Singapore Slings and Arrows

I was in Singapore last week for the first World Journalism Education Congress. It was a bit weird, being in a nation where press freedom is an oxymoron to talk about, well, press freedom among other things. You also don’t discuss politics, religion or race and certainly you don’t say anything against the government.

On the first morning a former government minister and a senior member of the Singapore Press Holdings’ board of directors was speaking. I didn’t get to here this keynote address. Once the guy was in the conference venue it was locked down. I, and hundreds of other delegates were locked out. One poor Australian guy left to take a pre-talk leak and couldn’t get back in. This inauspicious start set a pretty good standard for the rest of the week.

Don’t misunderstand, there was plenty of good stuff too. The presentations on digital convergence and the journalism curriculum were mostly excellent. The after-session sessions were also lively. One key topic was the very future and nature of journalism and journalists. Does convergence mean that everyone’s a journalist and therefore no one is?

The arguments were endless and so was the expensive booze. A beer in most Singapore hotels cost around $17.50 (plus service tax and GST), while in the backstreets a half-litre of Tiger could be easily drunk for only $5.80.

The tourist traps though are very pricey. The famous “Raffles” bar in downtown Singapore serves up a sugary Singapore Sling for $20-something (plus taxes that take it to nearly $30).

And don’t get me started on the Martinis. They were expensive and fairly ordinary, except for the one I had with a lychee in it.

Most of the non-Singapore delegates were fascinated by the only local English-language daily, The Straits Times. It really is no more than a mouthpiece for the government, which is, incidentally, the biggest shareholder.

Everything in Singapore, it seems, is really only part of Singapore Inc. I was out one night in a local food market, eating chili crab (another tip for the new traveller, if it’s being sold by the 100g weight rule, make sure you watch it being weighed), and got into a conversation with a couple of locals (an Austrian married to an Indian). They were eager to chat, saying they were normally starved of intellectual conversation.

Singapore, a great place to shop, but who’d want to live there!

A couple of interesting stories during the week of the conference – a woman’s body found floating in the Singapore river, and an employer fined for keeping his foreign workers in a public toilet block.

In that story there was plenty of official comment from government ministers and bureaucrats, but the poor workers were not interviewed. More intriguing, who was that woman in the river. I saw the news as a crawler along the bottom of the local 24 hour news channel, but nothing at all in the Straits Times. You’d think a body in the river would be newsworthy, but not here.

This story is even more interesting in the light of my recent checks. In the 2 July edition online there was a story about the murder of a man and a woman, even a picture of the body in one item. The bodies were found in different parts of the city, but could the deaths be linked?

It seems that it was a sad love story. The man’s wife and a 16 year-old youth were arrested and charged with murder.

But there’s also a huge difference between accounts in the Times and what was reported on Channel NewsAsia. It seems that the murders were not linked. The woman may have been the victim of her husband; the man perhaps killed by his wife and the youth.

Who was that woman in the river? I’ve tried to find out, but the only references on the web are to the original NewsAsia story, which is only a few pars and gives no details, except that she was Malay, in her mid-20s and very dead.

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