Messengers Get the Bad News : Lee’s crackdown on U.S. press is bad for Singapore’s reputation

Once upon a time Lee Kuan Yew had a vision for Singapore--one that saw the backward British colony transformed into a bustling model of Asian capitalism. It was supposed to be a model of democracy, too.

But now Prime Minister Lee seems to have lost sense of that vision, and all reason. Singapore’s government has slapped muzzles on the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review--two publications with whom a marketeer like Lee should be wholly comfortable.

But displeased with stories it deemed as interfering with domestic policies, Singapore has drastically cut their circulation and refused to allow correspondents from the two leading economic publications to be based in Singapore. The final straw came recently when the government refused reporters for the two publications entry to cover the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.

The move was punitive and unfair. Even Secretary of States James A. Baker III discussed the ban when he visited with Lee in Singapore during the conference. The American Society of Newspaper Editors also has protested the reporters’ exclusion.


This was not the first time that Singapore has extended its well-known policy of strictly controlling its domestic press to restrict the flow of news about Singapore to readers in other parts of Asia and the rest of the world.

And it was only the latest wrinkle in the five-year battle between Lee and the Dow Jones & Co., which owns both the Asian Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review. Lee has retaliated against stories that have angered him by filing libel suits and changing laws when necessary to clamp down on publications. The Asian Wall Street Journal, for example, has been forced to limit distribution. The Far Eastern Economic Review has suspended publication rather than cut back on circulation.

Lee’s actions run contrary to the promise that Singapore held as a unique prototype for Asian prosperity with Western-style government. His harassment of the Asian Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review makes his country a less attractive place to do business.