Is Trump giving Americans “bread and circus”to keep them happy?


February 20, 2017

Dr.Fareed is back with his latest take on Trump

Is Trump giving Americans “bread and circus”to keep them happy?

by Dr Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trump-circus/2017/02/16/d1bc4a86-f48c-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.04404ea201e8

Image result for fareed zakaria

Let’s say you are a Trump voter, the kind we often hear about — an honest, hard-working American who put up with Donald Trump’s unusual behavior because you wanted a president who would stop playing Washington’s political games, bring a businessman’s obsession with action and results, and focus on the economy. How is that working out for you?

The first few weeks of President Trump’s administration have been an illustration of writer Alfred Montapert’s adage, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” We are witnessing a rocking-horse Presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.

Image result for Combative Trump
Image result for Combative TrumpBoth Trump and Nixon: Taking on the Media

Since winning the election, Trump has dominated the news nearly every day. He has picked fights with the media, making a series of bizarre, mostly false claims — about the magnitude of his victory, the size of his inauguration crowd, the weather that day, the numbers of illegally cast ballots, among many others. He has had photo ops with everyone from Kanye West and Jack Ma to Shinzo Abe and Justin Trudeau. Now he is embroiled in a controversy about ties to Russia. But in the midst of it all, what has he actually done? Hardly anything.

 

President Donald Trump–Doing what he does Best


February 19, 2017

President Donald J. Trump–Doing what he does Best: Electioneering in stead of Governing

Listen to President of the United States at Melbourne, Florida and tell me what you think. His speech resonates with his supporters  no doubt, but it raises more concerns for the rest of us around the world. America, the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, is not an Island onto itself. Under the 45th President, it is  also a fading City on a Hill.

As a  friend of America, I am disappointed at what is happening in America today. In less than a month in office, Mr Trump, you are not acting presidential, but more like a demagogue.

What America is in 2017 reminds me of 1968. To me, you are like the coming of another Richard Milhous Nixon. A divided, polarized, paranoiac, and inward looking America led by another toxic President is not good for a distracted America, and the world which depends on sanity and order in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.

Taking on the Press is not the solution. It is time for you, Mr. President, to tap the power of the  Press to support and promote your agenda for change. Antagonism towards the Media is, therefore, counterproductive.

So please get out of  your campaign mode, and start governing and making friends with the Media and the rest of the world. It has to be “I am Okay, You are Okay”(Eric Berne) paradigm for global peace and stability. You need, Mr. Trump, friends to keep America and the world safe from terrorism, racism and other forms of extremism, not just ISIS/Dash.–Din Merican.

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng


February 17, 2017

Book Review:

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng

Image result for ob markers: my straits times story by cheong yip seng

From the very first chapter of this book to the last, it is full of detailed and astonishing revelations about the mainstream media in Singapore. It is an incredible resource for those trying to understand the control of the media and Singapore’s brand of self-censorship. Indirectly, Cheong Yip Seng’s My Straits Times Story is invaluable in helping to explain the dominance of one political party through its “symbiotic” relationship to all the mainstream print media in our country.

The book begins with an account of how Cheong was appointed to his job as editor-in-chief of the Straits Times in 1986. This was not a private dinner with a publisher or a board meeting or even the result of a secret ballot at a conference of editors.

Instead, Cheong describes how he was summoned by Chandra Das, a prominent Singapore politician, on a plane to Burma with the words “The boss wants to see you”. Cheong was given a seat in the first-class cabin next to the then-Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Goh wanted him to take over the editorial leadership of the Straits Times from the previous editor, Peter Lim, who had been found wanting.

Image result for Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore
Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore

Apparently Lim’s “sin” was that he (and the ST) had during the regional uproar over the Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore “failed to recognize the educational role of the Straits Times” which infuriated then PM Lee Kuan Yew who believed that the ST coverage “did not help Singaporeans fully understand the facts of regional life and what it took to be an independent sovereign nation.”

