Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pride and Polemics

Distorting the truth, mr brown?
When a columnist becomes a 'partisan player' in politics
TODAY, 3rd July 2006

Letter from K BHAVANIPress Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

Just when I thought I could go for a holiday as there seemed to be nothing to blog about these few days…

This is a most interesting response from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts to a letter from mr brown published in the Voices section of TODAY (30 Jun 2006).

I have learnt many new lessons today:
(1) That you may be 'rapped' for giving honest feedback. Mr brown was exercising his right, as a citizen, to voice his concerns. Unfortunately, the government chose to 'whack' him hard.
(2) That when you have a very popular blog with 'cynical' pieces and when you write to the print media as a citizen about your concerns, the government cannot distinguish between these two roles and takes it out on you for your role as a blogger.
(3) That the Singapore Government is one of the very, very few in the world which ticks its citizens off instead of empathising with them for the predicament that they are in.
(4) That with its recent 'strong mandate' of 66.6%, the Government is worried that the 'polemics' of mr brown will 'undermine' this strong standing.
(5) That 'polemics' is the opposite of the term 'apologia'. And 'apologetics' is the "field of study concerned with the systematic defense of a position". (Wikipedia).
(6) That the majority of Singapore (66.6% to be exact) welcome the increase in fees and fares. If all can write in English, they would have written to TODAY to sing praises about these increases.
(7) That the other 33.4% who are unhappy with increase in fees and fares should provide 'constructive criticism and alternatives'. They can then share out the wages of all the Ministers, MPs and senior civil servants and be able to afford these increases.
(8) That mr brown has just become a 'columnist'.
(9) That you must be a 'partisan player in politics' to talk about issues of concern to you. This means that those 'ah pek' in coffeeshops must stand for elections before they can talk about politics. Who says there is a dearth of political activism in Singapore? We will soon see a proliferation of political parties when everyone registers himself/herself as a politician.
(10) That the Government has no clue who mr brown is, how he looks like and which special school for autistic children is his daughter enrolled in.

On a more serious note though, the Government had gravely mis-read mr brown's letter and mis-calibrated its response. It seems that since the elections, it had become more 'paranoid', behaving like a 'jing gong zhi niao' (a bird petrified by the sight of a bow).

To the ordinary citizen, mr brown's letter is just putting on paper what people are generally already feeling. With due respect to mr brown, his letter does not have much 'substance'. It is more like one of those 'mindless rantings' on a bad hair day.

To come out so strongly on such a letter shows that the government is out of touch with its people on this issue.

I am so excited to see what other bloggers will be saying to this in the next few days. What will I do without the Government?


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