Friday, March 26, 2010

RSF to PM Lee : Stop perpetuating your father's legacy of intimidation

Open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Published on 25 March 2010

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Singapore 238823

Paris, 25 March 2010

Dear Prime Minister,

A foreign news organisation has yet again been forced to apologise to you and your father and pay you a large sum of money for publishing an article you did not like. This time it is the New York Times Co. that is a victim of this double punishment because of a compliant judicial system that always rules in favour of you and your family in all the lawsuits you bring against foreign news media.

Before the New York Times Co., you succeeded in punishing the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER),, The Economist, International Herald Tribune and Asian Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the political and economic situation in your country.

Threatened by a trial, the New York Times Co. apologised to you and your father, Lee Kuan Yew, for the article “All in the Family,” written by Philip Bowring and published in the 15 February issue of the International Herald Tribune. As well as an apology, this US media company had to pay 114,000 US dollars in damages.

Your lawyer, Davinder Singh, said Bowring’s article violated an “agreement” between your family and the International Herald Tribune, which was sentenced in 1994 to pay a large sum in damages for an article entitled “The claims about Asian values don’t usually bear scrutiny.”

The now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review agreed last November, after a long legal wrangle, to pay you and your father 290,000 US dollars in damages. Despite a lack of evidence, Singaporean judges ruled in favour of your family both in the original trial and on appeal without a thought for media freedom.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the judicial harassment which you and your father have practiced for years in order to prevent foreign news media from taking too close an interest in how you run your country. It does serious and lasting harm to press freedom in Singapore.

Your government has repeatedly displayed a disturbing inability to tolerate foreign journalists. Last October, for example, Benjamin Bland, a British freelancer who strings for The Economist and The Daily Telegraph, was denied a visa and permission to cover an APEC summit in Singapore. “I was forced to leave Singapore after the government refused to renew my work visa without any explanation,” Bland told Reporters Without Borders.

But the censorship has above all affected local media and local artistic production. In October 2009, for example, the ministry of information, communication and arts upheld a ban on a documentary by Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See about government opponent Said Zahari. Watch the video:

In response to the publication of the Reporters Without Borders 2009 press freedom index, in which Singapore was ranked 133rd out of 175 countries, your law minister, K. Shanmugam, described it as “absurd” and “disconnected from reality.”

Unfortunately, the facts show that we are right.

In the six years since you became prime minister and said you favoured an “open” society, we have seen very few improvements in the situation of free speech.

We therefore think your government should take the following measures as a matter of urgency:

1. Put a stop to the libel actions which you and your relatives have been bringing against Singaporean and foreign media that cover Singaporean developments in an independent manner. As the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression recently said, the prime minister, his minister and high officials must refrain from suing journalists over their articles and comments.
2. Amend the criminal code so as to abolish prison sentences for press offences.
3. Amend the press law, especially the articles concerning the granting of publication licences. The current restrictions are preventing the emergence of independent media. The film law should also be relaxed.
4. Reform the national security law so as to abolish administrative detention, which allows the authorities to imprison people because of what they think.
5. Reform the Media Development Authority so that it is no longer able to censor and can solely make recommendations about TV programmes and films.
6. Allow government opponents and civil society representatives unrestricted access to the public media.
7. Guarantee the editorial independence of all the media owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp).
8. Transfer the money that your family has obtained in damages from foreign and Singaporean news media to a support fund for imprisoned journalists that Reporters Without Borders proposes to set up.

We regret that you, the members of your government and your father keep citing the need to guarantee Singapore’s stability as grounds for controlling the media and maintaining its draconian laws. Countries that show the most respect for press freedom, such as Finland and Norway, are peaceful and prosperous democracies. Freedom of expression is not a source of political unrest. Quite the contrary.

You have perpetuated your father’s legacy by continuing to harass and intimidate news media. As a result, aside from a few websites specialising in Singapore, no news outlet can publish independent news and information about issues affecting the political situation in your country.

We would be very honoured to be able to meet with you in order to talk about our observations and our proposals for guaranteeing press freedom in Singapore in person.


Jean-Fran├žois Julliard

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jeyaretnam takes issue with Martyn See's blog post

The following exchanges are reactions to my blog post on Chee Soon Juan and SDP, and are lifted from the comments here and from my facebook page.

Taken from comments posted in the blog post.

Kenneth said...

