21 Apr 2005

Press freedom remains poor under Lee:

Found at Singapore Windows

Agence France Presse
April 14, 2005

PRESS freedom in Singapore has not significantly improved under the rule of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with "archaic" laws still used to contain the media, Reporters Without Borders said here Thursday, April 14.

The international media watchdog, which last year released a survey placing Singapore 147th out of 167 countries on the issue of press freedom, called on Lee to "clean up" the city-state's laws and allow the press to flourish.

"We respectfully ask him to make some changes because he is from another generation," the Paris-based head of Reporters Without Borders' Asia Pacific desk, Vincent Brossel, said at a press conference.

"So we hope from Prime Minister Lee he can remove or clean up some laws that are very archaic and very authoritarian."

Brossel, who was making a short stop in Singapore after visiting the Philippines, said his organisation had placed the city-state so low on its world ranking largely because of its censorship laws.

He said there had been some "little improvements" for civic society under Lee, the son of Singapore's founding father and first premier Lee Kuan Yew who took over as prime minister in August last year.

"(But) in terms of continuity, he is doing his job," Brossel said.

Brossel also criticised leaders of the Southeast Asian city-state for filing defamation suits against political opponents and foreign news publications when for allegedly damaging their reputations.

"We feel that the way the local authorities have relations to people who are criticising them in the country is very disappointing," Brossel said.

"So this very bad habit in Singapore to fight a case or to fight a defamation case against political opponents, against civic society people or against journalists is very shameful."

Leading figures from People's Action Party, which has ruled since the country's independence in 1965, maintain the use of defamation laws are a legitimate tactic to protect their reputations from false accusations.

In his first major policy speech after becoming prime minister last year, Lee loosened some of the regulations governing free speech in Singapore.

These included removing the need to apply for a license from police to hold indoor seminars and meetings.

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