It is easy to criticize. Easy to call for change. Easy to mock the system. How about fixing it? Every time a conversation on Singapore’s politics pops up, almost everyone will agree that our press is government controlled. As a matter of fact, yes, it is. Our media outlets are government controlled. There is almost no attempt to hide this fact. But what can be done?
What is Freedom?
Freedom is just the ability to do what you like. Freedom is subjective, one man’s freedom is another’s doom. In the eyes of those who control or influence the press, there is freedom. Freedom to express what they want to in a media they control.
Can there truly be freedom? The answer is a plain no. As long the press is written by a human being, the content procured will be subject to a level of bias. When you read a news article you understand the content through the eyes of the writer – the skewed vision of the writer.
The journalistic code calls for thorough fact checking and a sincere attempt to write in a balanced fashion. But journalists are human too and can be easily influenced. It does not stop with the journalist. The editor not only edits what a journalist might write but also influences the placement of news stories in the newspaper. In other forms of media, this will include choosing which news item to read first, etc. Placement is what the editor believes should be the priority – your priority of reading the news. Changing the placements and sizes of articles can change overall content even if each article is written in an ideal non bias form.
The press is run by companies, each of them owned by someone. This ‘someone’ influences the direction of the paper. Rupert Murdoch is a powerful man because most of the global press is under his hand. Thus, it is only natural that the press will be biased because it is subject to many levels of influences.
In order to balance unbiased sources, there should be many newspapers or TV stations, etc. It’s like a democracy – the more parties in parliament the more even things should be – in theory. But Singapore is a tiny island. It has a population of 5.1 million and readership levels, even if fantastic, are insufficient to support 2 or more press sources. There was an attempt to have 2 TV companies – MediaCorp and MediaWorks. Both of them faced losses and had to merge their TV ventures. Note that these two companies are giants and both enjoy a fair degree of support from authorities. Yet, they still flopped. Small newspapers have not really survived as well. So what can be done?
All solutions are based on the internet. This is to eliminate the high costs of starting out and to bypass debatable laws in the country. It must also be pointed out that the internet has a bias of its own. Most of the audiences tend to be younger and as such there is a slant towards more modern principles. The idea here is not to create another opposition mouthpiece like most popular sites but one that is balanced as far as possible. The solutions get more ambitious as the list goes on.
Solution 1: Crowd Sourcing
This solution has been done. No one goes out to get the story and there is nearly no cost besides maintaing the site. Stories are submitted by users and commented by users. Placement is determined by a vote up / down system. The biggest example will be Reddit which is predominantly US-centric. Obviously, this solution will be susceptible to the tyranny of the majority. But nevertheless an easier system to run.
Solution 2: Peer Reviews
This is a response site to the Straits Times. For every major news article posted on the Straits Times, an equal side to side comparison is posted to prompt critical debate on the issue. For example, if there are two points of view of an article, we’ll have them placed side by side written in a manner tuned for comparison. This solves placement issues and slant. Each point of view can be slanted as much as they want to but because there is / are counterpoints juxtaposed next to it, so that it balances it out.
Solution 3: A New Online Paper
This idea is similar to the second but it won’t be based on what the Straits Times report and will churn out news articles on its own. To keep costs manageable, this news outlet can first focus on certain news categories such as local news only, etc. The news articles will maintain the side to side comparison format which means each article will require a minimum of two reporters. In short, this is an internet based replacement paper that focuses on balance.
There are viable solutions that do not require a huge readership to support it. Whenever you hear the opposition call for freedom of the press, take it with a pinch of salt. Most people want ‘freedom’ only if they are not having it their way. PAP was brutally handled in the papers when our papers were British influenced (pre independence), you can’t blame them for taking a stranglehold of the media once they are in power.
A truly balanced press must not be controlled by any party or have a single ownership. It must be run by many and showcase as many diverse points of views as possible. Until you have read many different opinions about the same topic, you will always be having a biased view.