Politics: Lee siblings win a case but the mainstream media ignores it

Last Friday, a disciplinary tribunal ordered Kwa Kim Li, Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer, to pay S$13,000 in penalties (and other costs) over misconduct in relation to his seven wills. Kwa, the tribunal said, failed to safeguard the confidentiality of his wills, improperly sharing information about them with Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister. She also was found to have misled Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, executors of their dad’s estate, by not revealing that the late Lee had wanted changes made to his sixth and penultimate will. This was a significant victory for the siblings in their ongoing feud with their brother over their father’s will (and specifically his wishes for his house on 38 Oxley Road). But in keeping with the biased coverage of the issue in the mainstream media (MSM), it took CNA five full days to write about it. (Its hand forced, perhaps, by an article in The Independent). Incredibly, The Straits Times (ST) has only just reported on the issue, almost a week after the judgement. These delays and blackouts, whoever called for them, may ultimately be damaging for both the prime minister and the MSM, hurting their credibility in different ways. In “RSF’s Press Freedom Index: Why does Singapore rank so low?”, Jom examines the parlous state of the media in Singapore today—and offers suggestions for improving it.

Society: Updates to law to further deter domestic and child abuse

Proposed changes under the Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) Amendment Act aim to better protect survivors of family violence. The Bill adds three provisions—stay-away, no-contact and mandatory treatment—to personal protection orders (PPO). If passed, victims will be further shielded from their abusers, who won’t be allowed outside their home or places they frequent and can’t visit or communicate with them. If perpetrators have psychiatric conditions that cause violent behaviour they may be mandated to get treated, enhancing rehabilitation and accountability. While the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated fewer family-violence-related cases last year—2,254 compared to 2,346 in 2021—the frequency of calls to the national helpline rose to 10,800, from 8,400 the previous year. Violence against women reached “unprecedented levels” around the world, noted UN Women, calling it a “shadow pandemic” after Covid-19 forced people into lockdowns, limiting freedom and healthcare access. Other improvements: harsher penalties for those who breach their orders; and younger survivors (18 years from 21) can apply for a PPO. Currently, unmarried adults aged 18-20 have to seek help to apply for a protection order, which can discourage victims from reporting abuse. The definition of family violence will also be broadened to include sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. For behaviour to be considered abuse, it “need not be directed at the person in question,” as long as the conduct can be “seen, heard or perceived” by them. Gender advocacy group AWARE, while cheering the Bill, also urged lawmakers to include provisions to protect against coercive control, and expressed concern that “family members” appeared to exclude individuals who’re cohabiting, or in intimate relationships but aren’t married.

Society: Grab leaves a bad taste in its users’ mouths

It’s been a bad week for Grab’s PR department. First, a viral “experiment” that exposed their allegedly dishonest subscription service. Then, a botched Artificial Intelligence- (AI) generated photo trial that spoiled its users’ appetites. The “experiment”, which has now been shared on Facebook more than 700 times, was conducted by a user who subscribed to GrabUnlimited—a subscription service that promises up to S$3 off delivery fees, among other perks. The user compared the same basket of food on two different phones, only to find that the one with a GrabUnlimited subscription reflected a S$8.80 service fee while the other showed S$6.30. Grab was quick to point out the one-minute difference between the two screenshots, chalking the difference in service fee down to a “surge” based on “real-time market conditions”. But commenters on Facebook are unconvinced—“U mean the pricing can change like stock markets meh?!” On other parts of the Grabfood platform, one AI-generated photo of “shoestring fries drenched with truffle oil” showed a whole, single truffle nestled in a bed of fries next to a platter of mystery sauce, while another featured gargantuan fish roe the size of egg yolks. Reddit users were quick to poke fun at the surrealist photos. “I rather no image than an image indicating a chunky salmon, but later get a skinny slice,” said one commenter, raising the issue of false advertising. In response, Grab informed ST that they are trialing the use of AI-generated photos for merchants who can’t take their own. But will these merchants end up being on the receiving end of bad reviews, because of such misleading photographs? Despite yet “another reason [not to] use Grab”, some users are ultimately resigned to its convenience, especially when “leav[ing] the siam diu and Gojek nojek.”

Arts: Logomania

What’s in a logo? The new University of the Arts (UAS) held its inaugural symposium this past week, during which it unveiled details about its curriculum and its new branding. Ong Sor Fern, senior culture correspondent at ST, posted screenshots of the logo—the letters U, A and S in sans serif font seemingly floating in space—with the emoji that most resembles Edvard Munch’s The Scream. On brand. Most public commenters seem unimpressed with the simple design with some asking if its conceptual minimalism is creative enough for Singapore’s flagship arts university. Others, including graphic designers, have weighed in to say that the criticism is premature without seeing the branding in action. The new curriculum has not generated as much interest. In an interview with ST, vice-chancellor Kwok Kian Woon indicated that students would have to complete an internship and take courses that would prepare them for employment. The university will be the first “government-supported private arts university” and will award degrees for programmes at existing art schools LASALLE and NAFA. Both will thus phase out their current international degrees, in partnership with British universities Goldsmiths, the Royal College of Music and the University of Arts London. Applications open later this year for a 2024 intake.

