Friday, July 07, 2006

Capital G syndrome: the Government strikes yet again!

I told you, and I tell you again:

ST July 7, 2006
Today paper suspends blogger's column
Move comes after Govt slams mr brown's latest piece on the high cost of living here.

Now that we've established just exactly what we're talking about, and you can click on the link for the rest of the article, let's examine the language for the references to the Government.

First minor point I noticed, "here" is very ambiguous and informal for a newspaper. However, that's just tone and register. Yet, the way the article is written can reflect a lot about the current culture in Singapore, especially for the media:

Second highlight: "Move comes after Govt slams mr brown's latest piece on the high cost of living here"

Let's see, shall we? This sentence seems to assume that firstly, that it is the Government. Things like excluding a grammatical article can be a subtle sign of the attitude of the press, or many Singaporeans, towards the government of Singapore. Or shall I say, Government. Right away the reference is ubiquitous: that great collective entity, almost worshipped and exalted to such high heights with its capital G. Despite the Government seemingly being composed of thousands of civil servants, 84 members of Parliament and dozens of ministers, they all unanimously slammed mrbrown's latest piece, and perhaps passed legislation on it that declared, "this House vehemently slams mrbrown's column of 'Singaporeans are fed, up with progress'". Telepathically, most likely. Quite!

Note for that one, government-run newspaper Today had no objections about the column until they received a letter about it from Bhavani. This seems to be reactionary censorship. Is the great establishment a giant unified entity like so claimed?

Third highlight: "four days after the paper published the Government's rebuttal on the column"

Let's analyse the language. When Bhavani issued her rebuttal, apparently it was clearly a rebuttal from everyone in the entire Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, despite the fact she did not explicitly say it was on behalf of the Ministry. Very well, fine. Never mind one ministry, but then apparently this rebuttal is from all the departments of the Singaporean government, or shall I correct myself, the Government. Truly a unified rebuttal from a monolithic government, despite the Constitution's declaration to the contrary, and despite the fact that the a judge punished Chee Soon Juan for "contempt of court" for alleging that there was no separation of powers within the Government. Despite all this, we clearly know that the all the Government came to a consensus over this.

Was there even a formal motion in Parliament, or perhaps a show of hands? Remember the time when it was reported by Today that no voting was required to choose Lee Hsien Loong as Goh Chok Tong's successor, because clearly "it was unanimous" on the part of the government that Lee Hsien Loong succeed. What amazing powers of consensus decision-making! Clearly, the Government should not keep this a secret from the medical journals or the psychologists, because imagine the potential efficiency for jury trials - perhaps they could rebut the defence's arguments without ever raising a hand!

Fourth highlight: "The Government issued a strong response"

Things are getting redundant here, almost making my responses redundant. Perhaps the Straits Times wants to emphasise the issue that the Government was united behind this matter, strongly and firmly? In contrast, Today's coverage of the side that disagreed with the decision is not as emphasised. It raises an eyebrow. They also published excerpts from her statement, in comparison, almost nothing was quoted from mrbrown's column, except the title. Clearly, the standards of a national newspaper are being upheld.

Fifth highlight: "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government"

I'm not even talking about the sheer misassumption about the role of the press in that quote. However, the use of the term "government" is actually a bit more tolerable: you can dissent against how a country is run, its executive administration, and such, and thus technically "campaign against the Government" because the ruling party forms a new government each election. This however is only a very technical use.

Let us ask, when elections start and Parliament is dissolved, does the country instantly stop being governed? Does it stop having a government? When a new party is elected is it truly that the old government is being thrown out and a new one put in its place, including all the ministries, departments and employees? (Okay, okay, back in the old era of the United States they had this nifty thing called the spoils system.) How one refers to governance is a very telling side of the population's attitude, and the media's attitude, towards political issues in general, especially if the population adopts the language of the Straits Times.

In this quote by the Straits Times, written originally by Bhavani, nothing was edited and no brackets were added in. Clearly, they support the use of her language if not her views. There is complaining about government policies, then there is campaigning for or against the Government. She is again, equating "the Government" with "the establishment", though usually often "the establishment" resides in a government, or perhaps the government is influenced by individuals outside the government which form "the establishment". Rarely are they are completely equated with each other.

Sixth highlight: to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate"

This is also slightly more acceptable (as the standing of a current government tends can be referred to singularly as often it is the opinion of the entire system), but again note the use of the capital G.

Seventh highlight: "He believed it was 'probably intended' by the Government"

This is reported speech. Note that our dear Tan Harn How, who criticised the decision to axe mrbrown's blog, might not have actually used "the Government", but I want to bring up two possible scenarios. Either:

1. The Straits Times might be doing some (subtle) mauling of the dissenter's words by selective use of reported speech. This calls up into question whether the author of this article ever remembered how to do reported speech, something part of basic PSLE standards.

