Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged?

Apr 02, 2016 08.00PM |

by Bertha Henson

WELL, well. Dr Lee Wei Ling is really letting it rip. She now says that she posted on her Facebook page her criticism of the hero-worship surrounding her father’s death anniversary because The Straits Times wouldn’t publish the piece. She says she was denied freedom of speech and won’t be contributing pieces to the newspaper anymore.

You can see all the sniggering that followed her post; I don’t need to post any here. But they revolve around how her father was probably instrumental in “gagging” the media and that it was ironic that she was now on the receiving end of media controls.

In what looks like a reaction to comments, she replies with a post about her father’s reactions to the book by former chief editor Cheong Yip Seng, OB Markers, on the Singapore media. She let on something that has been debated in some circles: why Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote the foreword for the book which exposed the G’s relationship with the media in Singapore. I use the word “exposed” deliberately because it brought to light the private dealings between editors and the G, including lunches and Istana briefings. Things that I thought I would take with me to the grave were aired in public.

In fact, I expressed my surprise in my blog, Bertha Harian, when the book was published in October 2012. I titled it: “Finally, the facts…” This was my conclusion:

I am now waiting for public reaction to the book. Which scenario will pan out? Cheong said that if it resulted in some re-calibration of G-media relations, it would have done some good. Maybe it will realise that too controlling a hand will simply drive thinking people away from journalism. Maybe it will realise that this control, however subtle, puts ST’s credibility at risk especially with a better educated people with better access to information. The G should trust that journalists are not out to undermine Singapore. But it, too, should not undermine their editorial integrity.
Thank you, Cheong, for the book. It must have been tough for you to write it. The wonder is that you got Lee Kuan Yew to endorse it as “worth a read’’! Times, they are a-changing…

You can read the blog post here.

It was clear there was some unhappiness from the G about the book. Then there was the way Mr Cheong seemed to have disappeared from the public eye, after an initial burst of publicity about the book.

Dr Lee said “Pa merely shrugged his shoulders” when told of criticisms about the book. You can read her post here. Now, this seems to have settled the speculation that when the book was published, her father had hit the roof, unaware of the full contents of the book and extent of the revelations. In her post, she also shed light on the response of her brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was said to have scolded Mr Cheong. According to her post, the veteran journalist did not view it as a scolding, merely a clarification of points. He wasn’t attacking the former PM, but defending him.

Which was what I thought when I read the book.

Frankly, I thought my ex-boss bent over backwards to justify the tough media controls in the LKY era and was a mite too enthusiastic about the state of the media post-LKY.

ST is now in a pickle.

First, it must be clear to everyone and anyone that no one should expect that just because they’ve written something, it should be published. There is such a thing as editors and editing. Which means deciding what should be put out to the public as well as how much of it. The editor’s motives and judgments have always been questioned, since the beginning of journalism actually. This time it seems the decision was not to allow the publication of a piece by a long-time contributor. (Maybe the editors asked for it to be re-written to soften the “sting” – we don’t know what transpired.)

So why did Dr Lee’s piece not see light of SPH day? Obviously while the Singapore Press Holdings stable had qualms, the MediaCorp side did not. It reported what she said as well as comments by other people like ESM Goh Chok Tong. I can only think that the ST feared that her views might seem insensitive to those who worked hard to commemorate the anniversary, and that includes members of the G. Hence, rejection of the article.

All of which reflects the strange position of MSM. There is no more monopoly of news and views. Anyone can be a publisher. We’ve always known that of course. But it is a novelty to have a member of the Establishment take to the Internet because of a supposed curtailment of “freedom of speech”. How liberal! How exciting!

So what’s going to happen next?

In any case, Dr Lee ended her latest post on a feisty note: “For the cynics who complain that Pa restricted freedom of speech, you are wrong. If your statement is accurate, fine. If it is slander, l will have to defend my reputation in court.” Shades of LKY!!!! You can be sure that Dr Lee will give as good as she gets. Maybe even more so than Pa.


Featured image Newspapers B&W (5) by Flickr user Jon SCC BY 2.0.

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