Singapore: Buying good press
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Singapore: Buying good press

A Financial Times supplement breaches an ethical firewall, report Asia Sentinel

Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal. Is Singapore Inc quietly buying the Financial Times?

It may seem that way judging from the 44-page insert that FT subscribers got with their morning edition on April 11 as the vaunted paper threw principles to the wind in what will surely be a boost to owner Pearson Plc.’s bottom line.

The impressive-looking, perfect-bound 44-page insert entitled “Fuelling a Smart Energy Economy” was not your usual advertising supplement, clearly delineated as such and not associated with normal editorial content.

This one crossed what journalistic ethics generally considers a strict “firewall” separating advertising and editorial. Leading the various contributions espousing the merits of Singapore as both a leader in green and smart energy use and a hub for the advanced energy industry was a lead article by the FT’s own environment correspondent, Fiona Harvey. Her article followed directly on from an introduction by the head of the Energy Market Authority of Singapore, Lawrence Wong. FT writer Peter Shadbolt also contributed.

Although neither Harvey’s nor Shadbolt’s piece specifically boosted Singapore, their inclusion in the supplement surely helped lend credibility and generate income from the sponsoring Energy Market Authority, a government body, and from the energy industry.

The FT has thus wittingly or unwittingly underlined the truth of what Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew claimed back in the 1980s — that he would hit the foreign media “in their pockets” if they stepped out of line while trying to sell their products in Singapore. Since then a whole series of cases has showed many media entities would kowtow to the Singapore system rather than lose sales, small though the market may be. The FT itself famously groveled not long ago apologizing profusely for reporting a simple truth about a government-controlled company.