Apparently Lim had relied too much on the Malaysian English-language media in its coverage of the Malaysian outrage without adequately carrying some of the more rabid reactions from the vernacular media from across the causeway. This was the final straw which led to Lim’s firing as the Istana had apparently “reached the point of no return with the Straits Times.”

Related imageBelieve him or not, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew stood up for a responsible and accountable media

In the months before that, Cheong reveals, the government was planning on a “GTO (government team of officials) moving into Times House” similar to what was done with the bus company. The response by the ST leadership is instructive. Instead of protesting against this attempt at interference in professional journalism, apparently Peter Lim and CEO Nigel Holloway met the PM at the Istana repeatedly to negotiate against the presence of government officials in the newsroom. The solution they negotiated was instead a “monitor at Times House, someone who could watch to see if indeed the newsroom was beyond control”. This person was identified by Cheong as (former Singapore president) S R Nathan.

The threat of a GTO together with the presence of a “monitor” made sure that the SPH newspapers toed the party line. This is something that many in civil society in Singapore have suspected for a long time but it is nice to see it confirmed here from the best source possible.

There is more evidence of intimidation documented in this book, mainly from Lee Kuan Yew, who actually endorsed the book prominently. For example, after an early event at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Cheong was threatened by Lee with the words, “If you print this, I will break your neck”. Cheong’s response to what appears on the surface to be a brutal threat is interesting was: “I was taken aback by his thunderbolt…It was my first taste of Lee Kuan Yew’s ways with the media…Thankfully not every encounter would be as bruising as (that)…but there were many occasions when the knuckleduster approach was unmistakable.”

Image result for Lee Kuan Yew

All said and done and for all  the criticisms, Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore a great and globally admired Island Nation in the Sun–Din Merican

Such blatant intimidation is presumably rare in Singapore. The title of the book, however, describes the life of a Singaporean journalist constantly trying to negotiate the “OB” or “Out of Bounds” markers. Cheong explains the origin of the term “OB markers”, ascribing it to former minister George Yeo, who described them as “areas of public life that should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.”

Outside of race and religion, the most important OB marker was then PM Lee Kuan Yew’s argument that the press could not be a “fourth estate” or center of power because it was not elected.

This is not a valid argument to me as it could be argued that the press are far more accountable than politicians as they have to seek the approval of the newspaper purchasing public every day rather than every four to five years in elections.

Instead, Lee’s view of the press was that it was a tool for dissemination and promotion of government policies. One illuminating illustration was a “furious” call from Lee’s office that was received by the (now defunct) New Nation Editor David Kraal. The editors were “flummoxed” to discover that the then PM was provoked by a photograph of a large family to illustrate a story of a happy Singapore family. Apparently, this was perceived by the PM as “subtle but effective criticism” of the “Stop at Two campaign” in which Lee sought to limit families to two children.

There are other OB markers which Cheong found “bewildering”. These included stories on Stanley Gibbons, a stamp dealer; carpet auctions; monosodium glutamate or MSG; feng shui; unflattering pictures of politicians, and scoops.

I think many Singaporeans too would find it difficult to understand why these “should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.” These are, however, hallmarks of an authoritarian regime which can install boundaries at whim without having them questioned.

Image result for singapore's george yeo
The Emeritus Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo

Another OB marker was appearing overly critical of local TV programs. George Yeo apparently pointed out that “If the Straits Times created the impression that our TV programs were not worth watching, Singapore would lose an important channel of communications.” As a result, even the TV critics were reined in.

The issue of scoops is a recurrent theme. Cheong reports that “Lee Kuan Yew was determined to purge the newsroom of the culture of scoops”. He did not want a situation like the Watergate affair in which a dishonest president was exposed by investigative journalists who became cult heroes. Cheong writes that “The PM took the position that Singapore was not America: he had no skeletons in the closet and challenged the press to find one because he wanted to be the first to know…”

But of course, the press could not use investigative journalism to find out – they had to depend on the official version of events. This kind of Alice in Wonderland argument doesn’t seem to trouble Cheong or perhaps by re-stating the argument in this context, he is exposing its hollowness.

