Lee Kuan Yew dismisses low press-freedom ranking for SingaporeWhenever you hear Lee Kuan Yew talk about race and religion, you may get the impression that the multi-religious, multi-racial society is a rather unusual, rare species in the world, and furthermore suffers from some wicked, magical curse that dooms it to endless riots, civil war or other conflicts.
(AFP) — Singaporeans are free to read whatever they want, the influential founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said of his country, which ranks near the bottom on a watchdog's index of press freedom.
Lee was referring to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) annual ranking for 2006, which placed the city-state at 146 out of 168 nations, and lower than Zimbabwe at 140.
RSF cited "new legal action by the government against foreign media" for Singapore's slipping six places in the rankings.
"There's nothing that you'd want to read which you cannot read in Singapore," said Lee, who holds the influential title of minister mentor in the cabinet of his son.
"You can buy our newspapers and see whether we read like Zimbabwe..." he said Sunday night in a keynote address to the International Bar Association annual conference, which has attracted thousands of lawyers and jurists from around the world.
Lee said Singaporeans have wide access to information.
"Everybody's on the Internet. Everybody's got broadband. They've got cable television, access to all the information. You can blog. You can do anything you like," he said in the speech which drew frequent applause.
"But we do not allow certain subjects to be made bones of contention."
Lee said issues of race, language and religion had to be handled sensitively. Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese but with significant Malay and Indian minorities.
"A multi-racial, multi-religious society is always prone to conflicts," Lee said.
The city-state has bitter memories of past racial incidents in its early years and clamps down hard on anyone inciting communal tensions.
Actually, Singapore’s multiracial, multi-religious nature is hardly unique among modern cities. Think, for example, of Kuala Lumpur … Bangkok …. Melbourne … Sydney …. New York … London …. San Francisco …. Vancouver …. among others.
Even China, which we often think of as relatively homogeneous, has as many as 20 million Muslims, and 40 to 100 million Christians (according to these estimates).
We have to lose our traditional Singaporean mentality that just because some of our HDB neighbours are of a different skin colour or pray to a different God, we are all on the perpetual verge of beating each other up and therefore Singapore is constantly in peril.
As for RSF's rankings, well, LKY can dismiss Singapore’s low ranking for press freedom, but others will not be so easily convinced. The link between state and press in Singapore is just simply much, much, muuuuch too strong, for most people to believe that our press is independent of the ruling party's influence.
Chairman of the Singapore Press Holdings Board of Directors,
you were the Deputy Prime Minister; the Minister of Defence;
the Minister of Education; the Minister of Finance; the Minister of Health
AND the Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore ...?"