2. Tan actually used "the Government" in his quote.

I think the latter is less likely seeing as he was only quoted by "probably intended". What did he say? It seems more likely that he meant it was intended by the PAP, the PAP's leaders, or the Lee Hsien Loong administration, perhaps? For one, saying that he meant "it was probably intended by the Government" unfairly reflects upon his attitude if he did not use the style.

In the scenario that he did, that's another thing I want to cover. Even some of us Singaporean dissenters have this tendency to go around referring to the government of Singapore with a capital G. Inadvertently, we have treated it like a unified entity that has no dissenters within it, which is dangerous even if it does not have separation of powers. How the establishment refers to itself is one thing, but how we refer to it is another.

Eighth highlight: "the Government statement is drawing a clear line"

Here the noun is "Government statement", ie. "statement of the Government". I find a problem with this because the government of Singapore, or shall I say again - the Government probably doesn't have a universal press secretary like MICA does. It's not a statement by the Parliament, which also did not pass any motions about the matter, the PAP general secretary, Lee Kuan Yew, or anything of the sort.

It is a statement by Bhavani, representing one ministry only, and that as a whole, and not even everyone in it. Furthermore, it was stated as her opinion. When she released it there was nothing about it being a "government statement", or representing the opinion of the entire Ministry. Since when was the conclusion made that this represented the entire views of the MICA? This is quite a leap indeed - was it intentional? Or perhaps it was the language. It warrants thinking about.

Ninth highlight: "Obviously, anyone - Government, media or any individual - can offer their counter views"

This language implies the Government has the same unified views as the media, which in turn has the same unified views as an individual. And never mind the use of the singular they, which is a reflection of the mindset of the author who wrote this article as well as a colloquial mannerism, bordering on a grammatical error. Here we have the same syndrome: everyone responsible for the governance of Singapore has the capability to offer their views as a unanimous, single, entity. Does this not already bring up thoughts of "Hive Mind", as well as hint at their unwitting treatment of "the media", without even reading the actual content? Perhaps it's a Freudian slip.

Now in contrast, let us see the Reporters without Borders press release:

"Daily newspaper Today sacks blogger “mr brown” after government criticism"
Note the Reporters without Borders calls it "government criticism" with a lower "g", namely because "government" is just adjectival, and it is criticism by government elements. Here, the treatment is more indefinite. Singaporeans, it appears, are the few that exalt their Government so highly in contrast.

"after a member of the government criticised the blogger in the newspaper"
Reporters without Borders (an international observer), unlike the Straits Times, did not say "the Government slammed" or "the Government criticised". Rather, it was "a member of the government", with a lower case "g". It is a very notable difference, because blanket labels often distance the entire issue. Reporters without Borders is more accurate in this case; Singapore Press Holdings is not. As I said in my earlier post, whenever we label an entire group's actions for the actions of a few members, it is very dangerous, for it destroys information and marginalises the minority and the dissent. As I said before, SPH isn't the only one doing the blanket labelling: those disillusioned with Singaporean politics must stop this too.

"the fears we have about the government stranglehold on the media"
Here the statement declares that there is a stranglehold, ie. censorship, that is controlled by government elements. Here, "government" is adjectival and isn't definite - the definite article "the" corresponds to strangehold, which is sourced by elements within the government. The language used by non-Singaporeans is very different compared to the Straits Times.

Language is a very telling thing. Keep this in mind whenever you read the Straits Times. It may seem like a very small detail, but as the "capital G syndrome" as I call it, keeps recurring, it speaks very loudly about the current situation. The article is also littered with several grammatical mistakes. So much for high standards for our national newspaper.

And I certaintly don't have to tell you what I think of this entire affair concerning the sacking, seeing it's self-evident. I'm not covering the ethics of the move at length here, because however unethical it is, everyone has already roughly covered it. The entire affair however, as reported in the Straits Times, is a good example of Singaporeans' Capital G syndrome.


At Fri Jul 07, 10:45:00 AM GMT-5, Anonymous thor666 said...

Depoliticization, my friend. The PAP had engineered such a long time ago. I'm very sure a lot of Singaporeans and journalists do not see the distinction between Ministries, Parliament, the jucidary and civil organizations anymore.

At Fri Jul 07, 10:38:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

It is true that there is very little separation of powers, but at the same time it discredits to those working in the government, dissent against the current policies, but haven't spoken up publicly.

As has been revealed before, there are in fact many people in the press who are dissatisfied but don't say anything because they get fired if they do.

Also, the capital G makes it a static, definite entity, which although characteristic of Singapore's authoritarianism isn't exactly true.

Those are just my feelings on it.

At Sat Jul 08, 12:12:00 AM GMT-5, Anonymous thor666 said...

I share your sentiments.

At Mon Jul 17, 04:39:00 AM GMT-5, Blogger The Fascist said...

"I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP."

-- Lee Kuan Yew

At Mon Feb 15, 10:29:00 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post as for me. I'd like to read something more about that theme. The only thing that blog misses is a few pics of any gadgets.
Alex Kripke
Phone jammer


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