6 Oct 2006

Magazine, prime minister face off in court

By John Ruwitch

The Far Eastern Economic Review will vigorously fight a defamation suit brought against it by Singapore's prime minister and his father and regrets the city-state's decision to ban the magazine, its editors said on Friday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former premier Lee Kuan Yew filed the libel suit against Hong Kong-based Review Publishing Company Ltd. and FEER editor Hugo Restall on August 22 over an article published in July on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

"We are planning to defend the defamation lawsuits vigorously and look forward to having our day in court in Singapore," Restall told a news conference in Hong Kong.

'Singapore's Martyr: Chee Soon Juan'

"We believe that the original article was not defamatory in any way and could not be read by any reasonable reader of the Review as alleging the things that Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong claimed," Restall said.

The article that sparked the lawsuit, entitled "Singapore's Martyr: Chee Soon Juan", criticised the government's handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country's largest charity. The magazine also quoted Chee attacking the Lees.

Restall said Chee never said he thought any particular member of the Singaporean government was corrupt.

"He never said that and I certainly didn't write that, and I don't believe that," Restall said. "I think it's just ridiculous to read the article in that way. It's preposterous."

Singapore has for decades taken a tough stance on foreign media when they report on local politics. International media organisations have been banned, slapped with defamation suits or seen their circulations restricted when they published articles deemed offensive by the government.

'Barometer of Asian Development'

The suit is the latest in a series brought by Singapore's leaders against foreign media and opposition politicians.

The Review celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2005 and on Friday unveiled a new "Barometer of Asian Development", scoring 12 countries in the region over the past five years on a variety of data such as education, human mobility, capital access, creative rights, gender equality and labour flexibility.

China and Thailand were tied at the top, with Singapore a close second.

"We're trying to be very fair to Singapore, and I think the index reflects that we are not seeking to criticise them unfairly or trying to only emphasise the negative," Restall said.

Paul Gigot, editor of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which with Review Publishing is owned by Dow Jones & Co., said the government's decision to ban the Review in September did a disservice to Singaporeans.

"We really regret that decision," he said.

The government said it banned the sale of FEER, which has about 1 000 subscribers there, because it failed to comply with its press regulations.

Singapore's leaders have won damages in the past from media groups, including the Economist, the International Herald Tribune, Bloomberg, and FinanceAsia - as well as the Far Eastern Economic Review when it was published as a weekly news magazine.

In November 1989, a Singapore court found FEER guilty of libelling then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and ordered it to pay 230 000 Singaporean dollars in damages.

At the time, Justice LP Thean said Lee was entitled to aggravated damages against the magazine, owned by Dow Jones & Co., because of "express malice" by the defendants and the conduct of their lawyer Geoffrey Robertson during the trial.

The case stemmed from an article published in 1987 dealing with the arrests that year of 22 people, mostly lay church workers, for alleged involvement in a Marxist plot to subvert the government.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Singapore 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom, slammed the government's decision in August to issue restrictions on five foreign publications, including FEER.

The government ordered Time, Newsweek, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune to post bonds of 200 000 Singaporean dollars and appoint representatives in Singapore. - Reuters

Related Links:
FEER's Editor's Letter in full
Singapore’s Founding Myths vs. Freedom October 2006 By Garry Rodan
The Charade of Meritocracy by Michael D. Barr
Financial Center Pipedreams by Hugo Restall


Anonymous said...

sorry folks I do not wish to enjoy the fun. But this case will never reach court. As usual the Lees will not give evidence because the case will be heard in closed chambers.

soci said...

And the international media will have yet more scorn to pour on the PAP.

Even if it is behind closed doors there will be lawyers present and the story will of course get out.

Anonymous said...

but it will be a boring story, which is a bigger problem for singapore: despite all the talk about fun and openness, it is boring at the core

Blueheeler - the dog that sniffs out fishy news said...

The more public the FEER vs PAP fight is, the more liklely the skeletons will come out of the closet. It's good that FEER is taking up the fight (rather than admitting fault/paying damages) because FEER will make as much public as possible. Since TT Durai can cricify himself by suing ST, maybe there's spectecular fireworks ahead! Fight the good fight FEER!

Anonymous said...

What are the odds that FEER is going to win in Siagapore courts?

Anonymous said...

as I have already said, this fight will never reach the court houses. The Lees would never agree to standing in a witness box to be cross examined by an extremely clever western lawyer. The case is destined for chambers. In fact I would not be surprised if the Lees lawyer has already approched the judicary to get the necessary wheels in montion.

Anonymous said...

