As described in Part 1, one of the key elements to keep Singapore clean is the public intolerance towards corruption.

In 1987, the then Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew said: "The strongest deterrent is in the public opinion which censures and condemns corrupt persons; in other words, in attitudes which make corruption so unacceptable that the stigma of corruption can not be washed away by serving a prison sentence."

This persistency has contributed a great deal in making sure Singapore is corruption free from the grassroots. But while media form public opinion, what is the role of media in Singapore when it comes to fighting corruption and improving transparency

Supporting role

"I will not exaggerate the role of media [in fighting corruption in Singapore]," frankly said by Mr. Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor of The Business Times, an English publication of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), one of two leading media organizations in the country, along with Media Corp.

The veteran journalist is not being modest or downplaying, given the real situation of mainstream media in Singapore, which has never been considered an estate since the first Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew.

"... Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government," this point made by Mr. Lee to the General Assembly of the International Press Institute in Helsinki in 1971 sums his whole view about managing the media.

This style has been applied successfully in reality through more than 50 years of Mr. Lee and his People's Action Party (PAP)'s power, resulting in the remark of "no investigative journalism in Singapore" reiterated by many journalists and media workers in the country.

That is the reason for Ms. Chua Mui-Hoong, Opinion Editor of SPH's The Straits Times, to say: "In fighting corruption, media in Singapore play a supportive role." And it is reporting the corruption cases when they are exposed. For example, the two recently sex-for-contracts cases of Ng Boon Gay and Peter Lim, the latter is still on-going.

However, mainstream media have a huge role in keeping and improving the quality of the public sector, as Mr. Vikram Khanna put it. With quick and comprehensive reports on any public service breakdown, media can create pressure to make the government reply immediately to the issues.

According to Mr. Khanna, mainstream media also have a significant role in keeping business transparency by helping connect the business and the government, as well as protecting the benefit of the public.

While Mr. Cheong Yip Seng, the former Editor-in-Chief of The Straits Times, during a talk on his recent book OB Markers, emphasized that mainstream media remain supporting the PAP's government because it remains clean and incorruptible, Mr. Khanna noticed that mainstream media are becoming more pro-Singapore and less pro-government, reflecting more critical and diverse opinions.

Pioneer role

However, while mainstream media keep low-profile, social media have more and more significant role in exposing corruption, remarked Mr. Khanna, recalling the recent case of ex-Speaker of the House Michael Palmer. His extramarital affairs were exposed thanks to the citizen journalists, who forwarded his exchanging text messages to SPH's The New Paper. The scandal was then verified, resulting in Palmer resigning his positions.

With this outstanding example, The Business Times' Associate Editor concluded: "In fighting corruption in Singapore nowadays, social media have the pioneer role as the whistleblowers, mainstream media as followers."

The influence of social media is also in the way it makes the governments have to explain the policies more completely and comprehensively to the public.

"New phenomenon are ministers, even the Deputy Prime Minister, who create blogs to communicate with the public, to be more accountable," described Mr. Khanna as "the first in Asia." Political bloggers, or cyber activists, such as Yawning Bread, Temasek Review, etc. also serve as advocacy of civil society demanding more democracy.

"Thanks to the status of highly connected and social networks savvy of Singapore, people, with smart-phones, are more and more active, demanding more interaction than ever before that the government can't ignore, thus the level of discussion in the society becomes wider and deeper," elaborated Mr. Khanna. "People are asking for more transparency, and they have more and more difficult questions to the government."

An example of social media serving as public discussion can be the National Conversation, a forum for citizen to express their opinions and voices to make changes in national policies. The free sign-up and open conversations don't end after a few hours of physical discussion. They will continue on the official Facebook page of the event. And it is understandable if they continue on other Facebook pages.

Mainstream media are also using social networks to get themselves closer to the public. "Because there's no other choice, if they don't want to loose readers, especially young ones, to social media, while now media brands don't matter anymore," said Mr. Khanna.

But no matter what role the mainstream and the social media are taking and playing, they all serve the same purpose: To provide a huge forum for the people to discuss everyday matters crucial to their well-being, to be an important public service, as Mr. Cheong Yip Seng wrote in his book OB Markers.

Thuy Chung (from Singapore)