In his latest post on Facebook, Lee Hsien Yang shared an article by Yahoo Singapore assistant news editor Nicholas Yong who commented on how self-censorship and unequal access are hallmarks in local journalism.
Mr Lee is founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s youngest son and current PM Lee Hsien Loong’s younger brother. He and his sister, Lee Kuan Yew’s only daughter and middle child Lee Wei Ling, became the focus of attention after they publicly accused their brother of using organs of the state against them in 2017.
The younger siblings accused PM Lee Hsien Loong of abusing his power to preserve their family home against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house, in order to bolster his grip on power, and claimed that the Government convened a secret committee to make a decision on the house.
PM Lee addressed the allegations against him in a Parliamentary debate where he declared that he has been cleared of all charges. Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang reinforced their allegations but offered a ceasefire in favour of settling the matter in private, so long as they nor their father’s will be misrepresented or attacked.
Instead of improving in the months that followed, the siblings’ relationship with PM Lee seemed to become even more fractured when the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) initiated legal action against Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s son over a private Facebook post before filing a complaint against Mr Lee’s wife to the Law Society over Lee Kuan Yew’s will.
Singaporeans, many of whom have called on Mr Lee Hsien Yang to stand against his brother in the next General Election, are keenly watching Mr Lee’s Facebook page for clues about his next steps or his views on local socio-political matters.
Mr Lee’s latest post sharing the Yahoo article drew interest, with nearly 700 reactions. Some commented that his link to the article was rare, since he usually uses his Facebook page to share the achievements of his immediate family or rebut comments and actions against his family by Mainstream Media (MSM) or Government agencies.
The article Mr Lee shared is a commentary on the disparity between how MSM and alternative news media are treated by the Government today.
Citing the experiences of veteran journalist PN Balji, whose new book ‘Reluctant Editor’ shares intimate details about MSM’s relationship with the Government, Mr Yong noted that Mr Balji “paints a portrait of a thin-skinned government that often reacted defensively to negative coverage and was unafraid to resort to strong-arm tactics. Jobs were literally at stake, and more than one journalist felt the wrath of the authorities.”
Noting that the Government has not changed its approach to the media, Mr Yong shared stories of his own from his 12-year career as a journalist and pointed out that it is a “well-established fact” that alternative sites receive unequal access to news compared to MSM.
Sharing that it is common for Yahoo to be sent press releases much later than MSM and for Yahoo to be barred from certain high-profile events are reserved for “local media only”, Mr Yong said that senior Government officials have also told the publication that they don’t have advance copies of speeches, like the National Day Rally speech, when MSM reporters are given priority access much earlier.
Pointing out that Government agencies also decline to comment on relevant news stories when approached by alternative sites, Mr Yong said that there is also a practice of cutting off media access to press releases without warning or explanation.
Citing a quote by Mr Balji who had said that self-censorship is “the greatest sin in Singapore journalism” and that it is “worse than what it used to be before,” Mr Yong pointed out that MSM does not bother to cover news like Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson, Li Huanwu’s wedding. He asked:
“Did it have anything to do with the fact that Li is the son of Lee Hsien Yang, who is embroiled in an ongoing dispute with his elder brother PM Lee over their former family home at 38 Oxley Road or that the conservative segments of society are against gay marriage?”
Noting that MSM was also slow to cover PM Lee’s comment about Vietnam’s ‘invasion’ of Cambodia, which drew widespread criticism from prominent figures in Vietnam and Cambodia, Mr Yong asked:
“If the journalists themselves are afraid of doing their jobs, how is the public being served? If the journalists do not speak up, then who will? In a country whose institutions are so thoroughly dominated by the ruling party, where will the checks and balances come from?”
While Mr Lee Hsien Yang simply shared Mr Yong’s article on his personal Facebook page without comment, many have speculated that he must agree with Mr Yong’s views especially given the fact that MSM seems to be selective in its coverage about Mr Lee and his family.
While MSM publications like The Straits Times, TODAY and Channel NewsAsia are quick to cover the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ (AGC) actions against Mr Lee’s wife and son, they have failed to report on Li Huanwu’s wedding, Li Shengwu’s international achievements in mathematics, Lee Suet Fern’s international award for knitting or Dr Lee Wei Ling’s rebuttals against MSM reports, in defense of her family.