Responding to speculation on the Internet, Channel NewsAsia has said that it did not reserve any seats at its recent forum with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for members of the People’s Action Party (PAP) or the People’s Association.
Replying to queries from Singapolitics, a spokesman from Mediacorp said: “No, we did not give PAP or the People’s Association a certain number of invites.”
The brief reply did not explain, however, how it actually chose the participants for the forum.
The forum, called A Conversation with PM Lee, was filmed and aired on CNA last Friday.
But more so than any of the questions asked, it was the make-up of the 50-member audience that caught the attention of many netizens.
Many scoured the footage of the televised forum to try and spot PAP members.
Over the weekend, dozens began questioning the authenticity of the forum, posting pictures of some audience members identifying them as PAP or grassroots activists.
The issue picked up steam again on Wednesday when a picture began circulating on social media giving the background of 36 participants. Netizens accused them as being linked to or “friendly with” the PAP.
A CNA article published before the forum said that the 50 audience members were drawn from “various quarters of society, including business leaders, professionals, tertiary students, unionists, non-governmental organisations, social entrepreneurs, new citizens and others”
A check with the attendance sheet distributed to media outlets found that some attended in their capacity as grassroots members.
They include Ms Hamidah Aidillah Mustafa, a grassroots leader from the Keat Hong citizens’ consultative committee (CCC); Mr Tay Xiong Sheng from the Woodlands CCC; Mr Budiman Mohamed Salleh, assistant secretary in the Kaki Bukit CCC; and Mr Daniel Ho, member of the youth executive committee for the Boon Lay Community Centre.
But at least one forum participant has rebutted netizens’ accusations.
In a comment on PM Lee’s Facebook page, Mr Chin Yen, the managing director of PulseMetrics, said he was not there to “wayang”. Wayang means performance or movie in Malay; in colloquial terms, it means simply to put up a performance.
“I didn’t go to sing praises and I raised points which I thought were important for Singapore’s future. Both points that I spoke about touched on a need to change direction, and one of them confronted a central tenet of PAP’s philosophy,” he said.
He added that in the post-forum reception, many participants stayed behind to exchange views and ideas, and that he found that his fellow audience members came from “diverse backgrounds”.
Netizens had also taken issue with a graphic depicting the audience’s response to a quick poll done during the forum.
The audience was asked whether they thought unwed people should have children. Fifty-four per cent said no, while 46 per cent said yes.
Though the results were close, the graphic showed the “no” bar as more than twice as long as the “yes” bar, prompting PM Lee to note during the taping: “Which is quite close, I think the graph doesn’t quite show it.”
CNA explained on its Facebook page that this was caused by a technical glitch and it had corrected the error for the telecast.