Cheong actually admits how much of a struggle this was for him as a journalist. He quotes Number 5 Chinese Leader Li Changchun as urging mainland Chinese journalists to go for scoops and explains his predecessor Peter Lim’s Faustian bargain for Singapore journalists thus: “it was better to produce the best story than the first story…Finding scoops in Singapore with many OB markers carried a real risk”.

Indeed, one gets a sense of how difficult life is for journalists who might inadvertently break a story that covered the sensitive subject of MSG or bad local TV programs or some other OB marker and end up being hauled up by the government.

Cheong makes it clear that while he had hoped that the “knuckleduster era” belonged to the 1970s, it could reappear any time. For example, he describes how while “recovering” from the 2006 general election, he received a phone call in a hotel in Phuket, from Lee Kuan Yew who was “livid” about a “powerfully argued column by Chua Mui Hoong” in which the deputy political editor had questioned the policy of placing opposition wards at the back of the queue for upgrading works. According to Cheong, Lee was “his old 1970s self. If the Straits Times wanted a fight, he was prepared to do it the old way, with knuckledusters on”. This is depressing but not surprising to any reader of the ST today.

The extent of micro-management of the local press Cheong reports is amazing. Apparently, Goh Chok Tong had made a suggestion during the launch of The New Paper: “Why not consider a Page 3 girl”. Cheong quickly clarifies that Goh was not suggesting topless women that had been made famous by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun but rather girls that (as Cheong quotes Goh) “can be scantily dressed”. The character and direction – and not just the OB markers – of the local press are thus apparently suggested by Singapore’s political leadership.

Cheong also provides details about the ST personnel’s relationship with the ruling People’s Action Party, the PAP. He writes that “senior PAP leaders had been impressed with (columnist Warren Fernandez’s) work for us. His columns in particular have been generally supportive of PAP policies.” He was about to be selected as a PAP candidate for the 2006 elections.

Cheong then emailed the Prime Minister asking to keep Warren at the ST “unless he was earmarked for higher office. But the PM’s response was that he needed Eurasian representation in parliament”. Apparently Cheong’s email had been circulated to the PAP selection panel before the final interview and Kuan Yew agreed to keep Fernandez out of the PAP slate. Of course, now Fernandez is the Editor of the ST.

Reporting on the “opposition” politicians was even more of a “minefield”. Cheong recalls the 1984 elections when “Peter Lim, then editor in chief, was under pressure from James Fu, the PM’s press secretary, conveying the PM’s request to publish Chiam (See Tong)’s O-Level results….Peter Lim refused: he was convinced it would backfire against the PAP…The result proved him right”.

What intrigues me about the incident was not just that the Prime Minister would intervene to try to persuade the national newspaper to publish such data, but rather that the editor-in-chief refused not because of journalistic integrity but rather because he thought it would “backfire against the PAP”.

This is typical of what Cheong describes as the “symbiotic relationship” between the ST and the PAP which is in fact enshrined in the editorial policy that Cheong crafted in response to then PM Goh’s unhappiness with the local mainstream media. The three pillars of that policy are (1) “Accuracy and objectivity” of coverage (2) The nation-building task of advancing and informing the public as Singapore develops and (3) The symbiotic relationship with the government. Some journalists were unhappy about this relationship but it stayed in the ST editorial policy at Cheong’s insistence. This documentation again, is what makes this book valuable to all who read the local press.

There are many revelations in Cheong’s book. We learn that the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts kept a dossier on local press articles which they found offensive. These include not giving enough prominence to ministers’ speeches. We also learn that when editors were “called up for meetings” with then PM Lee, they had to send detailed CVs including their O-Level results and their wives’ educational qualifications.

