Rupert says the lion city is his version of utopia, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen
Probably the most telling statement the press baron Rupert Murdoch made during his abject mea culpa before the UK Parliament Tuesday was his praise of Singapore, saying “the most open and clear society in the world… is Singapore — the cleanest society you can find anywhere — as every minister is paid at least one million dollars a year and has no temptation to transgress.”
What that statement betrays is that Rupert Murdoch appears to have no basic understanding of either independent journalism or democracy itself.
Transparency International’s Corruption Index ties Denmark and New Zealand with Singapore at the very top of its corruption perceptions index. Leave aside the question of what the lawmakers of Denmark and Sweden are paid to maintain their integrity – a fraction of what Singapore ministers get.
What keeps Singapore’s ministers in line is not those million-dollar paychecks but the fact that they are scared to death of Lee Kuan Yew, who has shown no compunction whatsoever in jailing the odd minister who does stick his hand in somebody else’s pockets. In 1986, Teh Cheang Wan, one of Kuan Yew’s best friends, a co-founder of the state and the head of the country’s national development ministry, committed suicide rather than face corruption charges that Kuan Yew was intent on bringing against him. Also leave aside the fact that the PAP has historically delivered a supine parliament mostly via gerrymandering and intimidating the opposition.
The leader of the world’s most powerful news organization, who presumably ought to believe in the independence and freedom of the press, was praising a country that most recently jailed the author Alan Shadrake for pointing out that Singapore’s criminal justice system is skewed towards hanging the poor and finding ways to excuse the wealthy and expatriates. Singapore has the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world.
It seems odd that Murdoch didn’t notice that Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore at 140th of 167 countries in terms of press freedom, or that Time Magazine, Asiaweek, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, Bloomberg News Service and other publications have been cowed into submission through libel suits, contempt of court action and gazetting to limit their circulation. It is especially odd that Murdoch owned two of them – the Far Eastern Economic Review, before it closed, and the Wall Street Journal/ Asia. Those that haven’t been sued or otherwise attack have learned their lesson and simply don’t report critically on the country.