Correction: January 13, 2008, 1830 hours Pacific Standard Time, Northern California: I have just received an Email from Melanie Lee, the Reuters newspaper reporter. She has pointed out that it was she who had interviewed Lee Kuan Yew. Clarissa Oon was the Straits Times reporter who merely reported it. I have thanked her for the correction and informed her of my appreciation that Reuters, the respected news agency, are reading my blogposts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Singapore state owned and controlled paper the Straits Times (mind you all the newspapers, TV, Radio and mass media are all owned and controlled by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and his government) on Jan 11, 2008 carried the story "Free press not the answer to country's development problems: MM Lee".
He said this in answer to a Reuters reporter, Clarissa Oon, who asked him how can one expect Singapore to reach the standards of Italy and Austria within 10 to 15 years without a free press? Lee had previously said it was his view that Singapore will continue to progress and become another Italy or Austria in this time.
By the way, not to digress too much, the reader will recall that about 15 years ago his former Prime Minister had said that in this time, Singapore will become another Switzerland. With about half the people in Singapore now finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet; many of whom decide to end their lives by jumping off high rise buildings and onto on coming trains, due to poverty; Lee Kuan Yew has conveniently decided to completely forget his earlier reference to Switzerland. It is quite obvious today that Singapore is not Switzerland. Even a blind man can see that much!
And now it is the turn of Italy and Austria! Switzerland having been conveniently forgotten! During this interview a very sharp reporter Clarissa Oon of Reuters asked the 85 year old Lee Kuan Yew, longest serving head of state in Asia, even longer than Fidel Castro of Cuba, a very good question. She asked, how did Mr. Lee expect Singapore to reach the level of Italy or Austria if it did not have a free press? It so happens by the way that both Italy and Austria have strong and independent free press. Both these countries pride in the freedom of the press and cherish it as a bastion of their democracy.
But Mr. Lee, as is his usual cunning conveniently avoided the question altogether. His answer was that even though Taiwan Philippines and South Korea have free presses, they are corrupt. I will come to the issue of corruption in a minute, but look at his answer. It was not even remotely responsive to the question!
Clarissa Oon did not ask whether a free press will or will not cause corruption to take root. Her question was how did Singapore expect to become another Italy or Austria without a free press. As is usually the case when the 85 year old Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is unable to answer the question, he sidesteps it entirely! As in this case.
Clarissa Oon is right. It is fundamentally important for a country to have a free press in order to reach an advanced status. Without a free press, there is no access to correct information. Without access to latest and correct information, business cannot make the correct decisions. Trade suffers because the correct information is lacking. Science and Technology is stymied for lack of it. Like North Korea, with its state controlled media, the people live without knowing what goes on outside. And if they know, it is not the correct picture.
With Lee controlling all sections of the media in Singapore, it can never hope, not in 10, not even in a 100 years to become an Italy or Austria.
Now let us look at Lee Kuan Yew's unsolicited opinion on corruption. He says Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea are corrupted because they have a free press! Is he saying that because Singapore does not have a free press, it is not corrupted? Well what do you call his paying himself and each of his family members and his friends $3.7 million dollars each and every year, year in and year out! Is this not corruption? Each of Lee Kuan Yew and his family members are taking 5 times the salary of President George Bush of the United States each year! If you don't call this corruption, what do you call it?
And you can say this to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. This astronomical levels of state sanctioned corruption in Singapore, is because there is no free press in Singapore. Not only that, there is no rule of law, no fundamental rights of any sort. If only Singapore had a free press and basic fundamental human rights, Lee Kuan Yew will not be able to be as blatantly corrupted as he is.
And by the way, the corruption in those countries that he mentioned is not because of a free press. It is because those countries have their own peculiar problems. There is no correlation between a free press and corruption.
New Zealand and Australia have free presses. Yet they are not corrupted. So are Finland and Norway, so are countless countries all over the world which are advanced countries, with a free press, with rights and sophistication.
The problem with Lee Kuan Yew is this. Without a state owned and controlled press, he will not be able to rule Singapore. He can only do this by instilling fear and repression on his people. Therefore he is a poor politician. And at 84, and about to die in the not too distant future, despite his cycling, running and what not.
And he fears death, because Singapore does not have a mechanism in place for smooth transfer of power like Australia and New Zealand. His son whom he placed as the Prime Minister also worries for the same reason, poor man.
By the way, Clarissa Oon's direct and peremptory question had taken him aback. He was not accustomed to Singaporean journalists asking him such direct questions. Most of them, through fear are cautious only to ask questions which are unlikely to cause him any annoyance.
Taken aback, it appears he asked her how old she was to which she replied she was 23. As to his second question, which school she attended; she pointed out it had nothing to do with the interview!
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