As a lawyer trained outside Singapore, I am struck by the extraordinary childishness of the letters sent by Drew & Napier and posted on the FEER website. I have never in my career come across such rude and combative professional correspondence. I understand that Drew & Napier is a leading firm in Singapore: I cannot understand how this is so, especially if they conduct themselves in such an unprofessional manner. Is this really representative of the Singapore Bar?

gwailo said...

Best article ever. You should publish it on your blog.

Anonymous said...

anon 17.36 I am afraid to say the tone of drews letters is synonymous with the way singapore treats locals and outsiders, basic rudeness and roughshod over everything.Drew and Napier rule the local law roost.
Years ago when the late greagt george carman came to these Island gto represent a pap political foe and gave goh chock tong a grilling, the judge increased the compensation because of the way singapore's prime minbister had been treated by an outside barrister.

the same will happen with the FEER case. If Dow Jones bring in some heavyweights they will be heading for trouble.

But as I have explained, I do not believe this case will ever reach court, its tailor made from a lee family view to be heard in chambers.

Anonymous said...

i do not think FEER expects to win in a S'pore court, they know how perverted the Sg judiciary is. They are going for a trial by public opinion, the outcome of which would likely be negative publicity that would tar the Lees and S'pore further. Well the Lees brought it upon themselves, much like the IMF-WB saga.

soci said...

Of course FEER can not win. That is a given. So all they can hope to achieve is some serious publicity and yet more 'criticism' to throw at Singapore's PAP.

The article in question was defamatory according to the Lee's interpretation. The Lee's interpretation will be the courts interpretation. The judiciary is not independent but yet another mechanism in the PAP's grand scheme of creating 'consensus'.

Everyone knows that this 'theory' or 'hypothesis' has been verified in the past, it is merely about to receive further verification. Proving that Lee Hsien Loong is not in control, his father is. He is after all a PRINCE.

Anonymous said...

The Lees will destroy Singapore with their arrogance.

It's telling how neither MM or PM have anything to say about the haze. They are more concerned about restricting speech then the health of ordinary Singaporeans.


Anonymous said...


Dear Mr Singh

I have read "the Words" and the exchange of correspondence between the solicitors for FEER, its editor and the Lees. Both parties have explained/denied the meanings of "the Words" - which of course is the crux of defamation - what do the published words really mean.

It appears Mr Singh your clients are bitterly resentful over the use of the words "skeletons in his closet".

From time immemorial, this idiom has been used in english literature including the works of Charles Dicken, Shakespeare and Edgar Rice Borroughs, to convey the circumstances where secrets were kept private which would otherwise cause embarassment if they were made public.

There is general acceptance that everyone of us has something in the past considered embarassing that is best kept secret, from being naughty in school to having marital problems.

In recent years, coming out of the closet took the meaning of one admitting to being a gay or lesbian - embarassing to some but not to others.

That "the Words" conveyed the meaning of his client being "unfit because he is corrupt" seems entirely of your own making. Mr H Restall has stated "he (Mr Chee) never said that and I certainly didn't write that and I don't believe that".

If your clients wish to have their day in Court, it is their right to argue the alleged meanings of "the Words". The irony is, Mr Singh you will be insisting on the "harmful" meanings which FEER has already denied and surely continue to deny.

Which only leads to a highly charged, adversarial exercise in shooting one's own foot (another idiom but please do not read it as accusing anyone of not being unable to walk properly as in being intoxicated!)

If you adamantly proceed with the defamation lawsuit, public interest and justice dictate that all legal arguments are conducted in open court. Banish the thought of applying for summary judgement. If you do, you will become a laughing stock.

A dose of reflection will surely diminish the weight of the alleged greivance.

C'mon Mr Singh, this skeleton does not fit the bill.

Yours sincerely

Another overseas trained legal person

Anonymous said...

oversees trained legal person, your summary is interesting, however, the Lees will never allow an open court hearing. this case is surely destined for a closed doors. I read one anon has already suggested wheels are now in motion to close the case down.

Anonymous said...

Someone ought to check what's going on with temasek/shin corp.
I hear the picture is getting more and more blurred...

Anonymous said...

This one has summary judgement written all over it.

Second, the few expert overseas lawyers, who have the potential to do some extreme grilling in court will be receiving a brief of the case requesting them to take on the case, upon refusal to be told that they should honour professional decorum and not take the case for FEER now that they have seen the brief of the suing party (this tactic was used before)

3. Hopefully China will appoint a new chief justice in HK in time, just in case the hearing to uphold the Singapore judgement is taken there by FEER

Anonymous said...

2 words- summary judgement. What are the odds of this thing going to trail? Rhetorical question.

