LIVING HISTORY

Collective conscience

ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

SOUL SEARCHING TIMES: By Minister for Foreign Affairs & Law K. Shanmugam

But the belief that free speech, regardless of what form it takes, will necessarily lead to greater understanding is itself built on another belief: that groups of people in society, when faced with attacks on their own identity - be it race, religion or culture - will choose to react calmly and engage in philosophical debate about the merits and demerits of the attack, however vitriolic.

Experience shows that the truth is sometimes the opposite. Charlie Hebdo had faced lawsuits from Catholics. It faced much more from the self-styled Muslim warriors of God on that fateful day in January.

Especially in diverse societies, people do react violently when attacks are made against them. Over the long term, distrust and animosity builds up as a result of such attacks, and racial, religious and cultural fault lines are deepened and widened.

Any honest debate on media freedom must reflect these realities.

A society could choose to accept the inevitable societal consequences in pursuit of the broadest possible set of media freedoms. But it cannot proceed on the assumption that complete media freedom will have no impact on racial, religious harmony, that there will only be rational debate and enlightenment, more light than heat.

Singapore's choice has been to accept the realities of our society. Our people generally do not want to allow their race, religion or culture attacked or demeaned. They are not willing to accept the consequence of allowing such attacks, which is a higher propensity for violence in society, and a less harmonious society, with deeper fault lines.

Singapore's choice has been to accept the realities of our society. Our people generally do not want to allow their race, religion or culture attacked or demeaned. They are not willing to accept the consequence of allowing such attacks, which is a higher propensity for violence in society, and a less harmonious society, with deeper fault lines.

This is why we have laws which proscribe the freedom to launch an attack along racial, religious and cultural lines.

CONFRONTING A DIFFERENT MEDIA LANDSCAPE

The debate about the rules of media in society is only one of the challenges facing traditional media, like The Straits Times, the world over.

There are other challenges as well.

The way people consume news is changing. There is less faith in institutions. There is less faith in mediated viewpoints. We live in the age of citizen journalism, where anyone with Internet access is able to disseminate news and information. There is a proliferation of views on many issues, which dilutes the value of truly expert, well-considered views put across through traditional channels.

If we do not hold everyone to the same rules of integrity and honest reporting, we risk the media landscape becoming one which sensationalises and pander to popular sentiments.

And even as traditional media around the world face the challenge of falling advertisements and revenues, new players are finding ways to profit from their activities.

The same realities on media freedoms apply equally to these new players.

The emergence of new players should not trigger a race to the bottom. It behoves ST to find the right platforms to reach out to a younger generation, whose consumption patterns are very different, without compromising its integrity.

ST's rich heritage must continue to serve as its lodestar. Through credible, honest and objective reporting, ST has been an enabler of our collective conscience. In playing this role, it has contributed significantly to the success of Singapore over the past 50 years.

I wish ST the very best as it celebrates its 170th anniversary, in our jubilee year.

Long may it continue as an important institution, and play its part in defining our society. • ST


1965

INDEPENDENT NATION

Singapore becomes independent following its shocking separation from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965. The Straits Times keeps its measured approach in a bid to calm the situation.

 

1966

END OF KONFRONTASI

The Straits Times plays an instrumental role in ending Indonesia’s violent Konfrontasi policy towards the Malaysian Federation: Deputy editor Wee Kim Wee is granted an exclusive interview with Indonesia’s de facto leader Suharto who tells him of his wish to end Konfrontasi. After the scoop is published, diplomatic relations are restored. The nations cooperate in ghting communist subversion

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Collective conscience'. Print Edition | Subscribe