SINGAPORE: Media 'too timid' in election coverage
NUS forum complains that mainstream media fear practicing freedom of speech
Sunday, February 26, 2006
By William Han
The way the mainstream media covers elections came under fire yesterday at a forum on politics at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Mr Viswa Sadasivan, chairman of TV production company The Right Angle Group, suggested that journalists today are more timid than they need be.
"There is so much room to manoeuvre. I don't think we need to be looking over our shoulders all the time. The media needs to play less safe," he said.
Mr Viswa, a former current affairs producer with the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), took to task today's journalists and editors.
Unlike their predecessors, he said, they fail to push the envelope. He contrasted this to his own efforts when he was in charge of elections coverage at SBC in the 1980s. He pushed for and saw through the broadcast of a debate between the People's Action Party and opposition party leaders, he said.
Mr Viswa, whose company's clients include government agencies, also chairs the Feedback Unit's political development group and sits on the Media Development Board.
Of today's journalists, he said: "The media does not have enough strong leadership, enough people willing to take a stand."
"The media could do with a lot more guts," he added.
He also accused the press of not giving the opposition fair coverage.
He said that, in reporting on the Workers' Party manifesto, they had focused on the Government's labelling of four of its proposals as "time bombs." He claimed that many points in the manifesto were not captured in media reports, a point that Nominated MP Geh Min later agreed with.
With Mr James Gomez of the Workers' Party looking on, Mr Viswa accused the media of having a habit of making opposition politicians look bad by taking photographs of them from a low angle and in dim light.
"You don't have to make opposition members like James look like bicycle thieves," he quipped.
He said he hoped to see "a lot more critical commentaries" during the next general election.
Several NUS students also raised issues of online freedom and expressed concern about the charges brought against three racist bloggers under the Sedition Act.
Dr Gillian Koh, of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), said young bloggers should not worry about expressing themselves freely as the racist bloggers constituted an extreme case of hate speech online.
Commenting later on Mr Viswa's comparison of the political reporting of the past with that of today, IPS acting director and veteran media watcher Arun Mahizhnan said: "In terms of the space offered to political views, I have to say that a lot more is available now compared to the 1970s and 1980s.
"There is also a much greater diversity of views expressed, particularly in the print and new media like the Internet.
"I don't see the same diversity in the broadcast media, perhaps due to constraints in the medium or programming philosophy."
Date Posted: 2/27/2006