Five months as a freelancer

Tell people in Singapore that you’re a journalist and they almost always ask, “SPH ah?”

They can’t be blamed for that assumption; the Big Two, Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp, are the biggest source of jobs for local journalists. There are many experienced, hard-working and talented journalists in both these companies, gathering news in Singapore and overseas every day. Unfortunately, The Economist described Singapore’s mainstream media as “insipidly sycophantic” for a reason. Our press freedom rankings also suck; something that the Prime Minister doesn’t take seriously but journalists should.

There are a number of international news organisations with bureaus or staff in Singapore, but such opportunities don’t come along very often. Even these big news organisations are downsizing, spreading their employees ever more thinly. Judging from research done on the journalism industry, journalists all over the world find themselves having to resort to ‘churnalism’ now and then – or even more regularly than that – to fill pages and airtime.

In this context, being a freelance journalist is practically a convenient necessity. A necessity because getting a job might be difficult if you don’t particularly wish to work for local mainstream media, and convenient because there are definitely perks that come with being a freelancer.

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Statement on AGC action against Alex Au

Singapore, 29 November 2013

We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has been granted leave to take action against Singaporean blogger, Mr Alex Au, for “scandalising the judiciary” in his blog post, “377 Wheels Come Off Supreme Court’s Best Laid Plans”.1

The right of free expression is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution.  We believe that robust public debate is necessary for national progress.  The AGC’s action, however, reflects an overzealous desire to police public opinion.  This cannot be healthy for a mature, first world nation.  If Mr Au had erred, then his claims should be rebutted in public. This would enable Singaporeans to make up their own minds.

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One Singapore?

The subject of national identity has caught the attention of Singaporeans. Who is a Singaporean? What makes a Singaporean? Some think you have to be born and bred on the island, using terms like “true blue Singaporean” or “native Singaporean”. Others think that time and commitment is enough. Still others don’t think that it matters at all.

Even before the great reveal of the Population White Paper people were already talking about the Singaporean identity, drawing lines between citizens, new citizens, Permanent Residents (PRs), foreigners, etc. All of this informs the way in which we perceive one another, which in turn affects our views on policies, entitlements and rights.

When I first came to Cardiff University I wanted to do my Masters dissertation on the government-launched National Conversation. I wanted to track the progress of the conversation and what effect or impact it had on the populace. But as time went by I realised that there was another conversation going on, by far more interesting and more important to Singaporean society: that of nationalism and national identity.

In my dissertation I compare mainstream and alternative media coverage of three case studies: Amy Cheong’s racist Facebook comments, the SMRT bus strike and the Population White Paper. Looking at The Straits TimesTODAYThe Online Citizen and Temasek Review Emeritus I paid particular attention to who got the loudest voice in the media and how issues or groups were framed to invoke ideas of nationalism and a unified Singaporean identity.

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