ION SG: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) have been at the forefront of the culture war in Singapore, including controversies involving the Health Promotion Board, Malay Studies professor Dr Syed Muhd Khairuddin Aljunied, Pink Dot and Wear White, and the latest controversy involving the National Library Board (NLB).
The media plays a very important role, especially in the context of such debates where clarity is much needed. Then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a 2004 speech at the Harvard Club of Singapore’s 35th Anniversary Dinner on “Building A Civic Society“:
“The fourth way to build a civic society is for the media to play a constructive role in nation building. This is vital if freer debate is to lead to consensus and understanding, instead of cacophony and confusion. The media should report news accurately and fairly, in order to inform and educate the public. It should adopt a national perspective on issues, educating Singaporeans on the reality of global competition, or the need for healthy habits during the SARS outbreak. But it should avoid crusading journalism, slanting news coverage to campaign for personal agendas. This way the media helps the public to decide and judge issues for themselves, and provides a valuable channel for them to voice views and opinions.”
Likewise, the Singapore Court of Appeal observed in Review Publishing Co Ltd v. Lee Hsien Loong  1 Sing. L.R. 52 at paras. 277 and 278:
277 … [In] our political context, the notion that “[t]he press discharges vital functions as … a watchdog” … is not accepted. The media has no special role beyond reporting the news and giving its views on matters of public interest fairly and accurately.
278 In short, the media’s role in Singapore has hitherto been and continues to be limited to… “the traditional activities of reporting and commenting”… The media can, however, … report on “things [that] are wrong” (for instance, where there is corruption in the Government). When “things are wrong” in relation to matters that affect the way in which the State is governed, citizens obviously have a right to know about what has gone wrong… [Emphasis added]
Singapore’s most widely-read newspaper, the Straits Times, has at least claimed to live up to the standards of reporting responsibly. In response to criticism from Talia Seet about the way the Straits Times described the riots in Little India as the “Little India riot” (“Calling it ‘Little India riot’ is convenient but inappropriate” (23 December 2013)), the Straits Times responded:
“WE MAKE every effort to report responsibly, but we would be remiss in our role as a newspaper not to tell it like it is…”
However, the Straits Times has repeatedly fallen short of standards of responsible reporting. In the latest in its coverage of the NLB controversy, the Straits Times reported in “NLB defends move to remove books” (11 July 2014):
“THREE children’s titles removed by the National Library Board (NLB) for having homosexual content will not be reinstated despite appeals.
Elaborating on its decision yesterday, NLB said that it continually reviews the books that it carries in its libraries.”
“Books are regularly discussed by librarians from across the 24 branches and the senior management of Public Libraries, headed by the Chief Librarian,” it said in an e-mailed statement.
“As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a sensing of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library.”
Giving the example of one of the titles – And Tango Makes Three, about a pair of same-sex penguins – NLB said the title came in “only a few months ago” and had already surfaced during regular reviews by its librarians when a parent wrote in to complain.
“Hence, the parent’s feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns, and NLB removed the books,” it said.
NLB did not elaborate on the other two removed titles – The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who’s In My Family?: All About Our Families. Speaking at a press briefing yesterday to address the gathering controversy over the books, NLB assistant director Jasna Dhansukhlal said the board considers book reviews and trade catalogues, among other things, when choosing books.
NLB takes “special care” in choosing content for children, she said, but added: “If you are acquiring one million books for your collection, that’s a big number.”
News of the removed titles had sparked an uproar online, with one petition to reinstate them collecting more than 3,000 signatures in two days.
Two mothers are also organising a “read-in” this Sunday afternoon at the NLB atrium along North Bridge Road, where the books will be made available for children to read.
Some of these critics have argued that library users should be free to decide what they want their children to read.
Addressing this yesterday, Ms Jasna took reporters to the children’s section of Toa Payoh Public Library to emphasise that children often “move around freely to select content on their own”.
In its statement, NLB also highlighted that its adult collection “does contain titles with homosexual themes and our collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles”.
NLB kept the title Kill Me If You Can by novelist James Patterson despite users objecting to its incest theme and asking for it to be removed.
NLB said it gets about 20 e-mails a year from the public to ask for certain titles to be withdrawn, but fewer than a third of the titles in question end up being removed. In removing the books, NLB had said that they were not “pro-family”.
Quizzed on how NLB defines family, Ms Jasna would say only it is “consistent with that of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development”. She added that the books will be pulped – the standard process for removed titles.
What the Straits Times conveniently left out of its tale of an outraged citizenry who launched petitions against NLB, one of which collected “more than 3,000 signatures in two days”, is the fact that there is another petition affirming NLB for its actions, which garnered more than 22,000 signatures in less than two days.
Titled “Thank you NLB for upholding your role with clarity and integrity!“, the petition was put up by a group known as Singaporeans United for Family, at about 2am on Thursday. Part of the petition reads:
“NLB’s decision to remove the books has nothing to do with inclusivity but everything to do with children’s interest.
Children are unable to evaluate homosexual content and stimulus at their age. They are also one of the core clienteles of our libraries. NLB owes them the responsibility to be prudent in the selection of books.
It is only right that NLB acts upon its duty of looking after the interests of children.”
In a post this morning, Singaporeans United for Family wrote:
Good morning! We now have 22255 signatures!
We at Singaporeans United for Family are deeply disappointed that the media completely ignored us even as it announced that one of the petitions opposing NLB collected “more than 3,000 signatures in two days”.
In spite of the deep biases against us among the elite ranks of society, let us continue to encourage one another to remain united, as one, for family!
As one of the signatories, I share their disappointment.
Indeed, the day is coming and might have already come where, as described by Mark Twain:
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed.
If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.
This article is courtesy of IonSG. The original article can be found here.