Arts: SIFA 2023

The Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA) begins next week. The 2023 edition is titled, “The Anatomy of Performance - Some People” and invites audiences to meditate on the spectrum of the human experience. Helmed by Natalie Hennedige, who became festival director last year, the festival will take place both in-person and virtually. In-person performances include original festival commissions and invited works from international artists. Works online will be showcased on the SIFA platform LIFE PROFUSION, a space for artists to explore the digital spheres and aesthetics for new work. Collage artist Mojoko (real name: Steve Lawler), has curated a selection of animated digital works that use privacy as a thematic starting point. There will also be a collection of critical and creative writing responding to the various performance works in SIFA housed under the title prompt:PLAY. The festival runs from May 19th to June 4th. More information and ticket sales can be found on the SIFA website.

History weekly by Faris Joraimi

The month-long Singapore HeritageFest (SHF) started two Mondays ago, with events organised around this year’s main themes of public transport and sports. Our arts editor gave an overview last week, but I thought I’d highlight that Jerome Lim, who runs the amazing history blog “The Long and Winding Road”, is doing three programmes. Lim, a naval architect by trade, is one of our most prolific citizen-researchers who’s done a lot to record and disseminate material on old Singapore, so I imagine his tours would be real treats. One of them happened last week, but you can catch his tour of Dhoby Ghaut happening on May 14th to explore the area’s transit past spanning “horse and cart, rickshaws and trishaws, trams, the motoring trade and even the railway”. Lim’s tour on May 21st traces the MRT’s Downtown Line which, at some sections, follows the route of the old Singapore-Kranji Railway: a vital artery that once linked our island to the Peninsula before the Causeway was built. Opened in 1903, the line ran from Tank Road (at Fort Canning) in the heart of the municipality up to the north coast, where two ferries then relayed passengers to Johor. I’ve always been a transit enthusiast. There’s ample research showing how good transit makes cities more liveable. Car-centrism turned once-bustling urban downtowns in the United States into a dystopia of highways and carparks, while our friends up north raise concerns about how pedestrian-unfriendly Kuala Lumpur has become. But are we enjoying the time and space freed by better transit? This SHF’s choice of themes points to our national cult of speed and mobility. It makes the oldest and slowest form of locomotion—walking—also the most radical.

Tech: Guilty as charged?

Singapore-based ION Mobility has secured a temporary injunction against its co-founder and former employee, Joel Chang. The injunction prohibits Chang from being directly or indirectly involved in Charged Asia, a firm he’s allegedly affiliated with, and from participating in any South-east Asian competitor to ION Mobility. Additionally, he is barred from disclosing ION Mobility’s confidential information to third parties. This interim injunction stems from an ongoing case centered on a no-compete agreement between ION Mobility and Chang, who left in April 2021, citing “professional differences”. Charged Asia, also based in Singapore, presents itself as a motorcycle manufacturer promoting sustainable mobility in Indonesia. Chang is listed as Charged Asia’s CEO on an investor’s website, and the company has backing from Singapore’s DeClout Ventures and Perth-based Vmoto. Most recently, ION Mobility announced that it had raised US$18.7m (S$24.8m) in its Series A led by global two and three-wheeler manufacturer, TVS Motor Company. It is thus unsurprising that James Chan, ION’s co-founder and CEO, emphasised the importance of protecting proprietary information in the fast-paced electric vehicle sector. He must be worried about what Charged and Chang are up to.

Tech: Pay with WhatsApp

Stripe, an Ireland- and US-based payment processing company, has teamed up with WhatsApp to allow Singapore businesses to accept direct payments through the messaging app’s chat feature. This new feature supports credit and debit cards as well as PayNow, a real-time payment system, enabling seamless transactions for local customers and businesses without leaving the WhatsApp platform. Initially introduced to a select number of businesses with plans for broader expansion in the following months, this direct payments feature is poised to gain momentum in Singapore, where over 83 percent of the population uses WhatsApp. While such e-commerce integrations within WhatsApp have been prevalent in India, such as its partnership with JioMart, the collaboration between Stripe and WhatsApp is reflective of an increasing trend globally. Stripe recently raised US$6.5bn (S$8.6bn) at a reduced valuation of US$50bn (S$66.4bn) from its previous US$95bn (S$126.1bn) valuation in 2021. The company is said to be eyeing an initial public offering (IPO) as soon as next January. The partnership between Stripe and WhatsApp could unlock its next phase of growth given the latter’s user base of over two billion active users globally.

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