GP Comprehension Paper – Democracy & Media

General Paper Comprehension Sample (Paper 2)

GP Comprehension Question Paper – Democracy & Media

(Note that 15 marks out of 50 will be awarded for your language, namely, for the quality and accuracy of your use of English.)

Note: When a question asks for an answer IN YOUR OWN WORDS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE (IYOWAFAP) and you select the appropriate material from the passage for your answer, you still must use your own words to express it. Little credit (out of the remaining 15 marks) can be given to answers copied directly.


1. (From Paragraph 1) Describe two qualities that the writer finds admirable about the work of the two Washington journalists. [1]


– Forthright: Outspoken / frankly honest
– Fearless: Courageous / bold


2. (From Paragraph 2) How has the reputation of investigative journalism changed over the last three decades? Answer in your own words as far as possible. [2 marks]

Investigative journalism is no longer seen as the epitome / acme of reporting / most admirable aspect / best that the media has to offer / shining example of all that’s good…

In the past, the media was perceived as the  people’s defender / champion / zealous upholder of justice

Now its reputation / the way that they it appears to other people has been tainted / smeared

and suspicion of disillusionment towards investigative journalism is presently common / rifle  / prevalent
OR And a general feeling of pessimism / disillusionment towards investigative journalism is present



-almost three decades later investigative journalism does not seem to be the brightest star in the firmament of American news

-the press was seen as the public’s knight in shining armour in the post-Watergate years its image has become considerably tarnished since then…

– cynicism about the state of investigative journalism is currently widespread



3. (From paragraph 2) What factors have been responsible for reducing the extent and effect of investigative journalism in recent years? Answer IYOWAFAP.. [3]


Convergence of the media networks in the hands of the few media proprietors / moguls / barons / tycoons / conglomerates / cartels.

and the impulse / urge for reporters to arouse interest by exaggerating / embellishing the facts / blowing the facts out of all proportion / overstating the situation account for the decrease / decline in investigative journalism.

As investigative journalism requires / needs / calls for  / commands a lot of resources, it is often incompatible with / at odds with the quest to maximize earnings (thus persuading / forcing media companies not to participate in investigative journalism ).

In addition, the prospect of being sued for slander / libel / harming the reputation of another is daunting due to the damages / costs that might be incurred.

Note: Any 3 of the 4 points will suffice.



increasing media ownership concentration

the drive to sensationalize coverage

Business pressures, (it) demands… a great deal of time, money and effort.

(which) frequently conflict with profit expectations defamation laws loom on the horizon (threatening) potentially expensive lawsuits


5. (From paragraph 16) According to the writer why would it be difficult, if not impossible to create an all-purpose ethical rulebook? AIYOWAFAP. [2 marks]


Every account is explored under an exceptional / special set of entirely different circumstances

Moral codes/ principles / systems tell us how to differentiate between what is acceptable or unacceptable, based on complex / complicated theories / systems / tenets / principles / ideas / reasoning to defend specific decisions.

Yet, in practice many areas / topics of concern are notably eminently / famously complicated /  thorny; and seemingly impossible to resolve / incompatible

(Also) every option / alternative can be deemed valid / condoned, according to the different moral codes / standards / doctrines applied, and their accompanying underlying / fundamental  / core values. (i.e. there are no absolute and absolutely agreed standards  – ie everything is relative!!)


-since every team of investigative reporters pursues a story under unique conditions

-ethics deals with how to distinguish between right and wrong. employing sophisticated philosophical arguments to justify a particular course of action

-Many issues in investigative journalism are notoriously knotty, involving apparently irreconcilable conflicts

-any decision can be judged acceptable, depending on what ethical framework is employed to justify it and what principles are used to underpin it.



6. (From paragraph 7) What motives does the writer suggest some reporters have for posing as investigative journalists? UYOW. [2]


They are motivated solely by a desire for money / increased sales / profit (allow either personal or corporate) (lifted from: mercenary… to boost circulation), and

ambition/ self-promotion / desire for success / self advancement (lifted from: to further their own careers),


7(a). (From paragraph 8) Explain the meaning of the question “Does the end always justify the means?” (line 78) [1]

It refers to the idea that a desirable / noble / worthy goal  / aim / outcome validates / excuses any wrong / unethical methods used to attain it


7(b). (From paragraph 8) Choose any one of the three questions posed by the writer in lines 79-81 and explain how it serves to exemplify the above question.[1]


Here, the unethical / ‘wrong’ method is the use of trickery / deceitful / misleading acts, whilst the desirable / noble goal / aim is uncovering / revealing the real facts / actual story.


