BBC Hardtalk: “People would be saying terrible things about their government”?


I refer to the Prime Minister’s interview on the BBC Hardtalk programme.

Media reports have reported the following:

“If (Singapore) was such a miserable place, you wouldn’t be interviewing me. You would be going down the streets and getting ‘vox pops’… people would be saying terrible things about their government, and some of them would have emigrated,” said Lee.

“The fact is, Singaporeans are happy. They have chosen this government. We are governing the country and the people to the best of our ability,” he added.

“Millions more would like to come in if we allowed them.”

Sackur: “This is what Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK said: if we’re to seek a deal with Singapore, Theresa May the Prime Minister must raise issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in any trade talks with Singapore; how do you respond to that?”

“ I don’t see you’re being restrained in asking me any question.”

Sackur stopped for a brief moment and said, “No, I’m not… that’s not really the point, is it? The point is whether you’re really prepared to offer guarantees on your treatment of the press at home here in Singapore.”

“Whether you’re really prepared to talk about why the freedom of the press in this …” said Sackur before being interrupted by PM Lee with his reply.

PM Lee said, “I would not presume to tell you how your press council should operate, why would you presume to tell me my country should run?”

“We’re completely open, we have one of the fastest internet access in the world, we have no great wall of the internet, you can get any site on the world… so where is the restriction?”

Sackur pressed on by asking, “So if the government of Britain were to make linkages between a trade deal and seeking guarantees about human right, press freedom, workers rights, demonstrator rights in this country, your reaction would be?”

PM Lee laughed and answered, “I would wait to react until I see it.”

He added, “You look at the Americans, they don’t lack fervour in moral causes. They promote democracy, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, at some times even transgender rights. But you don’t see them applying that universally across the world with all their allies. Yes, they do it where the cost is low, and then they can take a high position…”

“But you look at some of the most important oil producers in the world, do they conform? Have they been pressured? You have to do business.”

PM Lee paused for a while before saying, “The world is a diverse place, nobody has a monopoly of virtue or wisdom and unless we can accept that and we prosper together and cooperate together, accepting our differences; differences in values, differences in outlook, differences in even what we see that our goals to be, I think it becomes difficult..”

Lowest ever ranking of Press Freedom 

According to theonlinecitizen – “In April 2016, Singapore dropped one rank from its 2015’s 153rd ranking to 154th in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

The new ranking places the city-state in its lowest ever rank in the index, the highest ever rank obtained by Singapore is 135th in 2012″.

As to ““If (Singapore) was such a miserable place, you wouldn’t be interviewing me. You would be going down the streets and getting ‘vox pops’… people would be saying terrible things about their government” – Singaporeans may be afraid to criticise our government because arguably, various prosecutions/law suit have been directed against ordinary Singaporeans like Han Hui Hui (Found guilty of “illegal demonstration” and “public nuisance” at Speakers Corner (Hong Lim Park)), Roy Ngerng (Defamation suit – awarded $150,000 damages plus costs), etc.

Also, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and every international human rights organisation like Amnesty International, FIDH, etc, have issued statements condemning the use of prosecutions/law suit against Singaporeans in respect of their right to Freedom of Expression (Note: For Han Hui Hui – also Freedom of Assembly and Political Participation (stand for elections)).

Specifically, a description of the laws that arguably curtail the right to Freedom of Expression are given below:

…  “Seditious tendency 3.—(1)  A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(ato bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government
– “(2)  Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other things shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency — (a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures” (Sedition Act)
… cannot write about an on going court case or police investigation? (Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill)
… cannot write about anything that may be deemed as harassment? (Protection from Harassment Act)
… cannot write about race, religion or nationalities or different classes of people?
– “(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore” (Sedition Act)
… cannot write about anything that may be deemed as defamatory? (Defamation Act)
… may not write about or use Lee Kuan Yew’s name or image or likeness in such a way as may be construed as “(not) accorded dignity and respect” (Guidelines of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY))
… cannot write about anything that may be construed as in some way, be related to “any evidence given, or any documents presented to the (Select) committee (Parliament), or extracts“?
Leong Sze Hian



About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.