Dear Martin, I had let the SDP know as soon as the event was announced that I have an appointment overseas on the same date. I am still in London now and returning this coming week. However before I left and again from over here I rallied my troops and made sure that a number of us from RP attended to show our support. In addition I wrote to Dr Chee to let him know that Tony Tan was attending as my proxy and to give him a message of congratulations to read out if he so chose. In fact 6 members of the RP attended. This compares to 1 NSP and 2 SDA. In a more civilised political environment it would be perfectly understandable that an SG would deputise someone else to attend in his place. especially someone with a high profile such as Tony Tan. It's a pity that Dr Chee chose not to share my congratulatory message but even if you personally were unaware of the circumstances it would still have been appropriate to consider thanking RP for their show of support instead of criticising them. Maybe next time we won't bother.
7:00 AM

Martyn See said...

Dear Kenneth, Much thanks for your prompt clarification to the readers. Any issue that you may have with Chee regarding your congratulatory message is really between you and SDP. Please write to him to sort him out. As for me, I was observing the event as a citizen journalist and all views expressed are mine alone. I would encourage Tony and other members who attended the function to post their views too so that readers have a broader sense of what transpired. This is the beauty of the open discourse of the internet. There is really no need to feel aggrieved. Enjoy the rest of your time in London.
11:15 AM

patski2 said...

Dr Chee did not read out congratulatory messages from anyone! Gandhi Ambalam acknowledged with thanks the presence of RP representatives there DO not fall into the trap!Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book! Well done SDP and good on you RP for showing up to support! BTW, Martyn, the MSM stories were all about the usual smokescreens about trustworthiness (Re:CST) and foreign funding - I do not see any change at all, just a little more subtle perhaps???
8:42 PM

Kenneth said...

Martyn- You misunderstand -I have no issue with Chee. If I did I would take it to him. I a reader and a person named in your article address the comment to you as the author and 'citizen journalist'. I can't help feeling it was irreponsible of you not to check out some facts and I feel a more balanced picture would have been obtained had you mentioned the strong turn out by RP. I have an issue with your observation and the spin you put on it. After all we have the MSM if we want the opposition to be ignored.That's all no big deal.Thanks Kenneth
7:10 AM

Martyn See said...
Dear Kenneth, I'll leave it to the readers to judge if I had committed any factual inaccuracy, or that I have, as you alleged, put a spin, criticised or ignored you and RP. Ordinarily, these would be pretty serious allegations to be levelled against anyone. But Singaporeans deserve more than tit for tat nit pickings.
11:56 AM

Read the rest here.

From Facebook page :

Andrew Loh : "Noticeably absent, and perhaps an indication that the Government's decade-and-a-half campaign to marginalize Chee is still holding sway, is the no show from the entire Workers' Party, including Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, and the founder of SDP himself, Chiam See Tong, now with the SPP." That is sad. The entire WP didn't show up?

Isrizal Mohamed Isa : yeah, even st was more generous with the attendance no. than than martyn hehehe...

Muhd Khalis Rifhan : It was because of their slogan back then, 'Tell the Truth,Be A Rebel', that pave the way for me wanting to know more abt SDP.

Tian Jing : Alex Tan from the SPP did show up.

Gary Teoh : WP looks arrogant , NSP, SDA , RP and SDP are ok.

Jarrod Luo : Chairman SPP Mr Sin Kek Tong was there too.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam : RP had 6 people attend . I designated Tony Tan my proxy and sent Dr Chee and the SDP a personal message of congratulations.

Martyn See Tong Ming : Woah people, since when did people vie to be mentioned as attendees in an SDP event? Dynamics have suddenly shifted.

Jaslyn Go : haha :D

Anna Hokage : Looking forward for the change :))

Kenneth Jeyaretnam : I agree people attending don't have to be mentioned. But when you write under the banner' citizen journalist ' then expect to be picked up. You chose the angle for your article namely -opposition lack of support or 'noticeable absentees'. You therefore put the emphais on attendees or lack thereof, from the Opposition. That's when the dynamic changed, lol. Especially as you chose a spin which leads the reader to believe that RP shunned the event. As we did turn out in force and as this is your response, has it occurred to you that next year we might just not bother.That will keep you happy because you'll be able to fill up more column inches whining. I sometimes think that the people who most hate to see the opposition succeed are the opposition themselves.

Dexter Wong : I presume that WP will not get as much support as it did in the 2006 GE.

Jaslyn Go : sort of puzzle me...SG of RP saying they might not bother to attend SDP's event next year just because a citizen journalist did not report this year event in a way he think is fair? I wonder the purpose of attending is to for people to see or should it be for opposition solidarity?