I bet chua lee hoong, andy ho and their ilk are already sharpening their claws for the inevitable spin in shit times. And just in time for year end bonuses, no less.

Anonymous said...


Given the recent Chee case, the above concerns regarding summary judgement is understandable.

Summary judgement in theory is a process for reducing unnecessary litigation especially where there are many causes of action to a complaint.

Where there is uncertainty and the litigating parties cannot agree that all necessary factual issues are settled ie. that there are "triable issues of fact", the Court is bound to deny summary judgement. (Laws 101 revisited with apology)

According to Mr Singh, this lawsuit is about the Words having "disparaged our client and have impugned his character, credit and integrity" (refer to paragraphs 8 & 10, his letters dated 13 July 2006 to FEER).

The real question might turn out to be whether this case will disparage and impugn the character, credibility and integrity of the Singapore judicial system.

Anonymous said...

Does the family know how hateful they have become?

More so, do the people realise their pugnacity have become a liability?

Anonymous said...

The father and son are the hottest
tag team in town -No no WWF but
in the business of suing.
We are know what the verdict going to be like in Singapore courts.

Joe90 said...

Michael D. Barr's article, "The Charade of Meritocracy." articulates so well in very concrete terms what I've somehow known and felt all along as a member of a minority race in Singapore. So much for pledging "to build a democratic society based on justice and equality."

W said...

Interesting article by Michael Barr, however, his conclusions would be more convincing if he had checked the following:-

a) the composition of the committee which awards such.
b) the interview process
c) the number of applicants.
d) the composition of the applicants.
e) the socio-econmic background.
f) further, he narrows to only one set which is President scholars.
g) further, other scholarships are also the recruiting ground.

Anonymous said...

My friends often tease and ask How is Sing-A-Poor?

ted said...

W's points are only valid if those information are publicly and easily available. Since if Mr Bar does say manage to obtain those information but at great effort, it makes no sense for us to doubt his points if we are not able to independently verify what he says.

Does W have access to those information? I highly doubt so.

W said...

Yes, access is available as for other scholarships, yet he did not or provide for queries (c) or (d) and have known personally some such queries raised at the HR departments. However, as the saying goes, statistics can only state so much. The intention can only be gleaned by personal knowledge.
Noted Michael Barr has a distinct liberal progessive viewpoint and likewise the institute, he is based. If you were to use a different academic eg Geoffrey Blainey, you may get a different viewpoint.
Further, since there is no addenda, well, I remain to be convinced.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone verify if there are racial quota system similar to the HDB housing for university admission. Many top minority students/parents have claimed that they were denied admission to faculty such as medicine and law because of the quota system. Many who can afford it have sent their children overseas to do the study of their choice. Heard that there is also a quota based on gender for the medical faculty. Heard that this quota were put in place to moderate the racial composition of a particular profession i.e too many Indian lawyers etc. Of course many claim that this is not transparent but protected by the close selection process.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure you could describe Barr as having a 'distinct liberal progressive viewpoint'. In the preface to his book 'Cultural Politics and Asian Values', Barr writes that:

'...I owe it to readers to declare my preconceptions. Without going into great detail let me say that I am an Australian of English-Scottish-Irish ancestry, an orthodox Catholic and an admirer of Pope John Paul II. Catholic social teaching has been the main ideological influence on my political and social views... I am conservative on social issues but I have a strong bent towards social democracy... The legalistic concept of human rights expresses a narrow but nevertheless essential range of the implications of that dignity. I believe, however, that it has been overused and misused during the latter half of the twentieth century, thus debasing the concept itself and obscuring other aspects of human dignity.'

First, W, I wonder why you label Barr as a 'distinct liberal progressive'? Second, if Barr was a 'distinct liberal progressive', why would that make any difference to the validity of his opinion? - especially if he is up-front about his political philosophy.

It is obvious that personal viewpoints influence a person's stance on any issue. Of course, you may get a different viewpoint from Blainey (although he is not an expert in the area). The point is, in a democracy, you shouldn't really dismiss someone's opinion on the basis of who they are and where they come from. To do so would border on essentialism.

W said...

Please see my first post.
As long as the above queries are not answered, Michael Barr's article is just pure speculation on the motives since he states it is a unstated public policy agenda and impugn certain motives/rationale.

If you notice, I did not dismiss his article per se, I just stated I remain to be convinced until the above queries to my opinion are answered.

Please deal with the facts and the queries hence,note the difference between a pragmatic skeptic and a cynic.

Please also note he did not state his viewpoint upfront in the article.

Anonymous said...


