Monday, April 14, 2008

PM Lee on internet lessons

Regulations on new media will be ready before next elections


THE recent elections in Malaysia have been described as a "political tsunami" brought on chiefly by the Malaysian government's underestimation of the impact of the Internet.

But for Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the elections across the Causeway and in Taiwan, both of which saw incumbent ruling parties trounced, held some simple truths.

"My conclusion is this: If the People's Action Party wants to continue to have the support of the people, it has to maintain an incorruptible and capable government; continue to reflect the wishes of the people; and continue to strive for a better future for Singapore," said Mr Lee.

Speaking to Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Lee was asked whether the Singapore Government drew any lessons from the recent elections in Malaysia and Taiwan. He also revealed that the government would be updating the regulations on new media in time for the 2011 elections.

Said Mr Lee: "We will study if we should relax parts of the regulations but we will look at this issue very carefully, to prevent any adverse effect."

Citing the controversial video released by a Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders - which criticised the Quran - and the anti-George Bush documentaries by American filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr Lee expressed concern on how Singaporeans are using the new media to disseminate news and information without sufficient understanding of the political motivation of the sources.

Besides the difficulty in refuting fallacious statements on cyberspace, Mr Lee noted that the free-for-all Internet environment throws up another potential minefield: How should political advertising be regulated, especially when political parties can post video clips on online platforms such as YouTube?

"From a narrow viewpoint, if the political party needs to put up political advertisements, the PAP has the advantage because we have the resources. But from a broader national perspective, this is not a good thing … political donations never come without strings attached," said Mr Lee.

Noting that the level of political debates in Singapore has generally gone up a notch, Mr Lee noted that some of the speeches by the Nominated Members of Parliament have sparked "widespread reactions" among the public.

Said Mr Lee: "The Government might not agree with their views but it is good that they can speak their mind in Parliament. This is how it should be and it also fulfils our objective of appointing NMPs."

But Mr Lee was less approving in his assessment of the performance of the Opposition MPs.

"In fact, they seldom engage the Government head-on in Parliamentary debates. Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong speaks less nowadays. Non-constituency MP Sylvia Lim's speeches are rather cautious and reserved, which, of course, is a good thing," said Mr Lee.

On Workers' Party's chief Low Thia Khiang, Mr Lee said: "He is very sharp but he seldom debates about the thrust of government policies and the broader issues. It seems like he is more passionate about nitpicking and making the government look bad - which is quite different from the rousing speeches he gave in the election rallies."

He added: "His attitude is that his responsibility is just to criticise government policies, and not to offer alternatives."

Mr Low and Ms Lim could not be reached for comments at press time. Mr Chiam declined to respond.

While the Government has been increasing efforts to explain its policies to Singaporeans - due to the rising educational levels and the growing complexity of policies - there would always be criticisms, said Mr Lee, who felt that these critics usually agree with the policies' objectives but disagree on the mechanics. And some do not understand the policies fully.

Said Mr Lee: "In fact, if we test people's understanding of policies, I think even news workers and PAP MPs might not pass."

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