Sunday, April 4, 2010

New York Times editor says IHT should pull out of Singapore

It seems I'm not the only one who thinks that the International Herald Tribune's recent decision to cave in to the Singapore government again was rather lilly-livered.

Clark Hoyt, the readers' editor at the New York Times, which owns the IHT, has criticized the move in his regular column for the NYT. He does not pull his punches.

Some readers were astonished that a news organization with a long history of standing up for First Amendment values would appear to bow obsequiously to an authoritarian regime that makes no secret of its determination to cow critics, including Western news organizations, through aggressive libel actions.

He compares the decision faced by the IHT in Singapore, a key commercial market for the paper, to that faced by Google in China:

Google faced a similar painful dilemma in China. With potentially billions of dollars at risk, it stuck to its principles, and The Times applauded editorially. I think Google set an example for everyone who believes in the free flow of information.

Hoyt cites the late American columnist and sparring-partner of Lee Kuan Yew William Safire, who "told the American Journalism Review in 1995 that the world’s free press should unite and pull out of Singapore in the face of any new libel action."

"I think that is what should happen too, but it never has," Hoyt adds.

Hoyt also obtained a statement from the IHT explaining why it caved in. Make of it what you will:

Singapore is an important market for The International Herald Tribune. There are more than 12,000 I.H.T. readers who shouldn’t be deprived of the right to read the paper in print or online. In addition, getting kicked out of Singapore would also make it more difficult for others in the region to get the I.H.T. since we print in Singapore for distribution there and in the neighboring areas.

Hoyt's full column is online here. I presume it will not be published in the IHT.


  1. It is the power of advertising revenue. Anyway why are you slamming Singapore - which American newspaper is willing to attack Saudi Arabia a place that is far less democratic and far more oppressive than Singapore.

    The problem I have with Singapore using defamation law to protect the government is that they don't seem to realize that the same law is being used to prevent attacking anything. Subsequently financial scams like Land Banking are able to freely operate in Singapore and anyone who questions them gets a lawyers letter.

  2. Anon-- American papers attacks Saudi all the time, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly. Besides, Ben is not slamming Singapore so much as reporting on this weird little episode.

    Regarding what the Lion City's leaders "don't realize"-- I think you are demonstrably wrong on that point. They have made it clear that they understand a few episodes like Land Banking are the price of control. Rather, they argue that without control, the place would be less well-run and there would be many more such scandals. They're wrong on that, but let's fight the arguments they make, not the ones they don't.