Other specific examples of censorship included restrictions on reporting conditions in national service camps in the early days and telling stories of the people who actually lost out through the Housing and Development Board (HDB) construction and resettlement process. The latter is poignant as Cheong describes the contrast between the 30,000 square feet (including a pond and a farm) that a friend living in Kampong Henderson had to give up in exchange for less than $3,000 compensation and a much smaller HDB flat. The ST was not allowed to report on such negative aspects of our “urban renewal” process or the HDB “success story”. The threat of the disapproval of the Times House “monitor” which could cost them their jobs through a GTO ensured compliance.

Interestingly, the “foreign investors” whom we religiously try to attract to Singapore are not as keen on press controls as we have been given to believe. According to Cheong, the American Business Council, supported by the US State Department, argued that investors would be deterred without the free flow of information. Cheong reports how the Singapore government stood their ground but paid the price, in his words: “liberal democracies and some members of the Singapore intelligensia saw it as too intolerant for its own good.”

Cheong is dismissive of the online alternative media but he devotes a paragraph to responding to Seelan Palay’s film “One Nation Under Lee” specifically by explaining that the ISD agents hired by the ST were not sent by the government, they were in fact, according to Cheong, willingly brought in by himself.

Later on, Cheong describes Lee Kuan Yew’s response to the online question “Who paid for the flying hospital for his wife” as marking the legitimization of online media. Cheong acknowledges that the days of traditional media are numbered worldwide, even in Singapore. He quotes the current PM Lee Hsien Loong as admitting that he cannot persuade his own daughter to read the news pages of the ST.

Image result for lee hsien loong quotes

The book is not all about the travails of a court announcer trying to keep the king happy. For me, the most promising section was the one describing the ST’s finest hour – exposing a scandal involving the National Kidney Foundation. Here is where you get a sense of what might have been should the ST have decided to serve the people of Singapore by performing the task of investigative journalists rather than as disseminators of official information.

Cheong was aware of “strong pro-NKF sentiments in powerful quarters” including two ministers (Lim Hng Kiang and Khaw Boon Wan) as the NKF had taken a tremendous load off the public healthcare sector by keeping alive and healthy 1,800 Singaporeans through its excellent dialysis centers.

He was initially prepared to pay S$20,000 as compensation, publish a statement of clarification about the article by Susan Long, which had the infamous gold taps as part of a “generally laudatory article” and settle the matter out of court. Cheong does not reveal who or what made him change his mind and go against Mrs Goh Chok Tong’s efforts to mediate.

T T Durai, then NKF CEO, who was at the center of the controversy, was incensed and accused the media of trying to be the fourth estate, which Cheong had already established was a role that the Singapore mainstream media had given up – except in this case!

Here the ST team excelled themselves – they tracked down the contractor who prepared the gold taps and other witnesses who were prepared to sign affidavits. In other words, good old-fashioned investigative journalism. Like the good journalists that many in the ST are (before they censor themselves), they want their readers to have all the facts, including those below the surface so the readers could make intelligent decisions for themselves.

While the stories in the book are exciting to any media watcher (and there are many more), there are many errors such as the misspelling of my uncle David Tambyah’s name and SARS was described incorrectly as occurring in 2002 in one instance (although the proof readers picked out the correct dates for the three subsequent mentions of the outbreak).

Cheong himself acknowledges the problem with the quality of English in the newspaper and says that the ST paid the price for the “neglect” of the teaching of grammar in schools. It got so bad that he had to “scour” the world for good copy editors whom he eventually found in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India.

For those of us who lament that our education system seems to have switched from teaching life and career skills to teaching what is required to top international standardized tests, that is a statement worth paying attention to.

The question on many Singaporean’s minds is: Why did he write this book? Cheong does explicitly reveal this. Near the end, however, he gives a telling account of how journalists found official spokespersons unhelpful as their priority was “reflecting better on the ministers” rather than allowing journalists to do investigative or background work. He describes frustrated journalists recounting their bad experiences in explicit detail – perhaps that is what he is trying to do himself as some kind of catharsis.

