Monday, July 03, 2006

Drawing The Line In The Sand

Creator of the by now classic "Bak Chor Mee" podcast which has been downloaded more than 200,000 times, MrBrown is finally drawing flak from a supposedly "enlightened" establishment. The predictable result was documented by Reporters San Borders. Following is the missive which fired the first salvo:

Letter from K BHAVANI
Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts


Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.


The responses from the men and women in the blogosphere came in fast and furious, and more than 500 posted strong comments on Mr Brown's blog with 2 days, many highlighting Bhavani's obvious error in challenging him to about "come out from behind his pseudonym". Mr Brown is well known by his real name on and off-line, and has been interviewed on national television and in the local print media. Even more vitriolic were comments about Bhavani's uncalled for reference to "the father of an autistic child". The pictures and trials of litte daughter Faith are all documented online and well known to many parents. Incredulous comes to mind when it was revealed that that Bhavani is supposedly President of the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore (IPRS). Who else is more qualified to initiate a PR disaster of such epidemic proportions?

For the many Singaporeans who cared enough about the issue to write to the Today broadsheet, they received the following standard reply:

Dear [ ]

Thank you for your feedback. We will not be publishing any correspondence on this issue. Should you feel strongly, you may want to wish to redirect your views to the source of the letter.

With regards.
shavone yeo
editorial assistant
did: 6236 4878
fax: 6534 4217
news desk: 6236 4888
MediaCorp Press Ltd -

~~~~~ source of the letter ~~~~~

Someone actually received a reply from Bhavani, although this has not been verified. The irony in the official email tagline could not have been more appropriate:

PR expert BhavaniDear Ms ______

Thank you for your feedback.

Mr Brown gave his take on several issues in his column last week. I responded, on behalf of the Government, to his column as it was necessary to address these issues.

Yours sincerely

K BHAVANI | Press Sec To Minister and Director, Corporate Communications Department | Organisation Management Division
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts
6837 9865, 6837 9837

Creative People, Gracious Community, Connected Singapore

When asked by reporters to comment on the suspension of mr brown's column, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang had this to say:

"I think he made very unfair, unjustified comments on key government policies, and various allegations which are unfounded, of course, all under the guise of humour," said the minister on why the Government had to set the record straight.

"I think we are duty-bound to give a response to mr brown, to address his comments, and we did. We sent our response. We were just exercising our right of reply."

Dr Lee said the mainstream media must be be objective, accurate and responsible for its views.

He added that as the Internet was often a free-for-all arena, certain critical and humourous elements were acceptable. It was not the Government's intention to chase after every posting on the Internet, said the minister.

Asked if the Government's actions contradicted his earlier statement about taking a lighter touch with bloggers, Dr Lee told reporters: "I said that we will look at how we can have a lighter touch in regulating the internet during the election. Mr brown's comments was not posted on his blog. If he had posted the same comment on his blog, we will treat it as part of the internet chatter, and we would have just let it be. But he didn't post it - he wrote it and published it in the mainstream newspaper. That's the difference."