Kenneth Jeyaretnam : Jaslyn. not so puzzling . I responded to this as I am the one mentioned in the opinion/ blogging piece. If Martyn is a journalist then he will be comfortable with the concept of right of address. I didn't say it was unfair. Life is unfair. Some of us work to correct that balance. I said it was half truths, I said it was bias and I said as a result we would not attend another time. As you say most of the opposition appear to have shunned you. We ( RP) turned out in some number to support and we saw your reaction here. We don't need to attend your events to be 'seen .' The MSM cover our seminars and most of what we do so that is not a problem we have. Its very simple Jaslyn. If you denigrate the people who support you they stop being supporters.

Tian Jing : Thanks for clearing that up KJ that RP had 6 people attending.

1) Martyn's article incorrectly says that RP did not come to the event to show support.

2) SDP's assistant SG has acknowledge your party's support and we do acknowledge it, for that, it is a clear show of solidarity. ...
See more

3) The congratulatory message sure as hell wasn't censored. It must have slipped though everyone's mind to prepare it for the big night as we were scrambling to get things ready. For that, it is a pity that this slip had lead to this misunderstanding from the general public.

4) And lastly to everyone here. Please stop this bickering.

Boris Chan : It seems the issue is with the behavior of some SDP member and supportor instead of with SDP.

Martyn See Tong Ming : Very entertaining conversation and some important declaratons made here . To be fair to everyone who commented here, I would like to cut-and-paste this entire exchange onto my blog so that the court of public opionion can judge for themselves.

It will be entitied
1, "I will not attend another SDP event : Jeyaretnam", or
2. "The MSM cover most of what we do: Jeyaretnam", or
3. "Jeyaretnam takes issue with Martyn See's blog post.". ...

I chose the above because Kenneth is a public figure and people will be interested in his views.

I will preface it with the following words and no more : "The following exchanges are reactions to my blog post on Chee Soon Juan and SDP, and are lifted from the comments here and from my facebook page."

It will start with comments from my blog and continues with the comments here. I will post it up 24 hours from now. Any objections or corrections please state here now. :D

Kenneth Jeyaretnam : HAHA . Very droll. I came on because my name was mentioned in your piece but I've no interest in your retrograde style of dividing the opposition. We put all that behind us when we came on the political scene. The mature and sensible debate and style of engagement that RP brought to the Opposition and political landscape is IMHO one of the reasons that Dr Chee is now experiencing a coming around. We made Opposition leaders an attractive topic for the MSM to cover. I agree that mention of my name will bring you attention and readership from the public. But ultimately you will only further what appears to be a bizarre aim to keep the opposition in opposition for ever ( so long as they're alive online/youtube). So go ahead, take a week to rally your supporters' comments for your blog. We the RP will get on with our job of presenting sensible alternative policies, of overturning the received wisdom of Singapore's economic success and fighting for a free and democratic country.

Martyn See Tong Ming : Thank you, Kenneth. I take that as a "Yes'. To the rest of you, 23 hours more..

Seelan Palay : Wow Kenneth, you really shouldn't boast that much.

Updated on 5th March

Laremy Lee : I apologise for intruding, but if I may pose a question to both Kenneth and Martyn:

Is there any way that a resolution might be brokered to put a halt to this conflict?

Martyn See Tong Ming : As far as I'm concerned, it's been resolved at the outset. Kenneth is a major opposition figure and I felt the readers needed to know if he showed up at the SDP function or not. I had since acknowledged his clarification that he was away in London, accorded his full right of reply and suggested that RP members who attended the SDP event post an alternate review.

The rest of the 'conflict' are just some personal attacks and showboating. It would be apparent how disproportionate these exchanges are when placed in context to my original article, which really is about the state of Chee and SDP now as compared to five years ago when I was answering questions about their activities in the police station. How it is construed by Kenneth as denigrating and splitting opposition is beyond me. That the entire WP not being there is something I observed. But progress has been made, as I have noted in my piece that members of civil society and opposition were seen at the function, something unthinkable just a few years ago.

It is a celebratory article, not a dampener that Kenneth somehow thinks it is.

By the way, the Secretary General of the NSP contacted me five minutes after I uploaded the orginal article. He was concerned about the police possesssion of SDP photos during my interrogation. Did he attend SDP's dinner? Yes, he did. Did I mention him or NSP in my article? No. Did he bring it up? No. I think he had more important concerns as an opposition leader than being mentioned in a blog post.