Singapore Ranks 3rd in New Livability Index – How Media Framing is Done to Confuse Singaporeans

I had looked at the mainstream media reports of the Global Liveable Cities Index and looked at how the mainstream media had framed the reports to confuse Singaporeans and present information to colour and influence Singaporeans’s perceptions to what the Singapore government wants Singaporeans to think.

Please see the comments in brackets and bold italics for my analysis. The actual news is in plain text.

1. Last week, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy launched a nex index to measure livability.

A Singapore institute has come up with its own ranking of the world’s cities, which it believes is more comprehensive than others in the market.

Its creators at the Asia Competitiveness Institute, which is part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, also tout the index as more representative of ordinary city residents’ concerns, and also more constructive. – “Constructive” is used here loosely. “Constructive” is the in-word to use to describe a a holistic perspective, and is thrown in here for added measure, but without value.

The Global Liveable Cities Index, which was released at the World Cities Summit 2012 yesterday, ranks Singapore third, after Swiss cities Geneva and Zurich.

One major difference is that the index uses indicators that apply to the ordinary city dweller earning the median income, instead of a member of the social elite or an expatriate, as many other indexes tend to do.

(But wait, why would did Singapore concern itself with the median wage worker? We would find further discrepancies later on.)

The Global Liveable Cities Index, which covers 64 Asian, European and American cities, is based on five categories: economic vibrancy and competitiveness; environmental friendliness and sustainability; domestic security and stability; social-cultural conditions; and public governance.

Singapore was ranked within the top five in all categories except for the environmental segment, where it placed 14th.

The co-director of Asia Competitiveness Institute, Dr Tan Khee Giap, indicated that Singapore could have done better if indicators such as water leakage in pipes and biodiversity were included. They were omitted because comparable data in other cities could not be found.

(This means the Singapore government has decided that the environmental segment is of the lowest value in terms of attracting investments and if there needs to be a segment which needs to be ranked lower to increase the perceived fairness of the index, then this segment would be the most relevant to be lowered.) 

The push for a new index came from the Government four years ago. It had ‘noticed gaps in numerous well-known liveability rankings of cities… each catering to very specific purposes and targeted audiences’, and commissioned the institute to start the project in 2008, the team said in a book on the index.

(But didn’t the article stated at the start that the institute had come out with the index? The Straits Times had reported this news, making it look like the index is newly created, but seeped in the information that it was actually the government which had wanted to create this index 4 years ago, later on in this news. The Straits Times had used the technique of hiding information within an article in the hope that people will lose sight of it.)

But Prof Woo dismissed any suggestion of the index being tilted in favour of Singapore, saying it gave equal weightage to all five categories of indicators used.

(Obviously, Prof Woo had decided to twist the story around. The question here isn’t about whether equal weightage was given to all indicators. The question here, is how the indicators were selected to give Singapore an advantage in the rankings. Prof Woo did not answer this, but the answer is quite clear.)

2. In 2010, The Straits Times had also reported on this index:

SINGAPORE has been ranked the third-most-liveable city, after Switzerland’s Geneva and Zurich, in preliminary findings from a study which assesses urban liveability.

(Singapore was also ranked 3rd. Very consistent positioning.)

The Global Liveable Cities Index was unveiled at the World Cities Summit at Suntec Singapore yesterday by the institute that commissioned it, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), which was set up by the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

(But didn’t The Straits Times say in 2012, that the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy had come out with the index? What is news here is that two ministries were actually behind this index! But this information was omitted in the news in 2012. They had conveniently transferred the ownership of the development of this index from one institute to another, and omitted information of the two ministries, to use these two strategies to delink the association with the government, and give more credibility to the index.)

The study, which was started in 2008, evaluated 64 cities based on five categories, with 135 indicators.

Making the top five in four of the five categories helped Singapore fare well.

Singapore topped the domestic- security and stability category, which looks at factors such as crime rates and civil unrest.

It took the third spot for good governance and effective leadership, and was listed in fifth position in both economic vibrancy and competitiveness, and quality of life and diversity.

But it did not score as well in environmental friendliness and sustainability, placing 14th out of 64 cities.

The study’s lead investigator, Dr Tan Khee Giap from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that Singapore’s poor showing in this category was partly because of the exclusion of data on water management, as such data was unavailable in many of the cities in the study.

(The same reason is used in 2010 and 2012. Data on water management is lacking in many cities? True? I am not too sure. Obviously, Singapore wants to trump itself in the area of water management, and chose to highlight it for both years – even if they were to sacrifice the environmental segment in the rankings.)

He said that his team of academics from Singapore and overseas institutes hoped to include such data in future.

Dr Tan emphasised that, unlike other indexes that have been criticised for reflecting only the quality of expatriates’ lives, this one incorporates the local perspective by taking into account areas such as affordable health care, education and housing.

(This isn’t what they had said in 2012! The rationale in 2012 for this index is to account for those in the median wage group. They sang a different tune in 2012, because this is what, they thought, that Singaporeans want to hear. “Median income” is used to politically obtain the buy-in from Singaporeans, and to let Singaporeans think that they are listening to the middle income earners.)

Mr Andrew Tan, the director of CLC, said that the centre had commissioned the study to help cities understand some of the factors that determine liveability.

He said: “No doubt, this is not a comprehensive list, but we felt that these are five key areas that every city should provide for their citizens.”

(All other indexes place Singapore out of the top 10. Were these areas selected to make Singapore look good, to obtain buy-in from Singaporeans and investors, or were they created because “every city should provide for their citizens?” In 2010, the positioning for this index is what “every city should provide for their citizens.” In 2012, the positioning for this index is for the “median income earners.” This is marketing speech. The real agenda – does the Singapore government want to position itself to convince Singaporeans that Singaporeans have it good enough already – stop asking for more?) 

3. Finally, I had looked at a presentation by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on the Global Liveable Cities Index:

The rationale for the Globale Liveable Cities Index is as follows:

Our  proposed GLC Index is comparatively pioneering and timely because

  1. We are more comprehensive and balanced in terms of wider categories of indicators adopted
  2. We are more constructive in terms of methodology used involving “what-if”simulations on identifying both weakest indicators for improvement and reform.
  3. Extensive in geographical coverage of cities in particular by including those Asian emerging cities from India and China which are robust engines of growth and acutely in need of balanced development.
  4. Our study with special emphasis on good governance and effective leadership are apt and highly desired attributes much needed by emerging cities.
  5. As for work in progress, we are embarking on field trips surveys and raw data computations in the stage-two of the proposed study which are precious information hitherto not available.

(No where in this rationale is “median income” suggested as the rationale for creating this index. No where in the presentation was “median income” brought up as well. Then why was “median income” used as a rationale for the index in a mainstream government-controlled media?)

Obviously, the media (and the government, by extension, wants to present to Singaporeans a biased perspective, for the reasons mentioned above.

  1. The government wants Singaporeans to think that all is well, and Singaporeans should be grateful.
  2. The government has selected indicators which would serve their agenda. 

This analysis has given us a better picture as to how the media is used to frame viewpoints that the government wants Singaporeans to think, and to influence Singaporeans to their way of thinking. How are we to trust the mainstream media if the government does not provide accurate and objective news and analysis? Is it any wonder why we choose to read alternative news? There is a reason why Singapore is ranked at 150 for the Freedom of the Press 2012 ranking, and Singapore will continue to do so because the government controls the state-influenced media to prevent Singaporeans from thinking in a manner that they are not supportive of. 

I had originally posted this article on my Facebook page:


  1. Pingback: PAP, Do You Still Care About Us? « The Heart Truths

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