Singapore’s President Tony Tan had his historic visit to the United Kingdom recently. Why is the visit accorded the headline “historic” is quite puzzling, That could be technically correct if viewed from the perspective of a visit by Tony Tan in his capacity as President. Local newspapers were awashed with news of the visit. Not to be beaten by the Singapore press, the British tabloid The Sun published a unflattering picture of the President and the First Lady taken with the young royals William and Kate. Notwithstanding the British press having unfettered licence to publish almost anything including trash, such distasteful derogatory publication speaks poorly of journalism in UK.
Singaporeans have the right to register the distaste for this lewd journalism. Many wrote to protest against the tabloid. Even though the President (elected with merely a third of popular support) does not have majority support of the populace, he is still the Head of State of puny Singapore. In response, The President has not done anything to warrant such a caricature to be carried by a tabloid paper. The Sun Newspaper retaliated: “We would urge any Singaporeans offended by the headline to consider whether their ire should instead be directed at their government who prevent proper freedom of expression by controlling the media.” The Sun is correct is some ways about Singapore’s freedom of speech. But to demean a head of state under the circumstances is not professional at all.
Observance of diplomatic protocols should not be obfuscated with the rights and wrongs of government actions and policies. Diplomatic protocols must take precedence above all else. Even though the press in democratic countries have licence to publish with impunity both facts and fallacies, respect for press freedom will be diluted once protocols break down.
It is true that Singapore does not enjoy the freedom of the press as is available in the UK, but that is an issue for the citizenry of Singapore to address via the process of universal suffrage. Hitherto, Singapore citizens still have the social media and a little patch called Hong Lim Park to “protest”. There is still a court of justice, however that justice is being administered. Incidentally, Singapore inherited much of the legal system from the previous British colonial masters. It is for Singapore citizens to use whatever that is available to publish issues and truth and for them to decide.
Singapore’s ranking for freedom is definitely dismal. Singapore is ranked #150 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2014 trailing way off from United Kingdom’s #33 ranking. If Singapore citizens see fit to make progress in this, let them do it via the ballot box. Let the civil process takes its course, albeit painful and arduous. Some day, Singapore may top the freedom index and take the #1 spot. Singapore loves to be #1 in all things. Let this be on the top of the #1 aspiration. When that day comes, and only when that happens, he who holds the Singapore passport will stand proud.
Civilised Singapore citizens should not be engaged in diplomatic indecency. There is no need to emulate the foul language used by Victoria Nuland who holds a high political office of the United States, or to call the head of state of another sovereign country derogatory names like “chicken shit”, or even resorting to threats. Cherish diplomatic decorum while it still exists. The auctioneer is screaming for the last bid….. “going. going, gone.”
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.