Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom of the Press in Singapore
Kishore Mahbubani was appointed Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 16 August 2004 after having served 33 years in the Singapore Foreign Service (with postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington DC and twice as Ambassador to the UN, during which he also served as President of the Security Council). He was the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry from 1993-1998.
He is the author of Can Asians Think? published in Singapore, Canada, US, Mexico, India and People’s Republic of China and of Beyond The Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World. His new book entitled The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresistible Shift of Gobal Power to the East was published in New York in February 2008. He was also listed as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines in September 2005.
Question: Why are there press restrictions in Singapore?
Kishore Mahbubani: Singapore is the very unique society which very hard to understand, and I can tell you the western media gets it completely wrong, because if you read the western media, you get the impression that Singapore is just the nicer version on North Korea. Everybody is suppressed or oppressed and so and so forth. Guess what? Virtually every Singaporean travels overseas every years and comes back to Singapore. So, obviously this is not a oppressive state. The reason why Singapore has restrictions on of press freedom is precisely because of their 1964 ethnic rights that Singapore experienced. We have seen in many other countries press freedom, like in Rwanda, leads to hate-speak against minorities. We want to ensure that doesn’t happen in Singapore and therefore there are these restrictions on press freedom in Singapore. But on the question of civil liberties there is a very important point that American should bear in mind, when they speak about civil liberties. One of the big shocks that the world experienced after 9/11 was when they watched America, the world’s most advanced, open, democratic society, walk back from some civil liberties as soon as they began to feel insecure, and, because they were frightened of terrorist, they said “I am happy to give up my privacy. Come have surveillance cameras everywhere. I am not worried, I want my safety and security.” Now, if America, the world’s most powerful country, is prepared to give up some of its civil liberties in exchange for security, right? Then you begin to understand why smaller and much more vulnerable states like Singapore have also developed a compact with the government said “okay, we'll give up some of our civil liberties, we'll give up some of our press freedom, for continue to keep this space peaceful and prosperous and strong.” And Singapore by the way is the small island city state of four million people who are primarily Chinese surrounded by two neighbors Malaysia just 20 million people or 25 million people, Indonesia with just 200 million people and both Malaysia and Indonesia distrust their Chinese minorities. So, if you live in that kind of neighborhood, right? You want to make sure that you remain very strong and disciplined and that is what Singapore needs for its survival.
If living standards are high and risk of ethnic violence low, why not loosen press restrictions?
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