LHL slams foreign press “agenda”

October 19, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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AFP
19 Oct 06

Foreign journalists had an “agenda”to make Singapore open up during recent World Bank-IMF meetings in the city-state, local newspapers quoted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as saying.

He was commenting on extensive reporting by foreign press of Singapore’s reluctance to admit 27 activists accredited by the World bank and International Monetary Fund for a formal dialogue during the institutions’ September meetings.

Singapore initially said it had security concerns about the 27, but then agreed to admit 22 of them after World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said his hosts had caused “enormous damage”to their own reputation.

“The foreign media had another agenda – they wanted Singapore to open up, to conform to their standards, their norms,”the Today newspaper quoted Lee as saying.

“Whatever line we drew, they wanted to push us, to go a little bit further. But we had to decide where the line was, and stick to it.”

Lee was speaking at an event to thank volunteers who helped out at the IMF-World Bank gathering.

Singapore’s approach to free speech also came under attack during the international meetings from local pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan.

Chee – who was protesting against poverty and restrictions on free speech – engaged in a three-day standoff with police who stopped him from marching to the conference venue.

Despite appeals from the World Bank, Singapore refused to waive its long-standing restrictions on outdoor protests during the meetings.

Police defended their strict security measures, saying Singapore was a high-profile terrorist target.

“The IMF-World Bank wanted us to be a bit more open, and we tried our best to accommodate. But in the end, we were responsible for the safety of the delegates and we could not shirk the responsibility of whom to let in,”Lee was quoted as saying.

Singapore prides itself on its image as an efficiently-run, regional commercial hub that is one of Asia’s wealthiest nations.

But Wolfowitz, in his remarks during the IMF-World Bank meetings, suggested the way Singapore handled the activist issue was worthy of a less-developed authoritarian state.

Lee, in a speech to editors earlier this month, said that in Asia, “the countries which have been most successful at improving the lives of their people do not always have the most aggressive media … Each country will have to evolve its own model of the media that works for it.”

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in May placed Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its World Press Freedom Index for 2005, due to the “complete absence”of independent media in the city-state.

Singapore ranked below Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Sudan and Yemen.