7 Jul 2006

Singapore paper axes column after government parody

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singaporean state-owned newspaper has suspended the column of one of the city-state's most popular bloggers just a week after he satirised post-election price hikes for taxi fares and electricity.

A spokesman for Today told Reuters on Friday the paper had suspended the column of Lee Kin Mun, better known under his online moniker "mr brown". He refused to elaborate.

In a June 30 column, Lee poked fun at a string of price rises announced after the May 6 poll, saying: "It would have been to taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely."

The government said last month that it would raise utility prices by 3.2 percent. Taxi companies, which are state-linked, said last week that they would double surcharges for peak hours to help cope with higher diesel prices.

Lee's comments drew a rebuttal from the government, which said that if a columnist exploited his access to the media to "undermine the government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics."

"It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the government," the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts wrote in a reply published on July 3.

Lee could not be reached for comment.

"This incident confirms in every way the fears we have about the government stranglehold on the media," Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

Singapore is ranked 140th out of 167 countries on Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index -- after Russia and Yemen and by far the lowest ranked for any developed nation

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