In Singapore, as in any authoritarian state, the task of reporting the utterances of the Great Leader is a perilous one for any journalist.
You need only look at the case of Val Chua, a former reporter at Singapore freesheet Today, to understand how risky it can be.
Chua innocently reported some negative comments made by Lee Kuan Yew about the NHS when his wife had a stroke in London in 2003. The comments sparked a minor political row between Singapore and the UK and Today and Chua were ultimately made to carry the can (thankfully for Chua, she seems to have bounced back in her new career in PR and she now heads up the communications team at the Marina Bay Sands casino).
It is, therefore, no surprise that when presented with the bountiful journalistic gifts contained in the transcript of Lee’s interview with National Geographic, Channel News Asia, which is 100 percent owned by Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek, decided to play it safe.
CNA’s news story, headlined “Social cohesion key to keeping Singapore going: MM Lee”, makes no mention of Lee’s comments about lazy animal-like Singaporeans needing to feel “the spurs in their hide”. (hat-tip to Temasek Review)
While CNA has predictably opted to censor its story, more amusingly, it has also decided to censor Lee Kuan Yew.
What they’ve left in is almost as revealing as what they’ve left out.
Lee’s crypto-racist paranoia about Malays/Muslims is obviously considered fit for public consumption as are his comments about the quality of porn on the internet.
But CNA appears to have cut the section where Lee reveals that he won’t go to hawker centres any more for fear that ordinary Singaporeans might dare to shake his mighty hand.
I thought this was one of the more revealing comments in the whole interview as it not only shows his disdain for his own people but casts doubt on his appetite to “fight” for his parliamentary seat at the next election.
For deprived CNA readers, here are the comments in full:
"I can’t go anymore because so many people want to shake my hands and I become a distraction, I can’t really get down to my food. I tend to go to restaurants when I go out and I try restaurants with a quiet corner where I can sneak in and sneak out with my friends and not have a crowd wanting to shake hands with me."
Like all the state-owned media outlets in Singapore, Channel News Asia is routinely asked by government officials to alter/remove stories that are deemed “inaccurate” so it is no wonder that its oft-harangued hacks are trying to stay ahead of the game.
In many ways, they have acted with extreme courage by daring to edit Lee Kuan Yew’s comments. Not many people would risk his wrath by deigning to tell him what he should or shouldn’t say.