Netizens are asking whether ruling party MPs Tan Chuan-Jin and Lim Wee Kiak are claiming that mainstream media is somehow biased towards the Workers’ Party (WP), after the pair lamented about the choice of words publications used in headlines about an adjournment motion ballot Mr Tan conducted this week.
On 14 Sept, Ms Lim filed an Adjournment Motion in Parliament to examine the issues that arose from the court case involving ex-domestic helper Parti Liyani who was acquitted on appeal for theft in a case brought by her former employer, then-Changi Airport Group Chairman Liew Mun Leong.
On Tuesday evening (29 Sept), however, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin revealed that Ms Lim lost the random ballot deciding on the motions raised in the House. A motion filed by People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Louis Ng, calling for protection against secondhand smoke in homes, won the ballot.
The results of the ballot sparked backlash against the way parliamentary motions are selected. The response to the random ballot appears to have riled Mr Tan up and he published multiple rebuttals against the backlash.
In his first update, Mr Tan expressed surprise over how “some folks choose to spin a false narrative about this process” and called it “disrespectful” to run-down the issues that others are speaking on.
Asserting his hope that the backlash is borne out of “passion and ignorance” rather than a deliberate intention to spread misinformation, the Speaker said rather defensively: “You do not change processes at anyone’s whim and fancy, and just because some of you want only your outcome because you believe it to be right.”
While some agreed with Mr Tan’s point of view, other observers felt that the Speaker got needlessly personal against critics.
Mr Tan then published two more posts on Thursday touching on the same matter. He re-posted slides published by the ‘Parliament of Singapore’ Facebook page about what an adjournment motion is and asked netizens to share the post.
When one netizen commented and suggested that the method of allotment needs to be reviewed, Mr Tan snapped back: “do you even bother to read about options available?”
He also refuted the notion that MPs are denied the chance to speak on important issues in a separate post and highlighted the various ways issues can be aired in Parliament. He wrote: “There are various ways in which issues can be aired in Parliament. The Adjournment motion is one route.
“Some seem to take issue with it and the way it is managed. But from the strident calls and accusations made by some, it appears that they believe that MPs are denied the chance to air topics of importance and it is left to the vagaries of chance.
“I assume many of these folks do follow Parliamentary debates and proceedings closely. Perhaps they might have forgotten about a more substantive route to take. MPs can move motions beyond just the Adjournment Motion route.”
There are various ways in which issues can be aired in Parliament. The Adjournment motion is one route. Some seem to…
While some netizens understood Mr Tan’s position, others felt that the way he worded his message seemed a little too passive aggressive.
Meanwhile, fellow ruling party MP Lim Wee Kiak piped up in the comments section and suggested that the problem lies in the choice of words publications used when they covered the issue. He wrote in a comment that drew 90 reactions on Facebook:
“The problem is the choice of words used by the media. The headlines read as Sylvia Lim’s motion was not picked. People misunderstood that parliament did not pick her motion for debate. It should be “balloted but was not successful in the ballot”.”
Mr Tan responded, “Lim Wee Kiak perhaps so. Then it also betrays their bias in the way they chose to report it.” His reply drew 60 reactions on the social media site.
Netizens responding to the exchange have asked whether the MPs are referring to the way mainstream media covered the story. The Straits Times (ST) reported that Ms Lim’s motion was “not picked” while TODAY similarly reported that her motion was “not selected”.
The notion that ST and TODAY could be biased towards an opposition party surprised netizens, given the ties between the government and mainstream media.
TODAY’s parent company Mediacorp is fully owned by Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, which is run by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching. There is also a strong public perception that Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes ST, is the “mouthpiece of the Government”.
A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks several years ago caused a stir after it quoted former ST bureau chief for the US as saying that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”.
Responding to the exchange between Mr Tan and Dr Lim, netizens expressed disbelief that the MPs appear to be calling mainstream news publications biased towards the WP. Some netizens felt that Mr Tan came across as arrogant while others recalled how Dr Lim was the one who said that ministerial pay helps politicians maintain “dignity”: