Saturday, June 18, 2011

Singapore mainstream media generally anti-religion, particularly anti-Christianity?

Not sure about others, but I find that the official news agencies in or of Singapore often portray religion, particularly Christianity, in the negative especially when it concerns government-related or public matters. Here is one example:

Notice the title of this news report by Channel News Asia, dated 18 May 2011, written by Christine Ong. It states that the 'Catholic Church in Philippines wages war against reproductive health bill'. (Emphasis added.)

Isn't this very manipulative of human's emotion by implicating religious body with violence (in this case, religious institution starts war) that goes against an central aspect of humanity (in this case, 'health')?

When the reproductive health bill is approved, we don't see Channel News Asia published the news with headlines like 'New reproductive health bill wages war against Catholic Church's values'.

One may say that such negative portrayal sells because it is controversial.

But I think that is not the case at all. If being controversial is the main aim, then a headline with title something like 'Parliamentary oppressive bill forces Catholic Church into action' can be as controversial.

The kind of title that I've suggested will not be used because it will put the parliament/government in the bad light for they are being portrayed as bully while religion as the victim. Hence there is something more to it than simply for the sake of controversial.

From the way the government-owned-news-agency describes the Catholic Church in Philippines, it is obvious that the government wants to impress on readers that religious institution is violent warmonger while the 'secular' parliamentary approved bill is humane since it is related to 'health' and nothing violent about it. When portrayed in this way, the government hence is seen as an innocent victim of the warmongering Church. What is worse is that it subtly impresses on the readers that the Church wages war against humanity.

Is this not bad journalism with an anti-religion political agenda?

One may also say that it is a given that news agencies are bias, so there shouldn't be any big deal about it.

Of course, every news agency is bias. Yet the problem in local media is not that it is bias per se, but is such bias justifiable in a world that urgently needs solidarity and mutual respect rather than divisiveness and demonisation that causes deep mistrust and animosity?

The constant negative portrayal of religious communities especially when it concerns government related matters is not helping to foster civility and social cohesion.

Here is another example:

The Strait Times titled the news, written by Yen Feng and published on 26 May 2011, as 'SGH warns against evangelising', with subtitle 'Christian volunteer told to leave after complaint by a Taoist patient's son'.

The sign at SGH reads 'At SGH, we respect the religious and ethnic beliefs of Singaporeans. No staff, patient, visitor or volunteer is allowed to impose their religious beliefs on another.'

It is clear that the sign says that SGH is against the imposition of any religious beliefs on one another, not particularly 'evangelising' which is generally understood as Christian proselytisation.

So why is the Strait Times giving the impression to the public that Singapore General Hospital's warning sign is specifically directed to 'evangelising' (an explicit Christian terminology) and not all types of proselytisation?

One may say that the report's title is fair since it all started with the case involving a Christian volunteer, a Taoist man and his son, who is identified as Mr. Chan.

But besides the title of the news, one hardly can conclude from the report's content, which is reproduced at SGH's website, that what has taken place was indeed 'evangelising'. Let me quote the report at length:

"The move to spell out guidelines on proselytising follows an incident involving a Christian volunteer and an elderly patient who is a Taoist. The patient’s son wrote to the Health Ministry last month seeking an explanation, and the ministry asked SGH to investigate the matter.

The patient’s son, who would only give his surname as Chan, said the volunteer had approached him and his father on April 2, asking if they wanted to learn origami. The volunteer is a member of the Church of Praise in Lavender Street.

Mr Chan, 38, said: “I told her no, then she started asking me about my father. That was when she told me she’s a stroke patient and that the Lord saved her.” She began talking about her faith, he added.

In a statement to The Straits Times, SGH said the incident was “isolated” and it has asked the volunteer to leave. It added that all volunteers are expected not to impose their religious views on anyone. “Any volunteer who breaches this code of conduct will be asked to discontinue their involvement with the hospital,” it said." (Emphasis added.)

How is talking about one's experience with one's own religious faith in how it has helped the person amount to imposing religious views on another person?

Does Mr. Chan has the tendency to interpret a person's describing his/her experience with his/her own religious belief as imposition of one's religion to another?

Do the Health Ministry and SGH share the same tendency to interpret such activity as imposition of one's belief to another?

Does the Strait Times also have the exact tendency?

When PM Lee Hsien Loong revealed to Charlie Rose in an interview, which took place in April 2010 (an excerpt is published with the title 'PM Lee on nepotism and his father's legacy' in the Strait Times dated 16 April 2010), that Singapore is governed by "basic Confucian precept", does any organization in Singapore put up warning signs and local media publishes the news with title that PM Lee is imposing religious beliefs on everyone in Singapore?

