are allowed to report on mistakes, corruption and be critical of certainpolicies as long as they do not ridicule or attenuate respect for the elected office holder. Most of themedia outlets practice self-censorship to avoid harsh punishments for perceived attacks ongovernment officials (Gomez, 2000). The government in Singapore impose limitations on thefreedom of the media by legislations such as the Internal Security Act, the Sedation Act and theOfficial Secrets Act. Defamation legislations are not only imposed on the local press and localopposition political parties but also have been used against foreign correspondence, such as theNew York Times Company, for publishing an article called “All in the Family” and was required topay US$114,000 in damages and issuing apologies to the Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew and hisson who is the Prime Minister of Singapore (Perez, 2010).To put in context of Hallins spheres, Family values would fall within the sphere of consensuswhereby the journalists role is to promote and advocate. Issues within the sphere of legitimatecontroversy are political elections and legislative debates where journalists ideally report on two 4
  • 5. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)sides of the story. Issues that fall in the sphere of deviance are any issues that defame and mockelected leading politicians. The journalists role here would be to condemn those who violate orchallenge the political consensus or completely exclude these views from public agenda. Ideological and Moral RestrictionsLee Kwan Yew, the founding political leader of Singapore created policies based on a Confucianvalue-system (Chua, 1996). He does not believe that all problems can be solved by goodgovernance and that society needs to stick to ethical and moral values. Lee has been publicly andhighly critical of Western concepts of society and government, as far as saying that America has hadfailed policies which led to its erosion of moral underpinnings and social breakdown (Zakaria,1994).Singapore immigration policy encourages foreign talent and Permanent Residence into theworkforce to boost Singapores economy. Asian-values put importance that individuals exist in thecontext of his family. Therefore the leading government has used family to push the economicgrowth of Singapore.Using a family oriented value-system, the recent introduction of the Long Term Visit Pass Plus onApril 2012 grants extended visas for partners with foreign spouses to make it easier for them tobuild stronger family foundations. A foreign spouse who marries a Singapore citizen does notautomatically qualify for PR or citizenship. This LTVP+ scheme helps families build stronger andstable foundations by increasing certainty of stay from the previous 1 year scheme up to 5 yearsamongst other benefits (Hean, 2012).Extended visas for spouses or Permanent Residents certainly facilitates and is advantageous forboth the family members and the economy but at the same time, it has not addressed other relatedpublic opinions. For example, singlehood rates between 20 to 24 year olds have been steadilyincreasing since 2001. The number of divorces has risen and at the same time, marriage rates hasdecreased (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2011).Yet, not enough policy changes has beenmade to address or facilitate singles to apply for housing. Singles below the age of 35 years old arenot allowed to purchase a HDB apartment or apply for a low-interest housing loan and findthemselves competing for resale flats in which Permanent Residents have better chance at getting. 5
  • 6. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)This could be because the government is still strongly adhering to family-driven policies at theexpense of undesirable outcomes for unmarried Singaporeans.Another policy that illustrates PAPs ideology of emphasis on the family is evident in the nationalpension scheme. The Central Provident Fund (CPF) is weak in terms of social policy as it fails topay attention to those who are not in the work force and the poorly paid as rates of contributions arelow (Carney, 2010). In a contribution on social policy in Singapore, Volker H. Schmidt explains thatSingapore offers minimal support such as occasional grocery vouchers and a letter of supportrequesting utility providers to stall payment requests temporarily if someone cant pay his or herbills. “The main source of support for the truly needy is supposed to be each person’s family that ismorally and legally entrusted with this responsibility.” (Schmidt, 2000, p. 5) Disparity of Media Agenda and Public AgendaThe media agenda in an authoritative