States Times Review has just reached it’s 3rd year of fighting propaganda fake news.
The setting up of States Times Review was a turbulent one, and not as easy as many thought it to be.
It was March 2015 then, and I was woken up by a barrage of door knocks and shouting: “Alex I know you are in there”. I knew they were not going to go away when I heard that. It appeared the police had me on surveillance for a while. I tried a delay tactic by volunteering to make a trip to the police station in the afternoon but the man at the door was insistent I go with him. When I asked if he had a warrant, he laughed and said that he does not need a warrant. I knew it had to do with The Real Singapore (TRS). I was then escorted to the Cantonment Police station for interrogation by 4 burly plainclothes police officers. Investigation Officer Roy ran through a number of questions which was not only about TRS funding, but also information of other TRS writers. In the end, I somewhat managed to convince him that I would be happy to offer my full cooperation anytime he wanted it, and he let me off. As calm as I looked, I was actually shaken inside. After going through a 3-hour long hallowing harassment experience in the name of “assisting investigation” by the Singapore Police’s Special Investigation Section, I walked out of the police station thinking: what’s next.
My mind ran through a number of options and I picked the safest one: run. I still had my passport back then, and I better run. Hold on. I am not guilty of anything, I did nothing wrong so why am I running?
It then dawned upon me of the same experience I had in National Service. Back in 2008, I wrote a blog compiling the deaths of NSFs who died during training. I was called up for a similar “assisting investigation” by the SAF military police then, and I was called up one day, handcuffed and marched into the Commanding Officer’s office with my “offence” read to me. The CO first commented “Alex I didn’t even know you have a blog!”. I was then given the “kind advice” by my CO that I could get a “lesser sentence” if I don’t claim trial, and so I did. It was a very vague description: “general disobedience”, no mention of the blog. I was eventually jailed for 5 days in the Detention Barracks.
The police investigation “assistance” felt like deja vu to me. Thanks to the SAF for jailing me in 2008, I learned that the police cannot be trusted and there can never be a fair trial in Singapore. I know the Singapore government has a track record of framing the innocent and I am their next target. It does not matter whether if I was innocent, the government wanted me and the other TRS editors jailed. Immediately on the same day, I bought a flight to Brisbane Australia and took flight in less than a week.
About a month later after I arrived in Brisbane, my fellow TRS editors, Ai Takagi and Yang Kai Heng, were jailed 10 and 8 months respectively. The government media demonised the couple and propagated fake news alleging that TRS’s purpose was purely commercial. I knew it was all wrong. TRS was set up to give free speech to Singaporeans.
In the same week, TRS was ordered to shut down. I saw it was a golden opportunity to set up a new website to take over the work of TRS. With no web development knowledge, I set up Straits Times Review. The name was deliberate and a bait. I knew the government-controlled Straits Times would take action against me, and they took the provocation. The media attention set up the foundations of States Times Review and it’s readership soared.
I strategically framed the website to be “Australia-based”, and declared that the Australian site will not comply with any of Singapore’s media censorship or legislation. Logically, since everything I do in Australia is legal, I should not be facing any criminal charges in Singapore. Realistically, this is naive. If I were them, I would jail Alex Tan immediately.
It was a big decision to set up States Times Review. The time and resources spent aside, the biggest consequence is that I will never get to return to Singapore. I will never get to see my hometown again, my friends, schools, places I frequent and family members. Everything I knew and learned would only be memories from then on. It was a huge sacrifice, and even to-date, I still wonder if it was worth it. I had never been to Australia before, it was a culture shock initially but I began to like it.
The best part I love about Australia? Employment. I love working here, because I really feel valued as an employee here and not like an economic digit in Singapore. I used to average 60 hours work week in Singapore, and the amount of spare time I have here is just ideal. In Australia, there is an open culture of speaking up and this is a big plus for a person like myself, who previously had offended many managers for being too blunt. The work-life balance here is perfect for managing States Times Review while on a full-time job.
In the past 3 years, the Singapore government had made several attempts to shut down States Times Review. But like a mouse well out of a cat’s reach, I am well-protected by the fact that the website and it’s content is perfectly legal under the Australian legislation.
Last year, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam declared STR as a “fake news” website. What an honour actually. I certainly would not want praises from villains like K Shanmugam or Lee Hsien Loong. Thanks to Minister K Shanmugam, STR’s credibility was boosted and monthly readership actually soared some 25% higher since then, which probably say much about K Shanmugam’s very own credibility.
In fact, the “fake news” campaign launched by the government to censor the internet actually backfired on them. Straits Times and several other mainstream publications actually see lower readership, and some like The New Paper and Today even had to terminate circulation. As it turned out, these liars should really not be throwing stones in a glass house.
The Select Committee on Online Falsehoods is probably one of the best harakiri acts. Their intention is bright as day: censor the internet. Thanks to Oxford University and Facebook, the circus act was called out. I threw in a test balloon by slamming the independence of the Select Committee members, and they took the bait by censoring my submission, which again led to a rise in readership.
I know what they are up to next: site address ban. STR would be treated like a jihadist site and then completely banned.
STR had a good 3 years run. I am pragmatic enough to understand that this site would be shut down eventually, somehow some time in the near future. Until then, I would do my best to provide independent news coverage for Singaporeans.
Thank you for reading States Times Review.
States Times Review Editor