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It is not the job of government officials to take a position on newspaper articles or blog posts unless they are clearly illegal, Reporters Without Borders pointed out today after the Singaporean newspaper Today published an opinion piece by an official on 3 July condemning a recent post by blogger Lee Kin Mun as over-politicised and unconstructive.
“This reaction from a Singaporean official is disturbing,” the press freedom organisation said. “It reads like a warning to all journalists and bloggers in a country in which the media are already strictly controlled. The media have a right to criticise the government’s actions and express political views. Furthermore, a newspaper’s editorial policies depend solely on its editors. They should under no circumstances be subject to instructions issued by the government.”
Lee, who uses the pseudonym “mr brown,” wrote an article entitled “S’poreans are fed, up with progress!” for Today’s opinion pages on 30 June in which he criticised recent government measures and the constant cost-of-living rises in an amusing and acerbic fashion.
Krishnasamy Bhavani, a press secretary to the ministry of information, communications and arts, responded with an article published in Today on 3 July in which she defended her government’s policies but went on to criticise Lee for taking a political position.
“It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government,” she wrote. “If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the government’s standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.”
Lee is one of Singapore’s most popular bloggers. When the government banned political podcasts during the recent elections in April, the media largely took its cue from Lee’s position that, “Prison got no broadband,” in which he seemed to discourage bloggers from violating the new rules. But he nonetheless tested the authorities himself by posting a series of “persistently non-political podcasts” on his blog.