The unethical method is the use of surveillance spy equipment, while the noble aim is to elicit a leading / valuable  / significant story.


Here, the unethical/ ‘wrong’ method is the use of artifice / imposture, whilst the desirable goal is opening the way / getting one closer to essential / crucial / critical facts.


Any 1of the 3 is sufficient. Both the ‘wrong’ method and the noble goal must be explicitly distinguished. Also make an appreciation that the goal is ‘right’ while the method is ‘wrong’.


Is deception legitimate when Journalists aim to expose the truth?

Can television reporters use hidden cameras to get an important story?

Can journalists use false identities to gain access to vital information?


8. (From paragraph 9) Identify the metaphor (a form of comparison) used to describe the value of investigative journalism and comment on its effectiveness. UYOWAFAP. [2 marks]


Literal meaning:
Fine net – ensures that things do not slip through
Wide net – covers an extensive area

(Lifted from: “casting its fine and wide net of scrutiny)

Figurative meaning:
Effective investigative journalism examines / analyzes closely issues ensuring that there are no loopholes in their investigation / investigation is thorough / significant issues are not allowed to slip through the cracks, and covers a broad spectrum of concerns.


Suggested Answer:
Just as a fine and wide net both ensures that things do not slip through and covers an extensive area so effective investigative journalism covers a broad spectrum of concerns examines/analyzes closely issues, ensuring that there are no loopholes in their investigation Investigation is thorough/ significant issues are not allowed to slip through the cracks.



H1 JC GP Passages – Article Sources for Democracy & Media

JC H1 GP Tuition (Syllabus Code: 8807)
Source of GP Passages:
Why democracy needs investigative journalism, 2007



Q9. Vocabulary Question (5 marks)

Word1 Mark 1/2 Mark
critical (in 1)crucial  / decisive / key / vital / pivotal


significant / important
system of checks and balances (line 17)

a means of / method / structure intended to prevent one person or group from having too much power within an organization

regulatory mechanism / arrangement to control prevent something or someone becoming too powerful

principle of government under which the roles  / responsibilities of separate branches serve to curb /  curtail prevent others from exercising undue /  excessive power


No mark: control system

lethargy (line 25)

a state of sluggishness/ laziness/ indolence


dilemma (line 61)

a very difficult situation requiring a choice between two often equally problematic alternatives



unprincipled (line 82)unscrupulous/ unethical



No mark: liberal


Reminder: Do not try to give a list (string of answers). Credit is most often be awarded to the first word or short phrase..

Note; Usually a short phrase of no more than 7 words is acceptable. The exception here is the question of [‘system of checks and balances (line 17)’]. Itself is already 5 words, so feel free to explain with an even longer phrase.



Q4. Summary Question (SQ) (8 marks)

Using material from paragraphs 4 and 5, only summarize the benefits that investigative journalism can bring to democracies together with the problems it may create. Write your summary in no more than 150 words, not counting the opening words which are printed below. Use your own words as far as possible. (8m)

Waisbord believes that investigative journalism can benefit democracies because


Lifted from the GP Text


…valuable mechanism of monitoring the democratic health of society

Compensates for the inertia of other accountability mechanisms

When these institutions fail to pursue media exposes

the press keep allegations of illegal or unethical conduct alive,

and in some cases, eventually force judicial action

it is a watchdog / supervisor / overseer of the condition / well-being / state of our system of representative government

It makes up for the inaction / sluggishness of other supervisory / watchdog tools / instruments / apparatus within democratic systems If other establishments / organizations / arms of the democratic state do not follow up / investigate /  find out more / take action about shocking facts / truths of a situation or person, which have been published

the media keeps such accusations of unlawful / illicit /dishonourable / immoral / acts in the public eye in the news / forefront of attention

and may, ultimately/  in time compel / ensure that legal charges are pressed against those responsible  / those responsible are punished by the law/taken to court



retains important agenda setting powers

makes political elites sensitive to news, particularly to potentially damaging revelations

that may cause a public outcry.

