LKY defends suppression of media

22 December 2004

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has brushed aside Singapore’s dismal ranking in a global press freedom survey and renewed a warning to foreign media against interfering in the city-state’s affairs.

“Do you really believe that we are equal to North Korea ?” Lee, 81, said in a forum late Monday with the Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore. “Oh, come on.”

The Paris-based monitoring group Reporters Without Borders has ranked Singapore, where local media have close links with the government and shun Western-style critical reporting, near the bottom of its 2004 Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

Singapore, one of Asia’s wealthiest nations, was ranked 147th in the index, a notch below the Himalayan kingdom Bhutan and just above Iraq.

European nations topped the survey. North Korea was ranked lowest at 167th.

Lee, who imposed circulation restrictions on foreign publications that earned his ire while he was prime minister, reiterated Singapore’s tough stance toward publications and journalists deemed to be meddling in domestic affairs.

He said some foreign publications had published articles to sell more copies and “influence my electorate, which you have no right to do.”

Foreign publications are now widely available on the Internet but anything sold in Singapore must give the government the right of reply, he said.

“We are not that daft,” he said. “We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests, and what we have is working.”

“You are not going to tell us how to run our country,” he said.

Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990 in favor of his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn gave way to the former leader’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, last August.

The elder Lee now plays an advisory role with the special title “minister mentor” while Goh serves as senior minister.

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