Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lee Kuan Yew blames censors for 'Singapore Rebel' ban

As much as our political leaders want us to believe that the Western model of free press is inimical to the development of the Singapore, they just love talking to Western journalists.

It was from then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew's interview with William Safire that we learn that a Speakers' Corner was being planned for Singaporeans.


It was from then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's interview with Time that we learn that our civil service employ gays.

It was from Minister Mentor Lee's interview in Discovery Channel's 'History of Singapore' that we learn that he still gets emotional over Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

Now, thanks to a five-hour interview that Mr Lee granted to Time, we now learn that Singapore's founding father would have agreed to allow 'Singapore Rebel' to be shown if it was left up to him.

And so those who make the claim that Mr Lee pulls every string in the Government will be disappointed to learn that his views carries little weight over the decision-making process in the Media Development Authority, which had banned 'Singapore Rebel' and subsequently lodged a police report against the film-maker Martyn See.

Let's hope the Minister Mentor will grant Straits Times a five-hour interview soon so that Singaporeans won't have to buy a Western magazine like Time to read about their leaders' views on policies which will ultimately affect them.



The Time interview Part l

The Time interview Part ll

(click on the links above)

TIME: But you would concede that Singapore now needs more contention and turmoil?

LEE: Surely, surely. Ideally we should have Team A, Team B, equally balanced, so that we can have a swap and the system will run. We have not been able to do this in Singapore because our population is only 4 million, and the people at the top, with proven track records - not just in ability, but in character, determination, commitment - will not be more than 2,000. You can put their biodata in a thumbdrive.

We also have a different culture, a different way of doing things. The individual is not the building block. It's the family, the extended family, the clan and the state. The five crucial relationships are: you and the prince or the ruler, you and your wife, you and your children, you and your parents, you and your friends. If those relationships are right, everything will work out well in society.

TIME: A documentary film was made locally about a Singapore opposition politician, and it was banned.

LEE: Well, if you had asked me, I would have said, to hell with it. But the censor, the enforcer, he will continue until he is told the law has changed. And it will change ...

[But] I'm not guided by what Human Rights Watch says. I am not interested in ratings by Freedom House or whatever. At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That's the test. What are the indicators of a well-governed society? Look at the humanities index in last week's Economist, we're right on top. You look at the savings index, World Bank, we're right on top. Economic freedoms, we're on top. What is it we lack? Reporters Without Borders put Malaysia's newspapers ahead of us. In Malaysia the ruling coalition parties own the major newspapers. In Singapore the major banks are in control of the company that runs our newspapers. There is no information that Singaporeans want that they cannot get. All major foreign newspapers and magazines are sold here. We demand a right of reply, that's all. And if you go over the line, if you defame us, we're prepared to sue you, go into the witness box and be cross-examined. You can brief the best lawyers and demolish us. If I'm involved, I go to the witness box. And you can question me, not only on the particular defamatory issue, but all issues in my life.

TIME: Couldn't you have been lighter on the opposition - not sue?

LEE: No. If you don't sue, repetition of the lie [makes it credible]. It will be believed ... (Former U.S. Secretary of State) George Shultz once wrote to me about why I insist on this right of reply. I said to him, "We believe in the marketplace of ideas. Let the ideas contend, and the best ideas the public will buy." But I also said, "That assumes a large well-educated group of people as readers. Look at the marketplace of ideas in the Philippines, and see the chaos." Americans can have a marketplace of ideas. For example, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was a box-office hit. Americans enjoyed their President being mocked and satirized. But the majority voted for Bush in November 2004. When we have a large enough educated population like America, able to make independent judgments, we will loosen up. But even without the cacophony, all ideas are accessible in the media and the Internet.


TIME: You have strong views about a political culture of noise and discordancy. Yet at the same time you want Singapore to move a little bit more in that direction.

LEE: Surely. It is in the interests of my son and his team to encourage Singaporeans to be more self-reliant, willing to take charge of their lives, and less dependent on looking to the government for solutions. In other words, become more like Americans. Gradually over the years, I have seen the value of the American can-do spirit.


TIME: Singapore is a more modern, more sophisticated, better educated society than the U.K. Young Singaporeans are bright, smart, lively. They can take it, they can take a noisy marketplace of ideas.

LEE: Look, I don't meet them so often now. My son does. Let him decide. It's his call.

7 comments:

Martyn See said...

Here's how the Straits Times go gaga over the Time interview. One would have thought a 5-hour interview with MM Lee would have gone to ST or MediaCorp rather than a crusading Western publication like Time magazine.

STRAITS TIMES
Dec 6, 2005

MM Lee speaks on politics in Singapore, faith

Minister Mentor gives frank views in a wide-ranging interview with Time magazine

TIME magazine's interview with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew makes compelling reading for a number of revelations - from whether he is a religious man to political openness, including his thoughts on a documentary on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

However, he also displayed his combative style, dismissing assessments of Singapore's political system and media by rights groups, saying he was not interested in their ratings.

He also spoke of Singapore as a society that is changing over time, and said there will be a loosening up here.

Mr Lee's wide-ranging interview is the cover story of Time's latest Asia edition, which hit newsstands yesterday.

His picture on the cover is accompanied by the headline 'The Man Who Saw It All'.

In a section of the interview about 'The making of Singapore', he was asked about a documentary on Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee that was withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival in March.

'Well, if you had asked me, I would have said to hell with it. But the censor, the enforcer, he will continue until he is told the law has changed. And it will change,' he replied.

The making of a party political film is an offence under the Films Act here.

