Thursday, March 25, 2010

Singapore outplays the international media again

At first sight, Singapore's decision to pursue a libel action against one of the world's great newspapers over an inoffensive remark appears counter-productive.

By forcing the International Herald Tribune to apologise and pay US$114,000 in damages for merely including founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in a list of Asian political dynasties, the government appears to tarnish the image of Singapore, not defend it.

(The offending article - which the Lees say implies nepotism - has been removed from the IHT website but is available on the Asia Sentinel website. The whole episode reads like a re-run of the IHT's 1994 set-to with the Lees, which cost it S$950,000.)

However, the canny Lees know more than anyone else when they must lose the short-term public relations battle in order to win the long-term war for control of the international media.

Doubtless, this latest in a long line of libel victories by Singapore's rulers will be condemned by press freedom campaigners and human rights groups. On message boards and blogs, some Singaporeans will mock "old man" Lee and his son for their thin skins.

But, after a few days, it will be forgotten. And all that will remain is the fact that the Singapore government has once again cowed one of the world's leading publications.

The IHT, owned by the New York Times, will think even harder before publishing anything vaguely critical of Singapore again. Other publications will take heed, particularly in these straitened times.

Papers like the IHT are simply not willing to risk being barred from distributing in Singapore or losing the crucial advertising revenue from Singapore government-owned companies such as Singapore Airlines.

So they toe the line, in cloying fashion. Here is the IHT's "Apology" in full:

In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.

Read it and weap. And then, replace "Singapore" with any other country in the world and the Lees with any other political dynasty and imagine how ridiculous it would look.

If I was a lawyer in Singapore, I would be on the phone now to the members of the other political dynasties mentioned in Philip Bowring's IHT aritcle: Pakistani Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il.

Think how much money you could make bringing a class action defamation lawsuit against the IHT on their behalf in Singapore.


  1. To Angry Asian 09:59am

    Truth hurts isn't it? I am Asian too. But i share exactly the same feeling and sentiment as Ben. So don't give me the bullshit that it is all Western vs Asian. Don't equate ball-less Singaporean and other Asian!

  2. I agree with you Disgusted Asian. Ben is taking pot shots and hiding in Jakarta, but Angry Asian is taking pot shot and hiding behind his computer monitor.

  3. The house always wins. if this was a casino. I will check the table for magnets....its rigged

  4. I don't think it's fair to say I'm hiding in Jakarta - I was based in Singapore until the govt refused to renew my work visa.

    And surely the real cowards are those who use the law courts to silence alternative viewpoints because they fear a true debate?

  5. The Lees don't have thin skin, they have no skin.

    Most people don't want the media printing negative things about them. The Lees don't want the media printing anything which might cause a reader to think something negative about them.

    The Lees' sensitivities are a map to their biggest lies. They call in the lawyers or cops when people question the credentials of highly placed Lee family members, the independence of the judiciary or where the tax and CPF money goes. These appear to be the Big Three topics the Lees don't want to talk about.

    (Ben, thanks for mentioning the political uses of the Singapore Airlines ad buy. Makes me wonder what Western media will do if China develops global brands and uses the marketing spend to dictate editorial policies.)

  6. Disgusted Asian
    on 03/26/2010 02:50 pm
    Apparently you have sucked to Western culture of bull shit.... In Asia it is called cow dung...and check it with your mum ... if she is still an Asian.. Get it right, Stupid..LOLs

  7. IHT and New York Times have completely lost any credentials as far as I am concerned, kowtowing to a family despot.

  8. Dear Ben,

    Shouldn't the headline read "International media allows itself to be outplayed by Singapore"?

    You cannot separate the dancer from the dance. Through this episode, IHT has shown the world what it stands for.


  9. To Angry Asian,

    You have no sense of perspective at all...

    Supporting "certain" values of Western culture doesnt mean one suck up to Western culture.
    If that is really how you perceive, then why on earth do you comment in English here? Isnt that part of the western culture? Good Riddance to you!!!

    By the way, please don't use craps like Western democracy vs Asian democracy. The actual fact is... Asia is so diverse that there do not exist a standard for democracy.
    Moreover, Singapore's implementation of democracy is so much different from the other Asia leading nations like Taiwan, Japan, S Korea and Hong Kong... so much so that it is making a mockery out of the real democracy.

    So for goodness sake, please do some research first before shooting your mouth off with so such much malice and offense. You just show the whole world who you are... either a stupid bigot or a PAP stooge who is willing to stoop lowly in order to please your masters.

  10. Angry Asian,

    What made you so angry? Truth hurts isn't it?

  11. Angry asian is definitely a pap stooge who exhibits the same skinless and ball-less traits of his pap tyrannical masters. Angry asian is just another hypocrite who spouts anti-western nonsense while living a lifestyle that is no different from the western counterparts. The next time you, Angry Asian, write and answer in this forum, please use your your bloody Han language, or your singapore's so-called mother tongue! Heck! Your mother can't even speak the Han language - what mother tongue???

  12. Press freedom will rise with the demise of Lee Kuan Yew but his death would lead to the demise of tiny Singapore as well. By then it will be a political cretin in the free world.