It plays the key role of defining the most significant  / pressing  / pertinent issues that need to be addressed by the political processes

It keeps the powerful /  influential leaders responsive alert to negative media coverage  / reports

that could lead to a general uproar cause a furore

eventually empowering them to responsibly vote their leaders out of office.



ascent of the media-centred politics main arena of debate for issues nurturing an informed citizenry

create vigilant citizens

helping ordinary people to meaningfully participate at a grassroots level,

allowing them to effectively lobby their representatives on local issues,

and enabling them to ultimately hold government accountable through the ballot box


Now the prime / major source of information for the public

it fosters / cultivates / develops political awareness in people makes people more knowledgeable

and produces / develops people who are watchful / alert of particular problems/situations in their society

assisting the man-in-the-street general public that they may purposefully be involved /engaged / take part ‘on the ground on a local community level

letting them petition / try to influence apply pressure / sway opinions of their political leaders / MPs.

eventually empowering them to responsibly vote their leaders out of office.


But investigative journalism can be double-edged sword”


16 It may also create a mistaken public perception 17 about the prevalence of wrongdoing 18 can lead to rushed and rash judgments

19 20 bypassing institutions constitutionally designed to investigate and reach legal verdicts about the culpability of individuals

unsubstantiated accusations made by the press 2 can destroy the reputation of individuals and institutions


However it has both positive and negative effects / can simultaneously both help and hinder

It can be misleading / give the wrong impression

that crime corruption is rife / widespread,

causing people to recklessly jump to false conclusions

and blame the wrong person, ignoring / side-stepping governmental organisations (the justice system / law courts…) meant to / aimed at ensuring that justice prevails / is served

Invalid / unsupported allegations / charges / claims made by the media

can ruin a person’s or an organization’s good standing / name

Reminder: it is a good practice to write down the number of words used.



Q10 Application Question

Whilst emphasizing the importance of good investigative journalism, the writer also points out some of its possible problems and pitfalls.

Bearing in mind the points made by the writer, assess the quality of investigative journalism in your country. In what ways could it be improved? Comment particularly on specific issues and areas of concern.

Refer to relevant material from the passage as well as your own knowledge and opinions to support your answer. UYOWAFAP. [8]


Roles Investigative Journalism should IDEALLY play
(Arguments Waisbord raised) / Explanation (EX)
Application to my country / Areas of concern
Evaluation (EV)

-vital contribution to democratic governance. Structurally, an integral part of the system of checks and balances which regulate democratic systems

-in keeping with the Fourth Estate model of the press”. it plays a watchdog / supervisory role / holds the government accountable: the press is hereby viewed as an essential check on government, a modern addition to the balance of powers. Watchdog journalism, in particular, refers to forms of activist journalism aimed holding accountable public personalities and institutions whose functions impact on the social and political life.

“According to this model, the main function of the press is to ensure accountability by publishing information about matters of public interest and concern, particularly when such information reveals abuses or crimes perpetrated by those in authority. The press makes government accountable by unearthing political wrongdoing.

-In the Singapore context, the press is not seen as the pure expression of democracy, the elected government is seen as the embodiment of democratic expression, and it is government that needs to be protected from the unelected press (ie. it is the powers of the press that are checked). prone being influenced by ideological and / or commercial interests

Unlike the role that the press plays in most authoritarian states, the ruling party in Singapore does not suppress the press in order to cover up corruption or hide its mistakes; it does so out of conviction that the press has a narrow and short term view of public interest, and that this myopia could stand in the way of good government.

In Singapore, there is thus a lack of investigative reporting. Hence, there is seemingly little political misconduct (reporting on misconduct of civil servants/ government figures is kept to a minimal; lampooning of/ eroding of respect for those in office is strictly taboo), whether of uncovering mismanagement in the public sector or scrutinising the revered institutions. News coverage can be critical, but the country’s leaders must be treated with deference.


-valuable mechanism for monitoring the democratic health of society”

Is journalistic reporting really litmus test of  how democratic a society is? Is it true that more liberty and freedom are necessarily signs of a more progressive society? Clearly, the Singapore press model, like most Asian ones, is the one based on self-censorship.


-as it compensates for the inertia of other accountability mechanisms which have been accused of neglecting legitimate public needs

-In SG, there are other monitoring mechanisms, even if they work purposefully only after a scandal is exposed Generally, regulation and the institution of a watchdog organisation help perform these functions, making investigative journalism superfluous.

Following the NKF (National Kidney Foundatuon) scandal and mismanagement of funds in other charities, the watchdog organisation COC was set up The newly formed Commissioner of Charities (COC) launched on May 1 to implement new regulations on charities and fund-raising appeals has the power to enforce regulatory action, it can close down charities, refuse registration prohibit pubic fund-raising on suspicion of irregularities remove trustees and staff all in the name of public interest.

