A view from the gallery

June 9, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Richard Ng

After the hurried and gruelling cross-examination of Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the recent hearing for assessment of damages, almost everyone present in the courtroom, in the excitement of things did not notice what followed next.

Soon after Mr Lee stepped down, his counsel Mr Davindar Singh quietly rose to address the Bench that he was not calling the four journalists who had been slated to appear on the witness-stand after the cross-examinations of Mr Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  In other words he was not offering any more witnesses to be cross-examined by SDP lawyer Mr M Ravi, and by Dr Chee and Ms Chee.

For the few keen observers in the courtroom, this last minute, unexpected move came as a surprise.

What warranted this sudden turn of event, especially coming hot on the heels of Mr Lee’s cross-examination that was by all accounts not a pleasant outcome for the Minister Mentor?   

These journalists, all from the local mainstream media, had filed sworn affidavits and were prepared to appear as witnesses for the plaintiffs to assess their reputation.

All along, the position of the plaintiffs was that they have a high reputation for which they deserve appropriate amounts as damages from the defendants – the SDP, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin.

Why then miss a golden opportunity to bolster their case for hefty damages?

Originally, the hearing was fixed for three days, starting 26 May.  But by the afternoon of the second day, the case had come to a close, leaving one-and-a-half days for submissions from both sides.

As for this observer, Dr Chee’s cross-examination of Mr Lee Kuan Yew clearly demolished the half-a-century of “carefully cultivated myth of invincibility” of the latter by the local mainstream media.

To put it mildly, the mainstream media in Singapore has been totally domesticated to sing the praise of the system. Gone were the days when Journalists and editors critical of the system had to be detained without trial, and newspapers that demonstrated an independent streak had to be closed.  

Legislation has been passed to prohibit news organizations without government control from being established.

Given the circumstances, is it because the four journalists would not appear credible and worse, crack in the witness-stand and show themselves up to be sycophants of the system?

Only those operating within the PAP system will agree that the system is not designed to inflate the plaintiffs’ reputation and to curtail opposing views.  

Others, both within and outside Singapore have long been aware of the wholesale subjugation of the print and broadcast media by an authoritarian system.

Whatever it is, Mr Singh made the application to withdraw his witnesses from the local media in support of his clients’ lawsuit and the court readily granted it.

And of course, that was Mr Singh’s prerogative in a court of law.