Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Singapore diplomat responds to article in The Economist criticising freedom of speech

The Straits Times, 7 July 2015

Singapore's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, responding to an article in The Economist magazine criticising freedom of speech here, said integrity and honest reporting are as important as the right to speak freely.

Ms Foo Chi Hsia, in a letter published on its website on July 4, said the article was unbalanced and failed to give the context of the cases it cited.

Her reply was to a June 24 article titled "Zip it", which cited three cases as evidence that "any hope that Singapore's ruling People's Action Party would loosen controls over the media... seems misplaced". These were the trial of teenage blogger Amos Yee, the shutdown of The Real Singapore (TRS) site in May, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng.

Addressing each case in turn, Ms Foo said Yee was convicted of insulting the faith of Christians: "In a small, highly diverse society like Singapore, we guard our social peace jealously and make no apologies for it. We cannot allow people to denigrate or offend the religious beliefs of others: The result is anger and violence, as we have seen elsewhere," she said, adding that protection from hate speech is a basic human right.

As for TRS, it was suspended as it published articles deliberately stirring up anti-foreigner sentiments. It fabricated stories to boost traffic and advertising revenue, she said.

The suit against Mr Ngerng was "a completely separate matter", she said, noting that the High Court found he defamed Mr Lee. "Freedom of speech does not extend to freedom to defame others," said Ms Foo.

The Government has also not shied away from debating questions about the Central Provident Fund despite Mr Ngerng's "questionable tactics", she said, noting, for example, that he had engaged Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the issue at a public forum last July.

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