25 Nov 2005

Singapore opposition leader says foreign media shy away from political reporting

(Updated 05:35 p.m.)


The international media often avoids reporting on politics in Singapore because it fears lawsuits and financial penalties imposed by the government, an opposition leader said Friday.

Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, said foreign correspondents based in Singapore engage in "self-censorship" on sensitive issues, and he urged journalists to interview activists who campaign for more political freedom.

"Talk to them. It's the most disheartening, discouraging feeling when they get in trouble and the foreign media stays away from it and doesn't report it," Chee said at a lunch hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association.

Some foreign news organizations have paid large fines or had their circulation restricted from lawsuits brought by members of Singapore's ruling People's Action Party. Those organizations include the Economist magazine, The International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Asian Wall Street Journal.

Singaporean authorities have said they welcome the foreign media as long as it is objective and takes into account the viewpoint of the tightly controlled country.

Last week, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan, South Korea, that hundreds of magazines were available in Singapore, the Internet was easily available and that many international media organizations had offices there.

"If you're reporting the facts, you have nothing to fear," Lee said. "All we ask is the right to put our position on the record."

Chee, however, said foreign media, some of which have regional offices in Singapore, were likely to put "corporate interests" above the principles of their profession.

Chee currently faces bankruptcy after he was ordered to pay a fine to Singapore's former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, for defaming them during an election campaign in 2001.

He has said he won't pay the amount, but the impasse curtails his political activities because the law bars bankrupt people from running for public office.

The ruling party holds 82 out of 84 elected seats in Parliament.

"Are you being completely neutral?" Chee said at the lunch with foreign reporters. "I am just very concerned that our only line of communication with the international community is also being slowly, gradually choked."

Singapore's media face strict censorship, while home TV satellite units remain off-limits.

The government says its tight media regulations help maintain harmony, that it does not seek to implement the features of a Western-style liberal democracy and that local journalists must be sensitive to national interests.

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