A rant on discussion of political issues in Singapore
Sometimes I get very frustrated with others when I discuss Singapore political stuff with some of my friends. You see, a good number of my interlocutors don’t attack my arguments/points, preferring instead to focus fire on your position, even if you don’t have a firm opinion on something and might just be playing devil’s advocate or simply making a point. Even worse, there are times when they don’t even attack your argument, but instead a highly caricatured strawman position which no reasonable person would hold. Perhaps this is best illustrated with a real-life example:
This conversation occured between persons A (me) and B (a friend).
A: Hmm, you know a reason why I don’t read the state media is because they’re very biased. I’d much rather read foreign and international news sources such as BBC, CNN, WSJ, FT and the like.
B: Well, I don’t agree because even the BBC has its own biases. (Navigates web browser to Wikipedia page on BBC controversies). Even if you read multiple foreign news sources it’s still better to include the Straits Times in your reading.
A: I’m aware of that page, but it misses the point I’m trying to make. No, if you look at RSF [Reporters Without Borders] ranking of Singapore press freedom, it’s always been below 140th in place out of the 167 countries surveyed. Furthermore, even if the international media have their own biases, this bias is with respect to their own countries’ government and does not influence journalistic reporting on a faraway country such as Singapore. Take Al-Jazeera for example. Everyone knows they’re against the Israelis and can’t criticise their government, but they have no reason to be biased against Singapore in any way. Furthermore, many of the disparate foreign news sources report more or less the same thing regarding Singapore, so unless there’s some conspiracy and collusion amongst them against Singapore, there’s little reason to doubt what they say is true.
Let me also point out to you how this recent report by the ST is misleading and biased. [Directs B to this page and starts explaining the gist of the post]
B: Ok, so how was this ranking carried out? (Referring to RSF’s ranking) I think you should know that most of the news we read are garnered from AFP, AP and Reuters. Even when the news sources don’t explicitly state so, journalists often consult these three wire news agencies’ reports for their articles.
[Now at this point I should say this made me kind of frustrated. Somehow B thinks that it’s not unreasonable to start with the position that the state media is unbiased and there’s a real possibility that the rest of the world media may possess some inclination towards negative reporting on Singapore. It kind of reminds me of the meth addict who screams out to the authorities to save them from giant spiders stalking the streets preying on them. Why should we assume by default that the journalistic integrity of the local media is to be ranked higher than the rest of the world media? Especially when numerous press freedom reports (US State Dept report, Freedom House in addition to RSF) around the world agree that the Singapore media isn’t free?]
A: You can find their methodology here. (Navigates to RSF website.) Furthermore the US State Dept annual human rights report, Freedom House, RSF happen to concur. Isn’t that evidence the state media has a systemic bias?
[The discussion appears to be drawing to an end, with a half-hearted concession by B on the possibility that the state media possesses a systemic bias though he continues to insist it’s better to include the ST among my reading Now of course I disagree strongly with this recommendation. It’s as good as saying that one should read the KCNA (North Korea’s state news agency) in addition to world news reports on North Korea in order to get a more complete “perspective” on North Korea]
So what’s the lesson I learned from the above? Sometimes political discussions are very painful when both parties start out from very different premises.