Why are reporters appearing as Lees’ witnesses?

Four local reporters will appear as witnesses for Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong in their defamation suits against the SDP. They are Mr Loh Chee Kong (Today), Ms Lin Yanqin (Today), Mr Kor Kian Beng (The New Paper), and Mr Marc Lim (Straits Times).

Not only that, they have all filed Affidavits of Evidence in Chief (AEIC) “on behalf of the Plaintiffs.”

It is no secret that the Singapore Press Holdings is owned and run by the state but for its reporters to allow themselves to be used so readily by the Lees brings journalism, if there was ever such a thing here, to a new low.

If the plaintiffs are relying on these witnesses just to ascertain the authenticity of the news reports they to make their cases, surely the four reporters could appear under a subpoena instead of volunteering for the plaintiffs.

Is there no attempt to even exercise an appearance of independence as journalists? This prostituting of the media is one of the reasons why, in the eyes of the world, press freedom in Singapore is ranked alongside those of Somalia and Sudan.

This highlights a longtime problem in local politics. When SPH reporters approaches the SDP , can we ever be sure that the information we give them will be used for the story and the story only.
Our experience has shown that much of what we tell them don’t end up as print. Instead they may later be used against us in court.

For example, Mr Loh Chee Kong from the Today newspaper, swears in his affidavit that he “was present at the scene” and that the SDP’s newspaper The New Democrat “sold briskly.”

He sounds exactly like a police officer appearing as a prosecution witness ready to make the case for conviction. Is this what Mr Loh was taught in Journalism 101?

In fact, all four witnesses are not just affirming that their reports are true and accurate. They have highlighted in their affidavits portions of their reports that help to make the Lees’ case.

Journalists in other countries have been known to prefer going to jail rather than divulge the identity of their sources. Of course, these are the ones who know something about integrity and journalistic principles. In Singapore, they volunteer as witnesses.

This raises troubling questions: Did the four reporters willingly step forward to testify? Were they presented a Hobson’s choice given that their employer was the former deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan? What did the plaintiffs’ lawyers tell them to include and highlight in their affidavits?

Whatever the answers, it is tragic that the interests of Singapore – interests of a free media – are being sold down the drain for the benefit of the ruling two.

In the meantime, Dr Chee Soon Juan has applied to Judge Belinda Ang to conduct the hearing for the defence AEICs to be struck out in open court instead of behind closed doors in the Judge’s chambers. She has yet to respond.

16 May 2008

Supreme Court

Attn: Judge Belinda Ang

Dear Sir,

Suit nos. 261 and 261 of 2006

Mr Davinder Singh, counsel for the plaintiffs, has disputed the fact that Judge Belinda Ang has indicated that “there will be latitude” for the defendants to cross-examine his clients. Judge Ang indicated this at the hearing held in chambers on 12 May 2008.

We wanted the hearing to be held open court precisely because we were afraid that Mr Singh may resort to such tactics.

In order to prevent such disputes from happening at the hearing to strike out the defence AEICs fixed for 22 May 2008, we would like to make an application to have this session conducted in open court where the proceedings can be recorded.

In order not to delay proceedings on 22 May, we are amenable to come before Judge Ang before 22 May to present our arguments.

Thank you.

Chee Soon Juan

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