Singapore’s media played an ‘honourable, rational and essential role’ throughout COVID-19 pandemic: Josephine Teo
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s media outlets played an “honourable, rational and essential” role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo on Friday (Jun 10).
Speaking at the Singapore Press Club’s 50th Anniversary Press Ball on Friday evening, she said: “We could not have maintained the trust of Singaporeans over the past two years if our media had not reported the course of the pandemic truthfully and accurately.
“I thank all of you sincerely for the honourable, rational and essential role you played throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She said the media’s efforts were one reason why people in Singapore cooperated and stayed home during the "circuit breaker" and why people and businesses could adjust quickly to changes in public health protocols and safe management measures.
It was also one of the reasons why Singapore achieved a high vaccination rate, paving the way for the country to move towards the endemic phase of COVID-19.
The media’s work also ensured trust between the people and the Government, and trust among people, remained high.
“These outcomes cannot be taken for granted. Serious researchers had found that low-trust societies suffered far higher mortality rates than high-trust societies,” said Mrs Teo.
“A peer-reviewed academic study, published in The Lancet, also confirmed that higher levels of trust in the Government and among the population were associated with greater compliance with COVID-related restrictions and higher vaccination rates.”
Nothing is more vital in a public health crisis than trust, she added.
“That is why we obsessively guarded trust throughout the crisis, always anxious that people were well-informed, trusted the information we put out, and trusted the sources of information too, including the media,” said the minister.
Singapore’s media has managed to maintain and build public trust because it has “always strived to provide accurate, objective and timely reporting”.
“There is also mutual trust and respect between the Government and the media. This relationship has been instrumental throughout our existence as an independent nation,” said Mrs Teo.
“Like all relationships, it is not without tension. It has to be constantly managed, but it has worked. Far from being apologetic about it, we should make every effort to sustain it.”
This relationship is built on the significant value that the Government places on the role of Singapore’s media in nation, she said.
“I am certain that this will continue under the 4G leadership,” the minister added.
She cited the example of how the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force held regular press conferences to share the latest developments and public health measures and addressed questions candidly.
“In the early stages of the crisis, especially during the circuit breaker period, ministers Gan Kim Yong and Lawrence Wong held as many as three or four media conferences a week – so often, I’m told some of you protested,” she said.
“Where we had to update our policies in view of the evolving scientific evidence, we promptly communicated the changes and the reasons for doing so.
“We shared information, including details of cases, promptly and fully. No vital information was withheld from the media or the public.”
She noted that Singapore was among the “few countries in the world” that reported not only people who had tested positive on polymerase chain reaction tests, but also serology-positive numbers.
As a result, the media was able to reflect the situation accurately and presented information to the public in ways that were easily understood.
“You produced countless explainer pieces and conducted interviews with medical experts to unpack the details of Government policies and the latest science,” said Mrs Teo.
“Singaporeans appreciated your insightful and well-researched reporting, and thus turned to you as trusted and reliable sources of information.
"And, unlike in many other countries, Singaporeans did not become divided along ideological lines about mask-wearing or vaccinations or safe distancing measures.”
She said that while people had different opinions on a variety of issues regarding the pandemic, “we all operated on the same set of facts”.
“This was as much due to the Government and the medical authorities as to you - editors and journalists in all the language streams,” she added.
“Your chronicles of Singapore’s struggles, innovativeness and resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic will be told and retold by future generations.”
These stories that will allow future generations to appreciate how Singapore stood tall to overcome the crisis.
“And Singapore was able to stand tall these past two years in large part because our media too stood tall. This will be your legacy.
Your significance will only grow in the coming years and decades. You will continue to play a vital role in strengthening social harmony and upholding the values in our pledge. Our vernacular media will continue to play a key role in preserving our multi-lingual heritage,” said Mrs Teo.
She warned that the country’s media will face “severe challenges”.
“We recognise that our local media institutions will need support to successfully transform and stay relevant to readers and viewers,” said the minister.
“It is for this reason that we continue to support Mediacorp with Public Service Broadcasting funding and decided recently to fund the digital transformation of SPH Media Trust.”