The Singapore Governments reply to the Far Eastern Economic Reviews (FEER) analysis (Fiscal Predator, May 6, 2004) of the ills of the country's economy seemed like it was a straightforward reply to state its point of view. The problem is that it usually doesn't end there.
In its rebuttal to Mr Dan Fineman's insightful and well-argued essay, the Government warned that the piece contained factual inaccuracies and willful distortions and ominously questioned whether the authors intention was to improve Singapore's public finances, or to shake confidence in the Singapore Government and system.
Anyone who is familiar with the PAPs modus operandi will know that the Government will work itself up into a frenzy of feigned righteousness and indignation. If the wretched victim does not demonstrate prompt and abject capitulation, the author and publication will be hauled in to the Singapore court for prosecution or the magazines distribution in the country will be curtailed or both.
No one gainsays that the Government is entitled to its right of reply a right which, by the way, it demands from its international critics but does not accord to its domestic opponents. But the PAP seldom stops at replying to criticisms. It must annihilate, demolish, and destroy the source of the criticism.
It is this political action against the media, increasingly aimed at the foreign sector because the Singaporean one has been dragged through obedience school with resounding success that has earned the PAP its unlovely repute:
A recent survey published on May 3, 2004 by Freedom House comparing media freedom in 193 countries ranked Singapore 135 and consigned it to the Not Free category. Even Cambodia ranked higher at 127.
Reporters Without Borders did a similar study last year and ranked Singapore 144 out of 166 countries. This result was even more embarrassing as we lost out even to Zimbabwe.
Reporters Without Borders for the second straight year honoured Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong the Predator of Press Freedom award (together with the likes of Kim Jong-Il, Fidel Castro and Burma's Than Shwe).
The PAP must not be allowed to continue to intimidate and harass the foreign media because they are the only source of independent news and analysis left for Singaporeans. Without them, we would not know many of the things that the Government shields from the people.
The Government may be considering whether to take further action against FEER. It should know, however, that its reaction to the magazine and Mr Fineman is already making its rounds in the international community. How then should it proceed? I suggest very gingerly.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
(14 May 2004)