A reader wrote in to the Straits Times forum today arguing that press freedom is a non-issue in the Internet age. I reproduce here the letter in its entirety, so you can draw your own conclusions.
I REFER to the recent reports and letters on press freedom, or the lack of it, in Singapore.
Given today’s borderless cyberspace of the World Wide Web and Internet-speed communications, I believe freedom of the press is a non-issue as far as Singapore is concerned.
While a muzzled press may restrict the flow of information in countries where the reach of the Internet is still embryonic, for an IT-savvy nation like Singapore, the press is no longer the sole source of information.
This explains how information from all quarters offering both truths and lies can be had effortlessly and even wirelessly in Singapore via the Web. Hence, so-called press freedom is nothing but a dying battle cry that has little impact on anyone who can read, type and is computer-literate.
In today’s lightning-speed communications with which a newsworthy murmur can be relayed globally in an instant, such talk of press freedom is silly because one cannot stop the flow.
Unlike in the past, when sources of information could be snuffed out easily even before newspapers hit the street, cyberspace today is just too big to police – and so it will remain at large.
So, while press freedom was once a coveted element of democracy, I do not think it matters now because one does not need the local press to be kept informed.
Paul Wee Kian Nghee
While the argument sounds convincing, more interesting is the government’s response to Reporters without Borders, which ranked Singapore 147th in the Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, behind such bastions of freedom as Afghanistan (125th), Russia (138th) and Sudan (133rd). According to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, the index is only a subjective measure, “computed through the prism of western liberals” (“SM to media: Use freedom responsibly” — ST, Nov 1).
Furthermore, “it has not been proven that having more press freedom would result in a clean and efficient government or economic freedom and prosperity”, added SM Goh.
Underlying his disturbing remark is the assumption that, first, Singapore values an uncorrupt government and its wealth more than freedom of the press; and second, that having a free press might infringe on the efficiency of the government or the economy.
The argument is, of course, flawed. Firstly, even though the factors taken into consideration for the press freedom index may be considered subjective and arbitrary, it still stands that Singapore, judged on the same bases as neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, fell far short of even the regional standard. And just because the benefits of having a free press are intangible does not mean that they are non-existent.