Mainstream media a 'serious-minded, responsible player', says DPM Tharman

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam addressing the 1,500-strong audience at the inaugural NTU Majulah Lecture. PHOTO: NTU

Singapore's mainstream media is a serious-minded and responsible player that helps take the nation's democracy forward by airing views in a way that does not fragment society, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

"The mainstream media in Singapore is not a free-for-all. Neither is it the heavily controlled media that some critics caricature it to be.

"That is not how things are in Singapore - the media doesn't wait around for instructions and it doesn't excuse everything Government does," he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

The post sought to clarify comments he made about the media at Nanyang Technological University's Majulah Lecture last week, when a student asked about government control of the media, citing Singapore's low ranking in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index.

Mr Tharman had replied that Singaporeans are not fools and do not read the mainstream media blindly.

"They know some things are more likely to come up on Page 4 than on Page 1; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things," he had said. "They have social media as well. People talk more openly, they exchange views more openly, and they make judgments."

Yesterday, he said: "The mainstream media is what I regard as serious-minded, responsible players in an evolving Singapore democracy - helping to take it forward, but airing views in a way that avoids fragmenting society."

This is not an easy responsibility, given the ability of the media to divide people, he added.

Comparing Singapore's media with others in Asia and the West, he said the "free-for-all" in some Asian nations has added to a divisiveness in society not seen in a long time.

In some mature Western democracies, people have segregated themselves into media bubbles, both in the mainstream media and online, and public trust in the media is "at an all-time low".

"These are not the things that Reporters Without Borders looks at, but they matter to the quality of democracy in any society, and are worrying many others," he said.

He also said on Facebook that the mainstream media carries all the "important news of the day, including both sides of the political debate", adding that the news is read by Singaporeans who discuss it freely. "So blaming the mainstream media for electoral losses is not a good strategy - it doesn't square any more with the reality of a public that reads, follows issues and thinks more critically."

Concluding, he said: "We should keep this going - the mainstream media as responsible players in our democracy, helping to move it forward. We should hope too that the middle in the social media gets stronger, for Singapore's good."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline Mainstream media a 'serious-minded, responsible player', says DPM Tharman. Subscribe