LHL: We are completely open

18 Nov 05

Singapore’s prime minister said on Thursday that his city-state, which was recently ranked near the bottom of an international press freedom index, welcomes foreign media but has to be careful.

“We are completely open, but because we are open we are also vulnerable and we have to be careful lest our internal Singaporean situation gets influenced or controlled by groups outside Singapore,” Lee Hsien Loong said.

“If you are reporting on Singapore we ask that you will be transparent, impartial and fair,” he said in response to a question at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation business conference in the South Korean city of Pusan.

Run by the People’s Action Party for 40 years, Singapore often gets top marks for its sound economic policies but lags other Asian countries when it comes to freedom of expression.

Last month the Paris-based media monitoring group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom.

The group cited instances where the government used heavy fines or distribution bans on international newspapers such as the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Economist and International Herald Tribune to “silence Singaporeans or foreign journalists” who wrote articles that embarrassed the political elite.

But Lee said it is a traditional misconception that the state is closed to foreign media, and noted that organisations such as CNBC, Dow Jones, Bloomberg and Reuters have a presence there.

All the government demands of such organisations, he said, is the right to put its views on the record.

“If you comment on Singapore in a way which we consider unfair we don’t stop you, we just ask you give us the right of reply,” he said. “If you are reporting the facts there is nothing to fear … but please remember you are our guest.”

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