Mr Lee told Time he is not guided by what groups like Human Rights Watch said. Nor is he interested in ratings by United States-based Freedom House. 'At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That's the test,' he said.

As he has done previously, Mr Lee cited the human development index - a measure of literacy, life expectancy and per capita income used by groups like the World Economic Forum - which shows Singapore is 'right on top'.

'You look at the savings index, World Bank, we're right on top. Economic freedoms, we're on top,' he added.

He noted that groups like Reporters Without Borders put newspapers in Malaysia - several of which are owned by parties in the ruling coalition - ahead of those in Singapore. Here, the major banks control the company that runs the newspapers.

'There is no information that Singaporeans want that they cannot get. All major foreign newspapers and magazines are sold here,' he said.

'We demand a right of reply, that's all. If you go over the line, if you defame us, we're prepared to sue you, go into the witness box and be cross-examined.

'You can brief the best lawyers and demolish us. If I'm involved, I go into the witness box. You can question me, not only on the particular defamatory issue, but all issues in my life.'

When asked why the Government could not be 'lighter' on the opposition and not sue, he said if there was no lawsuit, repetition of the lie would make it credible.

He said on the issue of right of reply, he once told former US secretary of state George Shultz the Government believes in the marketplace of ideas.

'Let the ideas contend, and the best ideas the public will buy. But I also said, 'That assumes a large, well-educated group of people as readers. Look at the marketplace of ideas in the Philippines, and see the chaos.' '

He said Americans could have such a marketplace. Even though a film like Fahrenheit 9/11 mocked President George W. Bush, a majority voted for him in last year's election.

'When we have a large enough educated population like America, able to make independent judgments, we will loosen up,' Mr Lee said.

'But even without the cacophony, all ideas are accessible in the media and the Internet.'

He said it is in the Government's interest to have Singaporeans be more self-reliant, willing to take charge of their lives, less dependent on the Government for solutions.

'In other words, become more like Americans. Gradually over the years, I have seen the value of the American can-do spirit,' he said.

As for whether he thinks he is a religious man, Mr Lee said he does not believe that prayer can cure, but that it may comfort and help.

But he has also observed the strength of someone having faith.

'I believe a man or a woman who has deep faith in God has an enormous strength facing crises, an advantage in life,' he said.

Anonymous said...

"When asked why the Government could not be 'lighter' on the opposition and not sue, he said if there was no lawsuit, repetition of the lie would make it credible."

what a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

Now that's convinient... Anything touchy, arrow it to the son...

He may be daddy Lee, but he's still a politician...

Anonymous said...

'When we have a large enough educated population like America, able to make independent judgments, we will loosen up,' Mr Lee said.

'You look at the savings index, World Bank, we're right on top. Economic freedoms, we're on top,' he added.

He states that Singapore are 'right on top' when it comes to all those things and yet he also says that Singaporean are not well-educated enough to make informed decisions. Aren't his statements a little contradictory if you think about it?
How can Singapore be 'right on top' without good education? And if Singaporeans are educated enough to bring the economy 'right on top' why wouldn't they be educated enough to make sound decisions?
Is he subtly admiting that there is a flaw in Singapore's education system, hence raising Singaporeans who are not educated enough to make sound decisions the way Americans can? I thought Singapore's education rating was higher than America's? So, how is it that Americans can make better decisions than Singaporeans when it is Singaporeans who have the better education system?
And he also said that the government will loosen up when the population is ready to make 'independent judgements'. How can the population make 'independent judgements' when the government does not loosen up in the first place and give the population an opportunity to make these 'independent judgements'? He has a clever play on words. By putting it this way, this statement has become a stalemate.
And I wonder how the government is going to decide when and how the population is ready to make 'independent judgements'; what criterias do they have in place to help them decide when the time is right. I wonder who decides? Anyone wanna hazard a guess? I think we know who it is even without trying.

Anonymous said...

From a reading of the excerpts in the post above, MM Lee appears to assert that Singapore has great economic freedom, and that she has achieved premier positions in world trade. But a country with economic prosperity isn't necessarily a country that possesses freedoms that are fundamental for human living.

He describes Singapore as if it were a conglomerate, a marketplace, a corporate entity. Individuals, families, and friendships are not ends in themselves but simply building blocks for 'Singapore PLC'. This is a fundamentally flawed view of what a society is.

And it will lead to a society that is fearful of critical thinking, and unable to create. Therefore ironically, Singapore's obsession with political security and prosperity, is the very thing that will stop it from taking its place as a world city.

Anonymous said...

To say that we have got what it takes to be economically successful on the one hand, and on the other say that we still haven't achieved a large enough pool of educated or intellectually mature people capable of making sound decisions pertaining to the shaping of social and political life in this country is so typically and slyly obfuscating of MM Lee. Our paternalistic Papa cannot pull off a more patronising and self-contradictory cunning stunt than this.

lee hsien tau said...

"We also have a different culture, a different way of doing things. The individual is not the building block. It's the family, the extended family, the clan and the state. The five crucial relationships are: you and the prince or the ruler, you and your wife, you and your children, you and your parents, you and your friends. If those relationships are right, everything will work out well in society."

Isn't that outright shit-ass cronyism? Corruption from within? Corruption top-down? The reason why Thaksin Shinawatra (pronounced as 'tough-skin-china-one') is feeling hot under the collar right now?

If I cannot manage the five crucial relationships, then what do I fall back on?

If I can manage the five crucial relationships, isn't it simpler to manage 6 numbers and win the jackpot?