"The whole of our system is founded on a basic concept of meritocracy. You are where you are because you are the best man for the job, and not because of your connections or your parents or your relatives.

And if anybody doubts that I as Prime Minister am here not because I'm the best man for the job but because my father fixed it, or that my wife runs Temasek because I put her there and not because she's the best woman for the job, then my entire credibility and moral authority is destroyed because I'm not fit to be where I am.

And it is a fundamental issue of fitness to govern.

First, you must have the moral right, then you can make the right decisions. It's a basic Confucian precept." (Emphasis added.)

PM Lee was describing his experience with a religious belief as how it has helped him to do his job, that is in managing a country. Now, why didn't Mr. Chan write to the Prime Minister's Office seeking for an explanation?

One may say that Confucianism is not a religion and so it is not a case where one is imposing one's religion to another.

Those who say that are either unfamiliar with Confucianism or ignorant of the nature of religion, or simply both.

Xinzhong Yao, the Honorary President of the Confucian Academy of Hong Kong and the Director of the China Institute at King's College London, has this to say in his book on Confucianism:

"Confucianism is a humanistic religion because the Confucian understanding and conception of the Ultimate, of the imminent power, of the transcendent, of the world, life and death are all related to, and based on its exploration of human nature and human destiny. Human life is meaningful and invaluable, not only because it is a way of fulfilling human destiny, but also because it is the only way of bridging this life and the beyond, the limited and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal, which is well illustrated by Confucius in his reply to the questions of how to serve spiritual beings and how to understand death: 'If you do not yet understand life, how can you possibly understand death?' (Lunyu, II:12)."
(Xinzhong Yao, An Introduction to Confucianism [UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000], p. 46. Emphasis added.)

In the terms of sociology of religion, Confucianism is recognized as a religion alongside Taoism in Chinese civilization:

"In one sense, the emperor was the high priest of the state religion. The worship of deities was a matter of state business, while ancestor worship was required of all social classes. […] In this sense Confucianism was a state theory which institutionalized filial piety as the core duty of religious activity. Confucianism tolerates both magic and mysticism, provided they were useful instruments for controlling the masses. […] We can reasonably regard Confucianism as the state religion of the literati, and Taoism as the popular religion of the masses."
(Bryan S. Turner, 'The Sociology of Confucianism' in The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, ed. Peter Clarke [UK: Oxford University Press, 2009], p. 92. Emphasis added.)

Confucianism is reckoned as a religion at the present as well as in the past.

While the Christian volunteer was only describing her own experience which hardly an imposition of her faith to anyone, PM Lee was making a public statement that his government is employing Confucian precept to manage the entire Singaporean society without regard to each citizens' and each politicians' religious belief.

I think the word 'imposition' is more appropriate as a reference to PM Lee's administration than to the Christian volunteer who merely shared her story about her own religious experience to Mr. Chan. I think the eloquent editors of the Strait Times wouldn't disagree with me on this.

Hence it puzzles me why Mr. Chan and those who share his tendency to interpret one's talking about one's experience with a religious faith as imposing one's religious belief on another do not also extend their enthusiasm to PM Lee?

To be fair and consistent, they should. But of course, that is if they are indeed fair and consistent to begin with, and not merely picking on the Christians and Christianity. Yet as we have observed in this case it is not clear that they are.

Let me be clear that I'm not questioning PM Lee's decision or his experience. Only he knows the constant pressures and demands required of him as the nation's leader, and so he has all the rights to decide which religious belief assists him best in doing his job.

What I'm questioning is the puzzling reaction displayed by Mr. Chan, the Health Ministry, SGH, and the Strait Times in dealing with one particular incident. An incident that has unfortunately mis-presented Christianity in a unjust manner.

Is this not an evident of anti-Christianity on the part of Mr. Chan, Health Ministry, SGH, and the Strait Times? Perhaps.

It is reported at by Paul Revoir on 1 June 2011 about an interesting survey carried out at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The survey was conducted as part of the BBC’s ‘Diversity Strategy’ and involved 4500 people, including some BBC staffs. Here are some of the findings:

"According to viewers, Christians are badly treated with ‘derogatory stereotypes’ which portray them as ‘weak’ or ‘bigoted’.

It was suggested that there was a bias against Christianity and that other religions were better represented.

The consultation concluded: ‘In terms of religion, there were many who perceived the BBC to be anti-Christian and as such misrepresenting Christianity.’

It added: ‘Christians are specifically mentioned as being badly treated, with a suggestion that more minority religions are better represented despite Christianity being the most widely observed religion within Britain.’" (Emphasis added.)

This makes me wonder if local news agencies like the Channel News Asia and the Strait Times would be interested to conduct similar study? May be a better wonder would be if the local media even willing, not to mention dare, to conduct such study?