Other watchdog organisations the CCS (Competition Commission of Singapore), competition watchdog. CASE (Consumers Association of Singapore). etc. are already doing their job.


When these institutions fail to pursue media exposés, the press keep allegations of illegal or unethical conduct alive and, in some cases, eventually force judicial action.

These are mostly of the opposition MPs / NMPS, the NKF saga was one-of-its-kind in terms of the scope/ extent of media exposure due to investigative reporting. SPH would have been happy with an out-of-court settlement, it was perhaps due to the misguided confidence of Durai’s team that the scandal was uncovered, not because the press were committed to social justice.

Much of the investigative journalism work in The New Paper, for instance, is more sensational than investigative. Debate often centres on individuals rather than political issues.


At minimum, investigative reporting retains important agenda-setting. In particular, investigative journalism makes political elites sensitive to news, particularly to potentially damaging revelations that may cause a public outcry

In S’pore, the media does not set the agenda, period. The elected members of government do The government continually asserts that only it can dictate the national agenda; the national press can publish the occasional critical column or letter, but cannot campaign against the government’s position. Given that the media exercises self-censorship, there is little fear that reports will tarnish the reputation of political elites.


nurturing an informed citizenry. With the of media-centered politics in contemporary democracies, the media have eclipsed other social institutions as the main arena of debate for issues and processes that affect citizens’ lives.

Increasingly, though, the mainstream media is functioning less and less as watchdog, as citizen journalism rises to prominence. The platform for debate and discussion is that of the virtual community that draws its strength from wider participation.

The rise of alternative media, as technology advances, has pushed the man-in the street to the forefront of news documentation. Debates are stirred / issues are investigated via the public forum, the members of the public play an active role in its own consciousness-raising, such as through STOMP.


“As a consequence, the news it provides is a vital resource to create vigilant citizens, helping ordinary people to meaningfully participate at a grassroots level, allowing them to effectively lobby their representatives on local issues, and enabling them to ultimately hold government accountable through the ballot box.

Limited sphere open for debate, though boundaries are constantly being pushed by netizens, nothing that rivals the commitment investigative journalists bring to the work terms of the scope & depth of treatment of subject matter

Often the general sentiment is that the press is an instrument of the state, the mouthpiece of the government as it takes on the role of bridging the gap between the people and the government. (such as explaining the rationale for a GST hike before its implementation)




Possible Problems & Pitfalls raised / EXApplication to my country / EV

 … investigative journalism may mislead the public to think that crime is rifle rampant, to the extent that the innocent might be presumed to be guilty.

unsubstantiated accusations made by the press can destroy the reputation of individuals and institutions

The NKF scandal surrounding mismanagement of donors’ funds (ex-chief TT Durai’s salary in excess of $600.000 a year) sparked off widespread feelings of outrage, anger, and betrayal among the public. 3,800 regular donors cancelled their contributions the day after the trial; a massive backlash and fallout of donors to the charity, and to charities in general, followed.

Youth Challenge chief Vincent Lam was found to have been paid about $250,000 instead of the said $50,000. The Youth Challenge chief also faced income tax probes.


Ways to improve the quality of investigative journalism Possible EV
Protect the press from the government to help it fulfill its watchdog role

This is based on the assumption that the US “Fourth Estate model of the press is indeed the best model. This underlying premise could of course be questioned.

Press laws at present require all newspapers be licensed (and licenses can be revoked): journalists can be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Official Secrets Act (OSA) deters reporters from receiving news leaks, libel laws compel them to be careful with news that could hurt officials’ reputations. It is however, perhaps more ironic in that Singapore’s press system is sustained not just coercion, but also by consent.


Investigative journalism to complement mainstream media in exposing wrongs.

Perhaps more realistic, but difficult to see this taking off in an Asian society that subscribes to the notion of self-censorship. Independent reporters are less inclined to take the path less trodden.


A more democratic environment?

Investigative journalism may take on a weak / reactionary / passive role as its role can be limited depending on the level of control the government has over the media in general or journalism in particular, and depending on how democratic the country is.

– In Singapore, the media is strictly controlled by the government. It is not truly a free press. While relatively independent for regional and international news, in ‘policing domestic politics, the Singapore press, is arguably in the grip of a rigorous self-censorship. The government threatens journalists, the foreign media and opposition with defamation suits seeking dizzying amounts in damages.