I do understand the point you validly made in your first post. I agree that we should take a critical approach to personal opinions. I also agree that analysis of a person's political viewpoint is useful in any critical analysis of their opinions.

However, I remain concerned by two things:

(a) Your assertion that Barr has a 'distinct liberal progressive viewpoint'. I would be particularly interested to know why you believe this is so. I sincerely hope it is not a generalisation drawn from his ethnicity.

(b) Your comment 'Noted Michael Barr has a distinct liberal progressive viewpoint...' troubles me. Of course, I may have misinterpreted you -- and I will be glad to stand corrected. But, the statement seems to me to imply that his allegedly distinct liberal progressive viewpoint renders his opinions less worthwhile, or less legitimate.

W said...

My comments are as follows

a)His viewpoint, Please look at the articles which are published by him at the institute.Further, see his focus on "social democracy".

b)I do not dismiss his viewpoint, it just enables me to identify his agenda and see whether the facts matches his end goals in the articles. What I dismiss are his findings until my first post queries are answered. Having known some of the selectees and board who do not give a rat's arse for political correctness and just wish to evaluate on a equal basis.
Let me highlight than if his findings can come about in such a manner based on only 1 set of datum without vigorous investigation of such datum than this would apply to all OECD countries who have such similiar awards system eg the French Ecole or the German equivalent.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand where you are coming from with respect to point (b). Of course, constructive scepticism is very healthy.

Regarding point (a), I would still disagree with you about Barr's 'viewpoint'. In his book, Barr actually argues that the so-called 'Asian values' debate was not merely a cynical invention of LKY/Dr M to justify their own authority, but originates in a broader cultural backlash against Western 'liberal progressivism' since the 1960s. Barr, a socially conservative Catholic, seems sympathetic to the argument that Western liberalism has gone too far.

Perhaps you could identify the parts of Barr's articles that evidence this alleged 'viewpoint' of his?

Remember, 'social democracy' is not 'liberal democracy': it is certainly not 'liberal progressivism'.

W said...

I am not interested in further semantics deifintion.
Please note that whether he is liberal progressive or neoconservative does not matter.
In fact, I subscribe more to the poltical axes theorem of Dr Jeffrey Pournells.

The issue remains that his findings are problematic till the queries in my first post are answered.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to upset you with 'semantics deifintion', but you're the one who made the allegation that Barr was 'liberal progressive' in the first place. Why did you mention it if it does not matter?

I am not trying to insult you or detract from the valuable critique you make of his work. All I am arguing is that Barr is not, contrary to your suggestion, a liberal progressive (and nor is he a neo-con, for that matter). I realise it is a fairly insignificant point, but it is important to be accurate in these matters.

W said...

Please use a moniker.
Well, if you noticed, the definition was contrasted with that of a neoconservative academic.
And if further noticed, it was not a top three reason or first post
I am just highlighting/noting that with different perspective/worldviews,a incomplete datum may/would result in different results interpretations or a more nuanced or non-polemic conclusion depending on the academic's perspective.
In addition, you seem to be criticising the non-points rather than the queries raised.

Anonymous said...

But I agree that your queries should be raised. I've said that before.

I have also noted that my point is fairly insignificant. It was simply a point of information to correct a misrepresentation of Barr's politics. Nothing more, nothing less. There's no need to be so defensive.

Again -- I *agree* with you on the main issue. But you should be more accurate when identifying a person's perspective/worldview.

Finally, I don't know how to use a moniker. Sorry.

W said...

To Anon

You may claim it is inaccurate due to his prelude. However, a person may be conservative in his social values or mores, however, he may or may not apply it to society at large
Further, he is not a standing member/identified member of the Australia Quadrant the well known Aussie bastion of neo realist conservative thought.
Lets agree to disagree and that he processes the datum with left of centre leanings.

Anonymous said...

I am a lawyer in England, and I found D&N's writs laughable. If these writs had come before an English judge, I suspect the case would have been thrown out, with the plaintiffs being (a) told to just get over it and (b) made to pay costs for wasting the court's time.

I have now realised the full force of what the independence of Singapore's judiciary means. It looks as if Davinder Singh could draw a stick donkey on the writs and the judge would still find in the plaintiffs' favour.

FEER has worked out quite a clever strategy. In addition to the negative publicity the government is generating for itself with this, if the Lees do get judgment in their favour, don't forget that they will still have to get the judgment enforced in another jurisdiction, probably Hong Kong. But if and when an enforcement application comes before the HK courts, FEER will certainly oppose the application on the grounds that the Singapore judiciary is not impartial, which could result in the HK courts presenting their opinion as to whether the courts are independent. I am watching this space.