International publications are commenting on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent warning letter to The Online Citizen (TOC). One of these publications, Time Magazine, brought up Singapore’s low press freedom rankings in its coverage of the warning.
On Sunday (1 Sept), the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a letter to the editor of TOC, demanding that the website apologise and remove an article and Facebook post repeating allegations PM Lee’s sister Lee Wei Ling made during the Lee family feud in 2017.
The letter put forth PM Lee’s request that TOC immediately remove the article and Facebook post and publish a “full and unconditional apology” along with an undertaking that it would not publish similar allegations in the future.
The letter warned that “PM Lee will have no choice but to hand the matter over to his lawyers to sue to enforce his full rights in law” if TOC does not comply.
Time Magazine covered the warning letter and highlighted Singapore’s low press freedom rankings, the new anti-fake news law and TOC editor Terry Xu’s earlier criminal defamation case in an article published yesterday (2 Sept).
The article, written by Time Magazine’s Amy Gunia, stated: “Wealthy Singapore places strict limitations on civil liberties and freedom of speech, and public figures have previously been accused of using criminal defamation suits to silence critics.”
Noting that Mr Xu has been charged with criminal defamation over a separate article published on TOC, the publication pointed out that Singapore is ranked 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index and highlighted that this low ranking puts Singapore below Myanmar and the UAE.
The article also called the newly-enacted Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) a “controversial” law and noted that Human Rights Watch has labelled the bill a “disaster for online expression.”
News wire Agence France-Presse (AFP) also covered PM Lee’s letter threatening to pursue defamation charges against TOC. AFP’s article has been syndicated by prominent regional publications like Rappler, the Jakarta Post and Free Malaysia Today, among others.
The AFP article stated: “Singapore is admired worldwide for its economic prosperity, but its leaders are criticised for curbs on civil rights, including using libel suits to silence critics.”
The article pointed out that mainstream media in Singapore is “widely seen as pro-government” while TOC has a reputation for being critical of the dominant People’s Action Party, led by PM Lee. -/TISG