Some points from a friend:
- Shanmugan totally missed the point on RWB ranking on by conflating press freedom with a country's internal stability.
- Tthe rankings are based on inputs by human rights activists/ press correspondents/ media
- Accusing the government sector (including the elites/ bureaucrats) of inappropriate behaviour/ corruption is part and parcel of any democratic state (provided there is 'sufficient' evidence or doubt). That's what whistleblowing is about. Defamation suits threaten and destroy the intent of free speech.
- I would ask Shanmugan to provide us with an example of a 'sharp' criticism from the local press on governmental policy in recent years. Just ONE.
'Divorced from reality'
27 October 2009
Source: Today Online
SINGAPORE - It is a modern, prosperous city-state based on the rule of law - but if you only read about Singapore in certain American publications, you would think it a repressive state that controlled people's very thoughts.
"As if that is possible in a modern, successful, wired and internationally connected city," added Law Minister K Shanmugam.
Tackling such "misperceptions among some Americans" as he addressed members of the New York State Bar Association's international section in town for a meeting, he alluded to how criticism of Singapore in relation to press freedom sometimes reached levels "quite absurd and divorced from reality".
Take the World Press Freedom index by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based non-government organisation, which last year ranked Singapore 144 out of 173 countries - below even Guinea, whose military junta of late was reported to have gunned down people and had women raped on the streets.
"This year, we behaved better - so we moved up to rank 133. Below Kenya, which saw riots following a disputed election," he quipped.
And then there is the Freedom House 2009 rankings which put Singapore on par with Iraq. Would a truly objective assessment give the Republic such a ranking?
"Our approach has therefore been to ignore the criticisms which make no sense - and we will continue to do better," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs.
One source of some media's dislike of Singapore: The famous tussles the Government has had with publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. The Government's stand, he reiterated, is: Criticise us, sure, but we demand the right of response. And if the line is crossed to making "allegations of fact against someone ... then there will be a libel suit".
It is not something the press are used to, so "every lawsuit is met with the same reaction - we are out to silence the press". But having read some of the articles at the centre of suits, he feels "it would have been perfectly possible to have been deeply critical of government policies ... without the addition of totally unnecessary remarks on some form of corruption".
In the political arena, too: "We have no problems with tough debate, criticism of policies. But ... if untrue statements are made that a person is corrupt or that he lied, or that he tried to help my family or friends, there will be a suit."
He added: "If it is said that someone is stupid or that policies make no sense and the policies are attacked vigorously, then you can't sue. There is public prerogative, to comment on policies ... It will be sensible to defend the policies and ignore the attacks on intellect."
Mr Shanmugam cited how Singapore scored 100 for Government effectiveness on the World Bank Governance Index, and ranked as the third least corrupt country in the world. He also expanded on the economic and strategic linkages between the US and Singapore - noting, also, that 10 of the 21 Singapore ministers have had some education in top US schools.
"This education, in our formative years, has made many of us admirers of many aspects of American society," he said.