Singaporeans for Free Media?

11 Dec

BBC World Service Polls results on Singapore

According to the latest BBC World Service Poll, spanning across 14 countries, Singapore ranks lowest amongst other nationalities with only slightly more than one third or 36% of respondents in believing the media is free. The survey also asked respondents on their views about private and public media ownership and how the overall media performs.

A quick look at the survey results of respondents in Singapore reveals:

  • 43% believe that press freedom is very important to ensure a fair society as opposed to 48% who feels “stability and peace” is more important and hence controls are necessary.
  • 42% feels government or publicly funded news organizations reported the news honestly and accurately (a rating of 4 – 5 out of a scale of 5, with 1 being poor and 5, best – hence a rating of 4 to 5 implies good performance). 44% gave it an average performance rating (3 out of 5) while 6% thought it was poor (1 or 2 out of 5).
  • 32% feels private or profit driven organizations have done a good job of honest and accurate reporting (a rating of 4 – 5 out of a scale of 5, with 1 being poor and 5, best – hence a rating of 4 to 5 implies good performance). 49% feels they delivered average results (3 out of 5) while 6% think they are doing badly (1 or 2 out of 5).
  • 51% believes media ownership is of concern as it influences the news reporting while 33% thought otherwise.
  • 47% thinks it is “important for people like me to have a say” while 44% feels news organisations can make their own decision.

Comments on the survey results:

  • Free Media – With only slightly more than one third believing that the media is free, one can infer that the majority of Singaporeans may be exposed to the media, but retains a healthy degree of skepticism. The perceived lack of press freedom means Singaporeans may turn to unofficial channles such as gossips and online contents for alternative news or to form a more coherent picture of a situation or an issue. With such low press freedom ratings, it implies that Singaporeans may be hungry for more independent media channels. As the government adopts a more “hands-off” approach towards the internet, it means that opportunities arise for more “independent news websites” in the country. This could be in the form of (subscription-based/ editorial/ human rights/ local issues) Malaysia Kini in Malaysia or (free to surfers/ citizen journalism/ human rights/ global issues) OhMyNews in South Korea. Even though close to half (48%) feels that the media has to be controlled for national security, 43% also think that this freedom is important. As such, it is not entirely an uphill battle to educate people on the importance of media freedom. As the question does not allow respondents to list their degree of their convictions, it is difficult to assess how many of those who believe in stability may also be slightly inclined towards media freedom.
  • Private Vs Public Media – On the debate of private and public media, it may be difficult to comprehend what those polled understood since all local media in Singapore are operated as for profit corporations though heavily regulated and owned by the government through its government related companies (GLCs). The two major news corporations in Singapore are MediaCorp and Singapore Press Holdings with extensive outreach through their newspapers, online websites, magazines, radios, television channels. As such, the only way to understand these terms is to consider all local media as “public” with foreign media relegated to the private ones.
  • Divided Opinion on Media Ownership – The report summary on Singapore further reinforces the previous comment that when it comes to media ownership, Singaporeans are generally clueless. The report wrote, “People in Singapore are divided on the issue of growing concentration of private media ownership.” As the government has a heavy influence over what the local mass media reports, the majority of respondents are finding it difficult to come to a conclusion on whether private media is an issue of concern. This is because private media, even when it operates in the country, has less wide- spread impact when it comes to reporting. Authoritarian regimes in other countries, like Singapore, have more control over the media and as such, display similar results: UAE (38%), Egypt (40%), Nigeria (49%) and Kenya (44%). This contrasts with countries which have liberalised their media industry and as such, tend to show stronger views against private media ownership. This can be seen in Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Britain in which more than 70% of respondents feel it is is an issue.
  • Another Interpretation on Media Ownership – On the other hand, one can interpret the results as one of Singaporeans preferring local media over foreign channels. If as many as 42% feels the”public” media is doing honest and accurate reporting compared to only 32% when it comes to the “private” media, it could mean Singaporeans favour and trust local over foreign media such as the various newswires (e.g. AP. Reuters), foreign publications (e.g. Times, Newsweek, Financial Times), radio (e.g. BBC Radio) and television (e.g. BBC Worldwide, CNN)? If that is the case, one has to ask what are the causes of such widely- held perception (10% difference)?
  • What to Report– On what news organisations should report, (slightly less than half) or 47% thinks they should reflect voices of the average man on the street as opposed to 43% (also slightly less than half) who feels the former should make that choice. This implies that there is room for more grassroots or citizen journalism which is primarily concerned with citizens’ voices. It could also mean that current news media does not reflect enough of that in the mediascape. This supports the above-mentioned comment on the viability of an “independent news website”, with a strong emphasis on reflecting voices from the streets. The high percentage of room given to news organizations to report what it deems as important implies that the majority of the respondents have some “implicit trust” on the former to report what is important. It also means they think news organisations should report what is important on a societal- wide level. The trick, henceforth, for news organizations (whether be it the conglomerates or small independent websites) is to maintain a fine balance of achieving both, with preferably a news format that is able to successfully integrate “paid-reporters” and citizen journalism, and/or more space and less censorship on “letters to editors”.

===

References:

1. World views on free press mixed, BBC, 10 December 2007, Torin Douglas, Media correspondent.

2. BBC World Service Poll: World Divided on Press Freedom, BBC, 10 December 2007 (pdf).

jpg & gif files of results in charts:

bbc_world_service_poll_singapore.gif bbc_world_service_poll2_singapore.gifbbcworldservicepoll_3_singapore.jpgbbcworldservicepoll_6_singapore.jpgbbcworldservicepoll_7_singapore.jpgbbcworldservicepoll_8_singapore.jpgbbcworldservicepoll_9_singapore.jpg

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