state is set by the ruling government and does not alwaysmatch the public agenda of its citizens. The media sets public agenda by communicating a host ofcues to show the importance of topics and the attributes of those issues. News coverage can drawattention to certain characteristics while drawing away attention from others (Kiousis, 2004).Agenda setting in which the media focuses on the characteristic and property salience of an objector issue is known as second-level effects or attribute agenda setting. McCombs says “Influencingthe focus of public attention is a powerful role, but, arguably, influencing the agenda of attributesfor an issue or political figure is the epitome of political power.” (McCombs, 2003).Local media coverage of the escape incident of Mas Selamat Bin Kastari, diverted the attention ofpublic to other issues. The suspected Islamic extremist, who escaped from Singapores InternalSecurity Departments Detention Centre was one of South-East Asias most wanted terrorist and hisescape triggered an urgent worldwide security alert and the largest manhunt Singapore has everseen. However local media coverage on this incident skirted key issues such as the immediatequestion of how Kastari escaped, why Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister WongKan Seng has not taken accountability for the security lapse and why such little details on the eventwas covered by the national news media (Lee, 2008). The media instead of focusing on governmentincompetency, put the spotlight on the Malay-Muslim community as if it is “somehow complicit in 6
  • 7. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)Mas Selamats escape” (Loh, 2010)On the other side of the argument, the media in Singapore does actually reflect existing publicopinion. This is supported by a study on perceptions of television influence, how the SARSoutbreak was controlled and finally the existence of a relatively free internet. Consensus Regarding Media CensorshipMedia censorship in Singapore is largely scrutinized for being too strict. However what about theexisting media censorship regarding entertainment? Do the public support the extent of thecensorships or do they also disapprove of existing entertainment censorship?A study on public perceptions of television influence and opinions about censorship and third-partyeffects in Singapore was carried out among 506 adult Singaporeans to examine public opinion onmass media censorship imposed by the Singaporean government (Gunther and Hwa, 1996).Respondents were asked questions about their use of mass media and their opinions regarding theeffects of television content and the existing censorship of such content.The study shows that Singaporeans generally consider themselves less vulnerable to the perceivednegative effects of nudity, violence, homosexuality, foul language and premarital sex but believethat those content will have a significantly larger negative influence on other Singaporeans. Thisphenomenon is often referred to as third-person effect (Davison, 1983, pp. 1-15). The dataindicates that there is also a strong support for censorship. Fewer than 10 percent of the respondantsthought censorship in those areas should be relaxed (Gunther and Hwa, 1996). The commonpredication that authoritarian governments impose mass media censorship on an unwilling public isdisproved in the case of Singapore. Support for restrictions in the content of media is rooted in theirconcern about the negative effects on others (Gunther, 1995, pp. 27-38). Control of in Times of CrisisThe mass media is used to address public agenda. If a government fails to control or provide timelyinformation to the mass media, the media would have to come up with their own framing regardingan issue. In addition to that, multiple counter-frames might emerge causing chaos as media outletsare forced to come up with their own analysis in the absence of an official statement. 7
  • 8. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)As case study, we shall take a look at the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak inSingapore in 2003. The highly contagious infection was introduced into Singapore by a 22 year oldfemale resident who contracted the virus during her holiday in Hong Kong. Health authorities wasunaware of the infection until 5 days after the index case was hospitalized (Hsu, LY, Lee, Green,Ang, Paton, Lee, et al., 2003). By then, the chain of transmission had spread to 3 hospitals, anursing home and a wholesale market (Goh, Kee-Tai, Cutter, Heng, Ma, Koh, Kwok, Toh andChew, 2006).The Singapore government was able to successfully and rapidly contain the outbreak. Throughcoordination, the mass