At a public lecture entitled “Universities for a Global Society” at the LKY School on 27 Oct 2009, Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, argued that the world needs a free and independent press to “serve the needs of a global society.” “A lot of the world views this as potentially dangerous and counterproductive,” he said. “My attitude is that the world needs to be helped towards that kind of value system. It is the most vital and exhilarating kind of world to have.”
We have read how Shanmugam opined that such a system "a large, rich counry like the US can afford, (but) the cost will be to high for some of us." ("The Role of the Media: Singapore's Perspective", Columbia University, 4 Nov 2010). This came after he boasted about our per capita GDP that has vaunted from US$512 in 1965 to US$41,000. Then he segued into the line that our fabric of society, now conveniently grouped with that of developing countries, does not have the in-built stability of mainstream America. So where are we, First World status, or third world pariah? If all the economic laurels do not translate into a functional glue for binding the tribal, ethnic and religious fault lines in society, what were the sacrifices for? Were the last years spent on nation building, or creating a gigantic piggy bank for a select coterie?
Invoking the ghosts of communist spectres past, Shanumgam attempted to draw up a case for a muted press. Lee Kuan Yew did same at the General Assembly of the International Press Institute at Helsinki on 9 Jun 1971, but at least he was more forthcoming about media elements who allegedly make political gains by shaping opinions and attitudes:
"My colleagues and I have the responsibility to neutralise their intentions. In such a situation, freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government."
On shaping opinions and attitudes, Shanmugam did quote that Gallup polls in 2005 and 2006 showed 69 per cent of Singaporeans trusted the local media compared with only 32 per cent of the Americans. Guess what? The winner of that poll was Rwanda. 86 per cent of the Rwandans said they trusted the local media. If "Singaporeans trust our media", as Shanmugam maintains, it makes one wonder why certain leaders like to air their views to Charlie Rose and the National Geographic. Didn't he also say, "People are more cynical about the media in the US"?