Singapore GE2020: PSP raises concerns about submitting political broadcast scripts ahead of time

Progress Singapore Party members (from left) Michael Chua, Terence Soon and Lee Hsien Yang during a walkabout in Holland Village on June 27, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has expressed concerns over having to submit its scripts in advance for political broadcasts on national TV.

Mr Michael Chua, PSP's organising secretary and candidate in Tanjong Pagar GRC, said the party found it "disturbing" to have to submit its speeches 48 hours in advance and was worried that the contents might be leaked before the broadcasts.

However, the Elections Department (ELD) has responded saying that it has been standard practice since 1980.

The 55-year-old Mr Chua was speaking during a walkabout in Holland Village on Saturday (June 27) with his Tanjong Pagar GRC teammate Terence Soon and party member Lee Hsien Yang.

Besides the usual party political broadcasts for parties fielding at least six candidates, a new feature this general election is constituency-specific broadcasts, which will give candidates three minutes each to reach out to voters.

With physical rallies disallowed as a result of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 , these political broadcasts have taken on added significance.

The PSP, started just last year, is set to be the largest opposition contingent this time, fielding 24 candidates in nine constituencies, more than the 21 candidates that the Workers' Party plans to field.

Mr Chua told the media that PSP had concerns after being briefed about the procedure for the broadcasts by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Friday.

He said the party would have to submit the scripts in multiple languages to the IMDA and national broadcaster Mediacorp in advance, so that subtitles can be prepared.

"It is rather disconcerting to us because traditionally in a live rally, the candidates will present their ideas directly to the voters and the residents," said Mr Chua.

But this time round, the speeches have to be submitted to the authorities ahead of time, and "potentially other people are also looking at whatever we submit", he said.

"So what is the consequence of foreknowledge of whatever we are going to say? It's something that we find rather disturbing as a party," he added.

In response, the ELD said that the national broadcaster airing the party political broadcasts and constituency political broadcasts requires political parties and candidates to submit the scripts ahead of recording, to ensure that the contents do not contain libellous statements or statements that may cause racial or religious tensions or affect social cohesion.

"This is not a new arrangement, and has been in place for the previous general elections since 1980. Political parties and candidates were also briefed on this on Friday, 26 June 2020," said the ELD.

In addition to the PPBs and CPBs, political parties and candidates can carry out campaigning activities on the Internet, including via livestreaming.

"As with the physical rallies of previous general elections, political parties and candidates are not required to submit their scripts for livestreaming to the authorities," said the ELD, adding that political parties and candidates should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process.

During the walkabout, Mr Lee, 62, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, remained coy on whether he would be contesting the general election for the PSP, saying instead that he was "guided by the party and I'm where they like me to help them (campaign)".

But party sources told The Straits Times that it is unlikely he will be running.

After Holland Village, Mr Lee headed to Bukit Merah where he joined another member of the PSP Tanjong Pagar GRC team, lawyer Wendy Low, for a walkabout.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.