media was used effectively to promptly disseminate information and addresspublic concerns by keeping them constantly updated on the development of the epidemic (Chua,MH, 2004). In addition to surveillance and precautionary measures, over a million SARS toolkitswere distributed to homes, quarantine policies implemented and thermal imaging systemintroduced. In addition to traditional mass media, the internet was also utilized. A web-based systemwas created so that all hospitals and clinics had easier access to information (Goh, Kee-Tai, Cutter,Heng, Ma, Koh, Kwok, Toh and Chew, 2006).The Wolfsfeld political contest model can be used to explain this. Ability to control the politicalenvironment depends three things, the ability to initiate and control events, regulate information andmobilise support. As previously mentioned, the first step to controlling a political environment is toinitiate acknowledgement of an issue. This allows one to prepare in advance. Regulating the flow ofinformation means that one will be able to control the story line. Finally the ability to mobilisesupport would create a high degree of consensus among media elites and news media will bedependant and cooperative. The InternetThe internet is another category in Singapores mediascape (Willnat and Aw, 2009, p 100).The PAP sees the internet as another medium that they have to regulate and has been passing lawsto regulate the internet since. Censorship of traditional mass media will not work on the internet(Yeo and Mahizhnan, 1998, pp. 138-149). Though the government has demonstrated banning of ISPand issued warnings and charges against expressing anti-political sentiments or issues that threaten 8
  • 9. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)national and racial harmony, they havent been incredibly strict in censorship of internet content..The government has not resorted to banning Twitter like how it was banned in Egypt (Horn, 2011).Most restriction of sites are done at the router level and usually prevents access to pornographicsites.Freedom of expression is still substantial online and is more apparent than Singapores broadcastand print media. Alternative websites dedicated to critical political discussions continue to operate(Willnat and Aw, 2009, p 106). Example: Mr Brown, theonlinecitizen and trmeritus are some of themore popular websites. Social media websites such as Twitter makes it easier to express and lookthrough existing public opinions. The internet provides a public space for Singaporeans to discussstate issues and form influential public opinion that is not represented by the government-controlledtraditional mass media (Zhan Li, 2003) ConclusionThe media in Singapore generally does not reflect existing public opinion especially in terms ofpolitical matters. This is typical of an authoritarian state. 9
  • 10. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329) ReferencesPublic Opinion 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 18 March, 2012, fromhttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/482436/public-opinion (accessed March 16, 2012)Singapore Elections (2004). General Elections 1963. http://www.singapore-elections.com/lega-1963-ge/ (accessed March 16, 2012)George, Cherian (1998) Newspapers: Freedom from the Press. http://www.singapore-window.org/80402cg.htm (accessed March 16, 2012)Freedom House (2011) Freedom of the Press: 2011 Freedom of the Press Data.http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/FOTP%20Detailed%20Data%20and%20Subscores%201980-2011.xls (accessed March 16, 2012)Perez, P. Richard (2010) Times Co. Settles Claim in Singapore The New York Times.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/business/media/25times.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&ref=global&adxnnlx=1269630126-/pOpabLI8eqVE1l9rvVbZw (accessed March16, 2012)Tey, T. (2008) Confining the Freedom of the Press in Singapore: A "Pragmatic" Press for "Nation-Building"? Human Rights Quarterly 30, 4. pp. 876-1066.http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/ (accessed February 15, 2012)Zakaria, Fareed (1994) A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, Foreign Affairs, 73, 2, pp. 109-126,Academic Search Alumni Edition, EBSCOhost. (accessed 15 February 2012)Department of Statistics Singapore (2011) Population Trends 2011.http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/popn/population2011.pdf (accessed March 16, 2012)Carney, Terry (2010) The Future of Welfare Law in a Changing World: Lessons From Austrailiaand Singapore Singapore Journal of Legal Studies. pp. 22-36. 10