Perhaps wistfully, he talks about a time when the ST was indeed the “fourth estate” when it did occasionally demonstrate its independence – although he has to reach as far back as 1956 when the ST condemned the takeover of the Suez Canal by British, French and Israelis. British expats in Singapore were incensed and the managing director of the ST, a member of the British establishment was “spat on in the (then British only) Tanglin Club.”

When I asked a prominent civil society figure about the reasons for this book, he pointed out that when authoritarian regimes in Latin America or Eastern Europe were crumbling, “everyone claimed to be a reformer.”

I am an optimist. I think that Cheong has seen the signs from the recent general, presidential and by-elections and he knows that the people of Singapore are waking up. Establishment voices are raising questions about some fundamental assumptions.

The first step, as anyone with a serious problem knows, is acknowledging that you have a serious problem. Perhaps this is Cheong’s first step. Hopefully for the mainstream media, acknowledging the problem of control and domination will be the first step to the recovery of an independent media which can evolve into a free press, a necessity for democracy for the people of Singapore. The book is a worthy read.

(Another version of this review first appeared on yoursdp.org. Assoc Prof Paul Tambyah is a member of the Singapore Democratic Party’s Healthcare Policy Panel. He contributed this in his personal capacity.)

Trump versus the Media


January 31, 2017

Analysis

Trump versus the Media

by Mike Minehan

http://www.ideaschannel.com/index.php/analysis/2787-trump-versus-the-media

Image result for Mike MinehanMike T. Minehan

It seems that the new President of the United States is happiest when he has an enemy to attack. His fans also love this pugilism, perhaps because this is the feeling of being in the thick of it together, us against them.

‘Them’ in this case is the mainstream media in America, mainly the big outlets such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.

It suits Trump to berate the media, because these news media were quick to point out his inaccuracies, contradictions and falsehoods during his election campaign.

Almost all of Trump’s rallies were an opportunity to attack the media. “I would never kill them, but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people.” This was Trump’s opinion about journalists at one of his campaign rallies.

Yet one of the most interesting discoveries about Trump’s ascent to the Presidency of the USA is that alternative media, not conventional media, played the most important role in his success. The proof of this, according to Fortune magazine was because the flood of articles and coverage about Trump’s outrageous behaviour, had almost no effect on most of the voters. These were the stories about his falsehoods, his refusal to publish his tax returns, his companies that were ethically challenged, his refusal to place his businesses in a blind trust, and his boasting about sexually groping women.

Trump’s support base simply wasn’t reading or consuming conventional media. This is probably not so much because these supporters couldn’t read, but because they were getting their information from the myriad of new sources that the internet has made available.

“What Trump supporters were listening to was Trump himself on Twitter, and organs of the Trump Nation such as Breitbart News, InfoWars, and other alternative and fringe news sites”.

Also, 44 per cent of Americans had switched to Facebook for their news. News on Facebook consists of the stories that trend the most according to how many other users like them, and according to algorithms which provide more of the stories that you will like.

Image result for Trump vs CNN

This is the ‘echo chamber effect’ where people get the news that they like, and which will reinforce their existing opinions, or biases.

The other new, alarming phenomenon has been the rise of fake news sites. Almost anyone with basic internet skills can set up a site with an apparently innocuous name, and then fill it with pictures and attention-grabbing stories, false or otherwise.

These site were simply working on the principle of attracting enough traffic that, in turn, would generate income when the site owners would then place advertising on it for profit.

The genie is out of the bottle and the news as we knew it not so long ago has irrevocably changed. This is particularly in countries such as the USA, where free speech, almost any speech, is protected by the First Amendment.

Alright, so why should Trump bother any more about mainstream media, when mainstream media is no longer central to his success?

The answer, according to Trump’s biographer, Michael D’Antonio, is that Trump is ‘irritated and even enraged by those who check facts and look for evidence to confirm or disprove his claims. He thinks he should just be able to say things, and that those things should be reported and considered uncritically. So he resents it when people fail to do that and instead hold him to some standard, and he takes it personally’.

