In a state media interview with Straits Times, Senior Minister of State for Communications Janil Puthucheary claimed that none of the Singaporeans he met asked him about the dispute of historical facts surrounding Operation Coldstore. The ex-Malaysian PAP Minister who has never served National Service said that the matter is blown out of proportion online and that the “average Singaporeans” :
“There were some rumblings on social media that the Government had gone too far during the parliamentary committee hearing on fake news. I went down to the ground to ask people: Did they really feel that way? This is exactly what we did when we were receiving feedback on how everybody was so angry and worried about the Select Committee process and the six hours: We went to the grassroots, into the constituency, door to door – and nobody asked about it, nobody wanted to talk about it, nobody was the least bit concerned about it. It is one example of how there is sometimes “a disconnect” between a vocal segment of society and the average Singaporean…the key is not to rely on any single channel or any single viewpoint. You must have more than a triangulation, a multitude of inputs and a multitude of viewpoints.
And then go back out again and ask, ‘Is this what you’re really worried about? I’m told this is what you’re really worried about…The people that I meet on a daily basis, the hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents are not in the least bit interested. Yes, there is online commentary, very little of which you can verify represents the average Singaporean or even if they are indeed Singaporean accounts.’ “
According to historical records, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew fabricated fake news to arrest his political allies and opponents to become Prime Minister in 1963. Law Minister K Shanmugam and other PAP Ministers however felt insulted when Oxford historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin dictated the facts at the public hearing, and engaged him in a lengthy 6 hour debate. Through the state-controlled media, the PAP Ministers are accusing the Oxford historian of “subversion”, and a saboteur to “undermine our democracy”.
Minister Janil Puthucheary then defended the government’ character smear campaign aimed at the Oxford historian, and said that they are only trying to defend the “institution”:
“So when you have people who come forward not in good faith, trying to exploit the process for their own agenda, that is when a certain approach was taken. We really had to defend the institution of Parliament and defend, in a way, the dignity of the process.”
Minister Janil Puthucheary also said that Singaporeans still trust the government’s mainstream media very much even though he admitted that the trust is eroding:
“Singapore starts off from a relative position of strength, as local media enjoys significantly higher levels of trust than in many other developed countries, the gradual erosion of that trust is worrying. Any time there is a decrease in trust, of course that is something of a concern…Part of this effort of maintaining public trust and confidence – not just in the news but also in the Government and its institutions – means taking firm action when misinformation is being spread.”
Singapore’s mainstream media is ranked 151st in the world for press freedom and credibility.