Individual's consciousness, like that of Mr. Chan, feeds on the mainstream media's constant negative portrayal of the Christians and Christianity in relation to government-related or public matters. One can only hope that the news agencies can be more alert to the implication that their news reporting has to the society. Subtly (consciously or unconsciously) fuelling discrimination on the religious communities via the public media is not helpful to nation building and the fostering of social harmony.


Wendy Lam said...

Yah, very true. The focus on the mega churches, the aware saga, the evangelism in the hospital wards, pastor salaries, church collections (I am particularly sensitive since I am from NCC lah)....the media coverage is very slanted and the features seemed designed to rally the public against outreach efforts and especially using official rules to limit and restrict.

But then, where resistance abounds, there tends to be in reaction to a phenomenon...perhaps its because more of more of the people around are coming to Christ. Perhaps, its a cause for celebration...we are being persecuted right ? Yay ! Finally can identify with the apostles and Jesus !

We are the antioch of Asia.

From Thailand to Indonesia to China to India - the principalities are being taken down...the resistance will be huge but Christ's redemption plan is in place.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Wendy,

I can see why NCC is eyed by the mainstream media. It is a big Church, commanding a following of 20,000++ people.

I have posted my puzzlement over the Singaporean public reaction towards Ps Mark Ng's case. If you are interested, you may read it here:

Timothy Liu said...

Take a step back and look at motivations. What drives people? Jesus talked about not serving both God and mammon. The contrasting paradigm is that of 'God and other interest' over 'self interest' and 'love' over 'fear'. Unfortunately Wendy, we are nowhere close to persecution. Burning of homes and churches, dragged to the middle of the street and beaten to death, imprisonment for our believe, our women are raped, as a few examples of persecution. By his mercy we are nowhere near. I have seen the pain of those we ARE persecuted.

PR 25:20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on soda,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

PR 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

PR 25:22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

How do we as Christians response to those who might distort or skew the view of Christianity? Is it just a part of bearing the Cross (remember Jesus said that the world will hate us because of Him?) or have we lost the fortitude and humility of the first century church? How can we respond? I humbly submit that I don't have the answers but it surely challenges the depth of our faith and spirituality.

In world wide

reasonable said...

Specifically to Wendy. Timothy Liu, who apparently has seen real religious persecutions, has put it very nicely to you.

What you experienced in Singapore is not really persecutions and pales in comparison with the apostles and Jesus (u mentioned "Finally can identify with the apostles and Jesus"). It pales in comparison with also contemporary Christians in some countries where there are persecution of Christians.

Especially in some local megachurches' case, where the leadership drives luxurious cars, live in big houses, and enjoys other material benefits while continuing to enjoy the freedom lead a church growing in big numbers and building large building, what persecution are you talking about? If this is called persecution, then even worldly-minded people would desire to be persecuted.

Sometimes a persecuted-mentality can distort how things are being seen.

reasonable said...

Hi Wendy, regarding the AWARE saga u mentioned, it is right for the print media to give it the attention it did. AWARE is one of the most powerful NGO here in Singapore. The attempt by a group of ladies from the same church to use UNETHICAL methods to capture the leadership position of AWARE (their method was constitutional but highly UNETHICAL). It deserves the media attention given to it during that period. The things one of those church ladies kept saying to the media contributed to the negative image of them. They were given chances to voice their own perspective but one of their spokesperson kept saying "no comments". And then those ladies, after taking over the leadership, spend large amount of money that goes beyond the constitutional limit (this is serious as it is donation by public) and and also did not follow the written financial procedures provided for in the constitution. So I am glad they were shortly kicked out after one-month plus in power.

We have the newspaper and online media to thank for alerting the public to the AWARE saga. For once both main stream media and online alternative media sang the same tune during those time (and mind you, at least one key leader of the the main online alternative media at that time was Christian so it was not about non-Christian against Christians)

reasonable said...

A general thought on Christians' intrusiveness on others.

Sometimes on the ground some Christians are too pushy in their evangelism effort.

Not long ago, I was visiting a relative in a hospital ward. A group of Christians were singing Christian songs quite loudly surrounding a Christian patient. They sang, they prayed in tongues, they sang again and so on. It was a C-class ward (which means they are many other patients within meters of that bed) and though it was during visiting hour, I find it quite disturbing to the other patients and other visitors. i almost lodged a complain. Imagine the Buddhists come and started chanting quite loudly around their Buddhist patients (imagine Soka practitioner doing that around their patient's bed). The Taoists start singing their taoist chants.

It is alright to sing and pray, but ensure it is done in a way that has very little chance of causing mental stress to other patients around.