It appears that Trump wants to be loved and forgiven by the mainstream media, irrespective of his inability to get his facts straight. This need for constant approval seems to indicate a deep-seated insecurity. There’s almost a child-like petulance and rage about his reaction to criticism. This immaturity would be amusing, it Trump wasn’t the President of the United States, with the nuclear codes within reach.

Well, mainstream media just won’t roll over and suddenly ignore the falsehoods and Trump’s ‘alternative reality‘ where the facts just don’t matter any more. American credibility itself is on the block.

Accordingly, the media wars have only just started, and what we’ve seen so far are only the first shots being fired. More brutal combat is on the way.

Obama’s Farewell Press Conference


January 19, 2017

President Barack H. Obama’s Farewell Press Conference

Government does not work in a democracy without a free and accountable media. This is because an informed citizenry keeps those endowed with power honest and accountable. Political Leaders must understand this simple message.  At the same time, a credible media can play only its role by maintaining high ethical standards of journalism.–Din Merican

 

US hypocritical use of the Media


December 20, 2016

US hypocritical use of the Media

by Chen Weihua

Image result for sarah sewall state

The US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewal

Sarah Sewall, the US under-secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, spoke recently of how freedom of information and freedom of the press form the bedrock for US foreign policy.

She lashed out at China and Russia, saying that a recent report found that the Chinese government and its legions of helpers write nearly a half billion fake posts a year and that the Russian government spends at least $400 million a year on its propaganda machine of bots and trolls and factories of false content to undermine trust in independent media.

She then claimed that the US ramped up support in Europe for civil society and media most vulnerable to Russian pressure by more than 50 percent to more than $85 million.

Ms. Sewall’s allegations against the Chinese and Russian governments are yet to be substantiated, while her admission that the US government spent $85 million on propaganda in Europe raises questions about the US government meddling in its media.

Ms. Sewall quickly left after the six-minute speech she gave at a seminar in honor of the 250th anniversary of Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act.The event touched on much of the challenges the media face in the US today, especially under President Barack Obama’s administration.

In the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, the US ranked 41st out of 180 countries. Its standing in 2015 was 49th. Such a relatively low ranking, behind Slovenia (40), Ghana (26) and Namibia (17), hardly looks like the robust media freedom  that Ms. Sewall touted.

The Reporters Without Borders report blasted the US government’s “war on whistle blowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter terrorism” and the lack of a “shield law” in the US to help journalists protect confidential sources.

Sam Sanders of National Public Radio reported that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has cracked down on reporters in an effort to prevent leaks; it also set a new record for withholding access to government files under the Freedom of Information Act (despite Mr. Obama calling for a “new era of openness” on his first day in office).

A study by the Columbia Journalism Review found that relations between the White House and the news media have never been so controlled in the past 50 years, saying that the “White House is determined to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public.”

New York Times reporter James Risen last year called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.” Mr. Risen was beseeched by the Obama government to identify his confidential sources for parts of a 2006 book in which he detailed a CIA plan to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

Image result for Obama talks to the Media

At the seminar, veteran US journalist Marvin Kalb shared his personal experiences covering the Vietnam War and talked about how presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did not like his reporting that was critical of US foreign policy. Some reporters in his time ended up on the “enemies list,” their phones being tapped and income tax returns scrutinized every year.

He lamented that there are many ways a government, even in a free country, can put pressure on a reporter, but added that many reporters acted more aggressively under such pressure.

Jeffrey Herbst, President and CEO of Newseum, noted the high societal pressure on journalists in the US today. Feedback on reporters’ stories often includes hateful or vitriolic comments. He admitted that some US reporters tend to censor themselves under such a public backlash. It would be good if Ms. Sewall had also reflected on the US government’s war on the media before pointing fingers at other governments.

Source :China Daily Asia