25 November 2012

Book Review: Freedom From the Press by Cherian George II

(Read Part I here)

The curious rhetorical device of Cherian George

Some time back, Cherian George published a book called "Freedom From the Press", where a cursory reading reveals that the good professor doesn't want you to take him seriously as an academic. In fact, we argue that he doesn't even take himself seriously as an academic.

We've made hay of a few instances where he resorts to misrepresentation and strawman arguments by summoning faceless, nameless critics out of thin air. But why is this important to us as an indicator of how Cherian George is unfit to be a respected academic, or even an academic at all?

Citations are important. When we read a non-fiction book by an author or academic who wants to be taken seriously, we want to know WHO said WHAT exactly WHERE and WHEN. That's so that we know the author didn't just make things up, or invent people out of thin air and put into their anonymous mouths lame arguments in order to discredit or divert attention from actually existing, stronger arguments.

Now, here's an experiment: try writing an assignment in first year university without proper citations. I'll bet every single dollar I have the professors will fail your assignment. But if you're "Professor" Cherian George, you'd get the entire embarrassment of a book published by the National University Press. And no, you wouldn't be stripped of your teaching post for doing shit like this - which amounts to technical plagiarism.

No comments necessary

And now for your entertainment and enlightenment, here are all the instances where Cherian George does his thing in FOTP. 

I will keep the commentary to a minimum because these excerpts speak very well for themselves the kind of academic Cherian George is. Take your time to read through these gems, then decide if Cherian George didn't just make things up, or invent people out of thin air and put into their anonymous mouths lame arguments in order to caricature actual critics and misrepresent their sensible and strong criticisms - none of which you will read about in his "book".

Your moments of Zen, or Cherian George forgets to cite actual (and respectable) people, actual publications!

For example, otherwise authoritative sources refer to the news publishing behemoth Singapore Press Holdings as "government-owned" when it is not. (p. 2)

(Interestingly on p. 10, Cherian George admits that yeah if you want to look at it critically, SPH is government-controlled.)

Most critics assume that SIngapore's system is unsustainable because it is undemocratic. (p. 7)

Equally dogmatic are those at the opposite end of the political spectrum, in whose eyes the PAP and its instruments are corrupt usurpers of the people's freedom and dignity. This group includes foreign critics with a barely concealed contempt for Singapore and its people... In their eyes, any attempt to analyse the press system in anything longer than a single, colourful, expleteive-deleted (or not) sentence is at best a waste of time... (p. 18)

By misidentifying the ways in which the government controls media and politics, analysts have arrived at erroneous conclusions. According to some, Singapore's unfree media system was supposedly incompatible with an open economy and First World standards of living; it would soon crumble beneath the weight of its own contradictions. Most of these predictions have been based on crude misconceptions about how the press is kept in check... (p. 25)

(There's an entire page's worth of this spiel -- all without citations, presumably because if you were serious to read actual critics and academics take apart Singapore's press system, those won't be the arguments they'd use. Search for Michael Barr's writings, for instance.)

Take any random group of Singaporeans and you will find among them those who appreciate life in PAP-run Singapore and who support strong, decisive government as an integral part of the formula that has provided security and high standards of living. (p. 25)

(Fascinating strawmen you have there, "Professor"!)

Unlike those who see Singapore's media system as a giant contradiction, I would go so far as to say that the PAP has been on the right side of history. (p. 26)

Critics of the PAP had predicted that Singapore's ambitions to be a media hub would be thwarted by its lack of respect for press freedom. (p. 42)

Yet, contrary to the cynics' view that the Singapore press is content with reproducing government handouts, Newscom citations encourage journalists to dig for exclusives and overcome barriers, including obstructive government officials. (p. 54)

Conventional wisdom holds that the PAP -- a regime armed to the teeth with the powers of coercion --- completely overwhelms any professional norms and ideals that the Singapore press may once have possessed. Critics view journalists in a state of unconditional surrender to the government. "They are running dogs of the PAP and poor prostitutes," said David Marshall in 1994. (p. 69)

(This one is interesting. "Conventional wisdom" as a strawman, followed by our usual nameless critics with extreme views, then backed up inexplicably by the late David Marshall, obviously taken out of context. The real-world criticism of SPH that Cherian George is caricaturing and hiding: the press may be 'professional' but is ideologically enslaved, that its reporters are consciously, willingly making up excuses to toe the PAP line. Like say, making up shit about OB markers in the press.

Or as Cherian George himself puts it in p. 48: Professional journalist's' love affair with 'objectivity' and their rejection of journalism's more activist past has made it easier for them to be turned into scribes for the status quo.)

Indeed, Gary Rodan observes that Singapore's media policy may have been partly influenced by a conscious desire to avoid Malaysia's mistakes. Admittedly, this is the kind of observation that enrages critical Singaporeans who would never concede that their press has any credibility. (p. 113)

Singaporean critics of the PAP want to believe that this backwardness is due to government repression. Such a claim would be an insult to media activists elsewhere. (p. 172)
(Here, we have not one but TWO groups of strawmen! Bravo, "Professor"!)

Most believers in democracy want and need to believe that Singapore is closer to the unstable end of the spectrum. They find it too disconcerting the idea that a modern state may have found a way to consolidate authoritarianism... (p. 201)

Opposition politicians and their followers are counting on the PAP's inertia to be its undoing, causing Singapore to succumb eventually to the tide of freedom. (p. 225)

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