SG High Commissioner rebuts The Economist on freedom of speech in Singapore

By TREmeritus

The Economist writing about the media situation in Singapore last month (‘Zip it‘, 24 Jun) talked about Singapore bloggers getting into trouble with the government.

The Economist described a peculiar situation where the prosecution was pushing for rehabilitation and counselling while the defendant, in this case 16-year-old teenage blogger Amos Yee, wanted a jail sentence.

Amos was found guilty of circulating an obscene image and insulting Christians, reported The Economist.

“As it turns out, both sides will need to wait,” it said. Amos is remanded for another 2 weeks to undergo psychiatric assessment. The Economist then quoted Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Office, which called for Amos’ release.

The Economist also mentioned that on 3 May 2015, The Real Singapore (TRS) was shut down by the Singapore government. The Media Developement Authority alleged that TRS had “fabricated articles [and] published prohibited material… objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony [and] sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore”.

Another blogger, Roy Ngerng, has paid Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s Prime Minister, S$29,000 ($21,653) in legal fees and expenses, and may pay more in damages, The Economist further reported. This is with reference to the current defamation lawsuit brought by Mr Lee against Roy.

The Economist concluded:

It comes as no surprise then that, in the most recent World Press Freedom Index, Singapore ranked 153rd of 180 countries, falling three spots from last year’s rankings.

Any hope that Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party would loosen controls over the media—as part of efforts to present a softer public face after its relatively poor showing in the last election—now seem misplaced.

Singapore’s government has proven itself as willing as ever to use the colonial-era Sedition Act as well as the 2014 Protection from Harassment Act to stifle dissent.

It also quoted Cherian George, a former NTU professor now teaching in Hong Kong, as saying that the Singapore government “still acts as though it can’t win an argument on the merits, nor trust the public to reach wise conclusions through open debate”.

High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia rebuts The Economist

Foo Chi Hsia
Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire meeting Foo Chi Hsia, Singapore High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, (Photo – Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

 

In a letter published in The Economist today (4 Jul), Singapore High Commissioner to UK, Foo Chi Hsia, sought to rebut The Economist’s article.

She accused The Economist of publishing an “unbalanced” article. Taking the moral high ground, Ms Foo said that in seeking “wise conclusions through open debate”, integrity and honest reporting are as important as the right to speak freely.

Ms Foo’s letter as it appeared in The Economist:

Your piece “Zip it” (June 24th) is unbalanced. It champions unfettered freedom of speech without providing the context of cases mentioned. Amos Yee was convicted for insulting the faith of Christians. In a small, highly diverse society like Singapore we guard our social peace jealously and make no apologies for it. We cannot allow people to denigrate or offend the religious beliefs of others: the result is anger and violence, as we have seen elsewhere. Protection from hate speech is also a basic human right.

The Media Developement Authroity (MDA) suspended TRS because it had published articles deliberately stirring up anti-foreigner sentiments. It fabricated stories to boost traffic and advertising revenue.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against Roy Ngerng is a completely separate matter. The Court found that Roy Ngerng had defamed Mr Lee Hsien Loong. Freedom of speech does not extend to freedom to defame others. Yet despite Mr Ngerng’s questionable tactics, the government has not shied away from debating questions about the Central Provident Fund. Ngerng himself engaged Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the topic at a public forum, an exchange carried by the national broadsheet.

In seeking “wise conclusions through open debate”, integrity and honest reporting are as important as the right to speak freely.

FOO CHI HSIA
High Commissioner for Singapore
London

Who is Foo Chi Hsia?

Ms Foo Chi Hsia joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September 1994.

She was Director in-charge of the International Economics Directorate responsible for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and WTO matters from 2008 to 2009 and concurrently Senior Deputy Director in the Southeast Asia Directorate (April to September 2008).

She was Second Director in the Southeast Asia Directorate from 2008 to 2010 before her appointment as Director-General of the Americas Directorate from August 2010 to July 2014.

Ms Foo served at the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York from 1997 to 2003, including as the Political Coordinator during Singapore’s term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2001 to 2002.

Ms Foo graduated with a Bachelor of Law in 1994, and obtained a Master in Public Management in 2005, both from the National University of Singapore. She was conferred the Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2008.

Ms Foo assumed her post as High Commissioner to the UK on 1 September last year.

This article was first published from TREmeritus