In addition:

Specific issues & areas of concern (cited in the GP passage)Possible areas of concern in my S’pore

Examples in the US disclosed political misconduct ranging from indirect profiteering to outright bribery uncovers mismanagement in the public sector, exposing gross incompetence in top Civil servants as well as bureaucratic negligence and lethargy.

Specific instances (the political scene).

-opposition MPs such as Chee Soon Juan (and his constant clamour for “freedom of expression”. JB Jeyaratnam, Francis Seow, James Gomez, Steve Chia, Tang Liang Hong, etc who have at one point or other discredited the role of the opposition.

Most of these opposition MPs faced defamation suits, some were declared bankrupt due to failure to pay the libel damages, and barred from further politics, Tang and Seow have since fled the country.Chia’s scandalous exploits have been exposed by the media, Gomez’s failure to submit his application form at the 2006 General Elections in attempts to discredit the elections department exposed by concrete audio and video evidence.

Incompetence of the opposition members only thus shown up, with government officials untarnished.


Other examples

revered institutions (are not) spared the journalist’s scrutiny scathing reports on inadequate health care, legal malpractice, academic plagiarism and unethical scientific Research hitting the headlines almost everyday

Ministerial pay
Benchmarking of pay of ministers to the private on sector There have been genuine concerns over whether the performance was good enough to warrant the quantum of pay or an increase, but the less explored question was whether, since those getting the pay increase were the same people with the power to increase their own pay, would the pay rise feel “arranged”?

At issue in the debate over the ministerial salary rise was whether it was done purely for the reasons articulated so well – to keep pace with the private sector, retain talent and serve the public good – rather than for less noble reasons like the desire for more money.

The role the media played in the debate was interesting, as public acceptance was sought over the ministerial pay rise.



Use of research funds for the biomedical sector
Trading of barbs between Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A’Star) the then chairman Philip Yeo and the equally outspoken National Neuroscience Institute head Lee Wei Ling,

Mr Yeo, Singapore’s science salesman, has been leading the research charge – scouring the world for foreign heavyweights and training the next generation of top scientists, and then placed his bets on the petrochemical industry, convinced that research whales are needed to take research in cancer and heart disease to a higher plane.

His challenger, Dr Lee, wanted Singapore to change direction in its multi billion dollar biomedical sciences (BMS) research drive, which she says has gone astray. Among her criticisms Biomedical resources were spread too thinly and that Singapore should focus on niche areas such as hepatitis B and head injuries, instead of competing with the West on big name research.

The BMS policy was later thought to be successful, and in no need of a re-think.


Private sector The private sector is also a prime target for investigative journalists: columns on business corruption involving consumer fraud in areas such as price-fixing and false advertising are published and broadcast with regular frequency.


There is less scrutiny of business corruption/ corrupt practices in the business sector


The above list is not exhaustive.There is often greater focus on social issues worthy of public attention (ie the recent elitism debate) in the local media than what is strictly considered investigative reporting.


Comments from General Paper Tutor:


GP pupils have to demonstrate an appreciation of the ideals of investigate reporting; unwavering dedication to watchdog reporting; serious work that takes up a great deal of time and resources; political will to investigate even one’s sponsors / in the face of clampdowns / newsroom cutbacks / exposing significant scandals or problems, through massive research, documentation and verification.

softening of corporate commitment in-depth coverage that originates mainly from journalists. o investigate


Good students answer will relate points raised to their own country (Singapore), addressing 3 key areas:

i) the roles investigative should ideally play
ii) the roll(s) investigative journalism at present plays in their country: whether Investigative journalism is up to the mark, or is it falling short of the standards
iii) the specific ways the quality of investigative journalism can be improved.

Critical assessments would possibly deal with how democratic their countries are, and thereby comment on the relationship between the degree of democracy  / government control in the country and the quality of investigative reporting.


GP students are to analyse and appraise the relevance of the points by justifying how selected ideas apply to their own country where relevant. Appropriate examples and references to their own country are also to be included.

Better answers would demonstrate a nuanced approach in the student’s appreciation of the arguments in the passage

The success of investigative journalism is itself often heavily dependent on an environment that upholds democratic ideals. Each country’s political circumstance therefore exerts great influence on the quality of investigative journalism possible.

Cultural contexts have to be considered as well as Asian media generally exercise more self- censorship than the Western; press given the different lifestyles / cultural norms this may not necessarily be completely unacceptable.


“Investigative journalism is not permitted.” – Sinapan Samydorai,
President of Think Centre, an independent NGO in Singapore that aims to critically examine issues



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