New Charges by Singapore Against the Wall Street Journal
|Our Correspondent||Mar 17, 2009|
Singapore government has again gone after the Wall Street Journal,
this time charging Melanie Kirkpatrick, a longtime New York-based
editorial page editor, over two editorials and a letter to the editor
that ran in the paper’s Asian edition last July and August.
charged in the Singapore courts is tantamount to being convicted. As
far as can be determined, the lawsuit-happy government and the family
of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew have never lost a case against
the press in its own courts. The Singapore attorney general said the
submissions to the newspaper were guilty of "scandalizing the
court" by impugning its integrity, impartiality and
current case grows out of a decision in which the Singapore High
Court fined Dow Jones Publishing Co. (Asia), the publisher of the
Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal Asia itself as a company
last November for the same case. At S$25,000, the fine was the
highest ever brought against a journalistic enterprise in Singapore
and, according to the judge, was because the published items
"contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack
of independence" on the part of Singapore's judiciary. The
government has now gone after Kirkpatrick as well.
to the Journal, the first of the editorials, titled "Democracy
in Singapore," concerned comments made in a Singapore court as
damages were being assessed against Chee Soon Juan, the much-arrested
head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and
colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the two lost a defamation suit
brought by Lee Kuan Yew, now Singapore’s Minister Mentor, and
his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article the Chees
published in their party newsletter that the court held implied
corruption on the part of the government.
attorney general, the Journal said in a news story, also complained
about a letter to the editor written by Chee and a Journal editorial
that cited a report by the International Bar Association's Human
Rights Institute on the state of democracy and human rights in
Singapore. The 72-page report became an embarrassment to both the
government and the Lee family after Singapore invited the
International Bar Association to hold its annual convention in the
city. The report, titled "Prosperity versus individual
rights? Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Singapore,"
makes 18 recommendations which the association urges the Singapore
government to implement as a matter of priority.
government, the report said, "is currently failing to meet
established international standards in these areas." Reports of
opposition candidates being targeted for criticizing the government,
it says, "are of significant concern and threaten democracy and
the rule of law in Singapore." It describes an "apparent
climate of fear and self-censorship surrounding the press in
Singapore," and that the "increasing tendency for high
profile and respected publications to pay large out-of-court
settlements to avoid litigation with PAP officials and the continued
run of success within in-court claims is worrying."
September, the attorney general charged three youths with
scandalizing the judiciary when they showed up in the courthouse
wearing pictures of a kangaroo wearing a judge’s gown
during a court hearing to assess damages in a lawsuit filed by the
Lees against Chee and his sister.
Singapore government filed its first contempt charges against what
was then the Asian Wall Street Journal for an editorial in the
mid-1980s after the late Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, then Singapore’s
sole opposition member of parliament, was acquitted by Senior
District Judge Michael Khoo in a Singapore court of making a false
declaration about the accounts of his Workers’ Party. The
editorial pointed out that Khoo lost his job as a senior judge and
was unceremoniously moved to the attorney general’s chambers,
widely considered to be a much lower posting. The government, then
headed by Lee Kuan Yew, charged that the Journal’s editorial
had brought the government into disrepute. From that point forward, a
long string of charges were filed against the Journal and the Far
Eastern Economic Review, which is also owned by Dow Jones.
Jones has hardly been alone, however. The government or the Lee
family, including his son, have filed defamation or contempt charges
against virtually every major publication in Asia, including the
International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, Time Magazine, the
Economist, the now-defunct AsiaWeek and any other publication that
refuses to toe the Lee line. The Far Eastern Economic Review,
especially under the late editor Derek Davies, was a particular
target. The Review in September was fined for having defamed
the Lees pere and fils, in relation to an interview with Chee Soon
Juan in which the serially jailed opposition leader said Singapore
would never change until Lee Kuan Yew was dead.
Jones is now in the hands of the Murdoch-owned News Corp. The current
charges are becoming a test of News Corp's nerve. It is a news
organization that in the past has sought to steer clear of
controversies with governments.
media watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore
140th out of 167 countries surveyed in terms of freedom of the press.
The country has been kicking foreign journalists out for writing
critical articles about the republic since the early 1970s