  • 11. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)Schmidt, Volker H. (2000) Convergence With a TwistL East Asian Welfare Capitalism inComparative Perspective, p.5. https://ap3.fas.nus.edu.sg/fass/socvhs/research/Convergence%20With%20A%20Twist.%20East%20Asian%20Welfare%20Capitalism%20in%20Comparative%20Perspective.pdf (accessed March 16, 2012)Gunther, Albert C. (1995) Overrating the X-rating: The Third Person Perception and Support forCensorship of Pornography Journal of Communication, 45 (1), pp. 27-38.Gunther, Albert C. and Ang Peng Hwa (1996) Public Perceptions of Television Influence andOpinions About Censorship in Singapore International Journal of Public Opnion Research, Vol. 8(3), pp. 248-265.http://ijpor.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/content/8/3/248.full.pdf+html (accessedMarch 16, 2012)Davison, W. Philips (1983) The Third-Person Effect in Communication, Public opinion Quarterly,47, pp. 1-15.Mucchi-Faina, A., Maas and Volpato C. (1991) Social Influence: The Role of Originality EuropeanJournal of Social Psychology, 21, pp. 183-198.Hean, Teo Chee (2012) The Future of Singapores Population – Challenges and OpportunitiesCommittee of Supply 2012. https://www.nptd.gov.sg/content/dam/nptd/DPM%20Teo%20Chee%20Hean%20-%20speech%20on%20population%20at%20COS%202012.pdf (accessed March 16,2012)Dye, Thomas R. (2010) Understanding Public Policy. 13th Edition. Longman.Hsu LY, Lee CC, Green JA, Ang B, Paton NT, Lee L, et al. (2003) Severe acute respiratorysyndrome (SARS) in Singapore: clinical features of index patient and initial contacts Emerg InfectDis, 9, pp. 713-7. 11
  • 12. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)Chua, MH. (2004) A Defining Moment: How Singapore Beat SARS Singapore Institute of PolicyStudies.Goh, Kee-Tai, Jeffery Cutter, Bee-Hoon Heng, Stefan Ma, Benjamin K W Koh, Cynthia Kwok,Cheong-Mui Toh and Suok-Kai Chew (2006) Epidemiology and Control of SARS in Singapore.http://annals.edu.sg/pdf/35VolNo5200606/V35N5p301.pdf (accessed March 17, 2012)Kiousis, S. (2004) Explicating Media Salience: a factor analysis of New York Times issue coverageduring the 2000 U.S. presidential election, Journal of Communication 54, pp. 71-87McCombs, M. (2003) The Agenda-Setting Role of the Mass Media in the Shaping of PublicOpinion.Lee, Melanie (2008) Singapore Faces Blogging Ire Over Militant Escape Reuters.http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/03/06/us-singapore-media-idUSSP29412620080306 (accessedMarch 17, 2012)Crespi, Irving (1997) The Public Opinion Process, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=Iy7ns6w6xZ4C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false(accessed March 17, 2012)Loh, Andrew (2010) Mas Selamat’s Escape – It is About Govt Incompetency, Not Race or Religiontheonlinecitizen. http://theonlinecitizen.com/2010/11/mas-selamat%E2%80%99s-escape-%E2%80%93-it-is-about-govt-incompetency-not-race-or-religion/ (accessed March 17, 2012)Willnat, Lars and Annette Aw (2009) Political Communication in Asia. Routledgehttp://books.google.com.sg/books?id=0D4EOnCgQaYC&pg=PA98&lpg=PA98&dq=public+opinion+in+singapore+media&source=bl&ots=EDiaoba2EL&sig=hfA1g82UtBv_q9TAwBxLq_VOIQs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4jJnT-2qOMTSrQfm9tG8Bw&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=public%20opinion%20in%20singapore%20media&f=false (accessed March 17, 2012) 12
  • 13. UWA POLS2231 Siti Aisyah Bagarib (20910329)Gomez, James (2000) Self-censorship: Singapores Shame. Singapore: THINK Centre.http://www.scribd.com/doc/31533701/Self-Censorship-Singapore-s-Shame-2000-James-Gomez(accessed March 17, 2012)Chua Beng Huat and Tan Joo Ean (1995) Singapore: New Configuration of A Socially StratifiedCulture Working Paper No. 127, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.Da Cahuna, Derek (1997) The Price of Victory: The 1997 Singapore General Election and Beyond.Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Singapore.Yeo, S. and A. Mahizhnan (1998). Developing an Intelligent Island: Dilemmas of Censorship. In A.Mahizhnan and L. T. Yuan (Eds.), Singapore: Re-engineering Success. pp. 138-149.Zhan Li (2003) Will the Internet Form the Public Sphere in China Systemetics, Cybernetics andInformatics, 2(2). http://www.iiisci.org/journal/CV$/sci/pdfs/P637454.pdf (accessed March 17,2012)Siebert, Fred S., Theodore Paterson and Wilbur Schramm (1963) Four Theories of the PressIllinois: Illini Books, 15. http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=4Q-oePDdcC8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false(accessed March 17, 2012)Horn, Leslie (2011) Twitter Confirms Egypt Ban, PCMag.http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376704,00.asp (accessed March 17, 2012) 13