To continue the incident. Then at the slightest opportunity they came over to my relative's bed and very soon we were surrounded by the whole group of them with them praying in tongues. A few of us find such an action irritating but they were too nice to speak their mind to them. I am not close to that relative so I did not want to cause a scene.

I suspect the passionate evangelising Christians often failed to respect the gentle "no" from others. If others do not give a very firm "no, please do not disturb, and I do not even want to hear your sharing of your own experience. Please go away", these Christians would cause their targets to bear with all these invited disturbances. People are generally nice and smile; I suspect they generally would only give a gentle "no" and if Christians were to insist sharing people would just bear with it. Christians should respect even a gentle "no" and should not wait till someone to give a loud and firm "no, please go away, do not disturb me" to stop the disturbance.

The negative sentiment of non-Christians towards Christians was probably a result of Christians' non-respectful actions over a long period of time. This "branding" is probably build by Christians themselves. So generally Christians give the impression they are holier-than-thou kind, keep trying to take away others' freedom (e.g. frown on others wearing sexy attire, no to gambling, trying to take away others' freedom to engage in gay sex, no to smoking, etc), lack of respect for others' different choices and preferences.

If people expressed even a hint of being not interested to hear your wonderful experience with God, then respect people's preference. No need to force people to show their explicit irritation and no need to wait for loud firm "No".

The accumulated effect of past over-zealous disrespectful (i.e. not respect a gentle "no, not interested to listen to anything about your experience or your sharing of your religion") actions by Christians could result in today's over-reaction from secular institutions and from non-Christians. The Buddhists have finally reacted with an official booklet last or this year, specifically to deal with Christian evangelism.

I defend the freedom for all faiths to proselyte (yes, Christians ought to proselyte/evangelise), but I am against disrespectful type of proselyting.

Guess there may be a market to sell signs that hangs the main entrance of homes that read "Christian Strangers: Please Do Not Disturb". I do not mean this literally, but hope readers get the idea.

tangzhenlin said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

Just a point about your use of information from the Daily Mail. (I am British by the way.)

The Daily Mail does tend to represent the right and even extreme right views held by some people in Britain. It has published homophobic articles in the past and articles that could be seen as biased against Islam. In the past in also expressed support for fascism in Britain, Italy and Germany. In more recent times it has what I would call a feud with the BBC and generally seeks to portray it as left-wing and liberal, showing controversial programmes.

Ok, there's the historical background.

With regard to the output of the BBC. Every day there is a programme called "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio in which speakers give (as the title suggests) their thoughts for the day ahead. Although all religions common in Britain are represented, the majority of speakers are Christian.

In addition, BBC Radio broadcasts Christian services and large amounts of Christian music, especially on the classical music station BBC Radio 3. (By Christian music I mean choral pieces and hymns generally.) No other music from different religions is played, so this does not suggest that the BBC is deliberately over-representing minority views, as the Mail article suggests.

This is not necessarily a direct criticism, just something to be aware of. It is always tempting to make comparisons but Christianity plays very different roles in different countries around the world so it is important to keep in mind the historical contexts and the bias of whatever media sources you use.

Keep blogging, many thanks.


Sze Zeng said...

Hi tangzhenlin,

Thank you for your comment.

The fact that Daily Mail represents certain group does not necessarily mean it misrepresents BBC in this particular case as you have suggested.

You wrote: "this does not suggest that the BBC is deliberately over-representing minority views, as the [Daily] Mail article suggests."

If you have read BBC report itself, probably you wouldn't come to think that Daily Mail is suggesting a wrong impression on BBC.

Let me quote from the BBC Report itself:

"Christians are specifically mentioned as being badly treated, with a suggestion that more minority religions are better represented despite Christianity being the most widely observed religion within Britain."


I don't know about Daily Mail's past presentation of other news, yet the particular portion that I have highlighted from Daily Mail's website is a verbatim taken from BBC report. You can find other verbatim quotation in Daily Mail's report in the BBC report itself. Hence this is not a "suggestion" on the part of Daily Mail as you have suggested.

The fact that you are overly cautious by giving a wrong suggestion without even the care to consult the original source betrays the bias you have on Daily Mail. It is ironic that your advise for others to be careful not to overlook the bias of the source has given into the temptation of your own bias.

I'm acutely aware of the different contextual significance of Christianity in both Singapore and England.

My response to you may sounds harsh because I'm offended by your audacity that implies that I lack contextual awareness and critical engagement in my selection of news sources while all this I've been consciously writing with these concerns in mind.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

I share your experience and aversion towards insensitive disturbance caused by over-enthusiastic Christians. Nevertheless, I am also aware of how some of such activities have benefited some patients (as learned from my five months placement at a local hospital).

So there are both positive and negative fruits out there. And the bad news is that there are always bad apples among the good ones, and hence spoil the image of apples in general.