Featured News Opinion OPINION | Straits Times remains silent over Li Shengwu's Sloan Research Fellowship...

OPINION | Straits Times remains silent over Li Shengwu’s Sloan Research Fellowship award

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While this is not unexpected to some, it may reinforce the popular perception that the mainstream media publication is the mouthpiece of the ruling party.

While Singaporeans are showering praise on prominent mathematician Li Shengwu for being awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship, Singapore’s national broadsheet has maintained conspicuous silence and has failed to report on his achievement.

Mr Li, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University in the US, is the oldest son of Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern. Mr Lee is the son of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the younger brother of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Last week, Mr Li was announced as one of the awardees of the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship – a highly competitive award that has been conferred upon many prominent researchers over the years. Expressing his pride, his father Lee Hsien Yang wrote on Facebook:

“I am thrilled that Shengwu continues to bring honour to Singapore. In 2016 Shengwu was selected to become a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, a rare distinction recognising young scholars for their potential to advance academic wisdom.”

Revealing just how important this distinction is for the nation, Mr Lee added: “I believe Shengwu was the first Singaporean inducted into the Harvard Society of Fellows. I don’t know whether any other Singaporean has been awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship before.”

Congratulations quickly abounded for Mr Li and several prominent figures joined Singaporeans to praise the illustrious 38-year-old.

Workers’ Party (WP) parliamentarian Jamus Lim, who is also an economist, called Mr Li’s achievement “a treasure for the country” while his colleague Leon Perera said, “Shengwu’s remarkable achievements should indeed make Singaporeans proud. Well done!” Renowned doctor and president of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, Dr Paul Tambyah, also congratulated Mr Li.

Self-imposed OB Marker?

The Straits Times, however, appears to have declined to cover this notable and newsworthy achievement, despite the prominence of the award and awardee.

Interestingly, while the mainstream media publication remains silent over Mr Li’s accomplishments, it has often been the first to cover developments in the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s (AGC) actions against Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s family members.

After the dispute between the Lee brothers became public, Mr Li was prosecuted for contempt of court over a private friends-only Facebook post he made referring to the feud. He was eventually fined S$15,000 and was ordered to pay S$8,500 for the costs of proceedings and another S$8,070 for disbursements after he was found guilty.

Mr Li paid the fine but refused to attend the hearing. He claimed last year that “there’s a substantial risk that my uncle, the Prime Minister, would find an excuse to imprison me were I to return to Singapore.”

His mother, Lee Suet Fern, meanwhile, was suspended from her legal practice for 15 months for misconduct in November 2020 relating to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will, although the judicial panel that oversaw the case noted that the late elder statesman was “content’ with his last will.

Not the first time

Ever since the feud between the brothers spilled into the public domain, the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) owned paper has neglected to cover any news about the achievements of Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s family members.

Positive news about the younger Mr Lee’s family appears to be a self-imposed out-of-bounds (OB) marker for The Straits Times, and news of Mr Li’s Sloan Research Fellowship award appears to be no exception. While this is not unexpected to some, it may reinforce the popular perception that the mainstream media publication is the mouthpiece of the ruling party.

It is no secret that there are close ties between the directors of SPH and the Singapore Government. S. R. Nathan, Director of the Security and Intelligence Division and later President of Singapore, served as SPH’s Executive chairman from 1982 to 1988.

SPH’s first President (1994–2002) was Tjong Yik Min, former chief of the Internal Security Department. The immediate former Chairman of SPH, Tony Tan, was Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1994 to 2005 and President of Singapore from 2011 to 2017.

Dr Lee Boon Yang is the current chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. Former Chief of Defence Force Ng Yat Chung has been the CEO since 1 Sept 2017.

A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks several years ago caused a stir after it quoted former ST bureau chief for the US, Mr Chua Chin Hon, as saying that SPH’s “editors have all been groomed as pro-government supporters and are careful to ensure that reporting of local events adheres closely to the official line”.

Chua purportedly added, “The government exerts significant pressure on ST editors to ensure that published articles follow the government’s line.”

Wikileaks further revealed:

“Chua said that unless one of the editors is a “Trojan Horse,” someone that for years has successfully concealed any non pro-government leanings, none of them has the courage to publish any stories critical of the government.

While Chua admitted that he knew of no editors who had been fired or otherwise punished for printing articles critical of the government, he said that is because all of them have been vetted to ensure their pro-government leanings.”

Read the full WikiLeaks cable HERE.


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