An April Visit With PM Lee: SPH Censoring Of Dr. Lee Wei Ling, Panama Papers & BB By-election Prediction


Dear PM Lee:

Greetings to you. It’s been a while since my previous post here during the last GE. Of late three items are on my mind:

1) Locals not affected by Mossack Fonseca scandal… It is indeed heartening to note no local individual to date, least of all any politician here has been implicated in any of the offshore-account jiggery-pokery issuing from the humungous Panama Papers leak. By and large, the super-rich in Singapore appear comfortable in parking their assets here as opposed to going offshore thanks to the less onerous and cumbersome local system of taxation. Above all, it is the reputation and the aura of a squeaky clean and efficient government that continue to inspire confidence in its citizens and investors alike. Twenty years ago, the distinguished academic Samuel Huntington boldly foretold Singapore’s inescapability in succumbing to the endemic process of decay in its government institutions. He was quoted as saying the “honesty and efficiency that Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew has brought to Singapore will follow him to his grave.” Professor Huntington was evidently way premature in making his obituary for Singapore’s form of governance. But lest the bureaucracy become fat and sassy and complacent, the price of a squeaky clean, well-oiled government machine is eternal vigilance.

2) My Bukit Batok prediction… This will be the year that puts the kibosh on Dr. Chee’s perennial wondering in political wilderness, i.e., he’ll go one better than his opponent in this forthcoming by-election, albeit a very narrow victory. I’ve read the 10 reasons in The Independent for and against him, and I’m of the opinion the pros have it. At the risk of rehashing, let me recap some of the obvious:

a) As a pol, Dr. Chee has come of age; he has learnt to be more relatable, shedding that maverick image. For what it is worth, he has refrained from playing to media abroad in lambasting at every turn his own government for acting like a jackbooted master.

b) All politics is local: he seems to better grasp that now and is nothing loath to devote full-time to substantive bread and butter issues instead of his trademark airy-fairy human rights stuff. That’s a plus for him.

c) Most would agree, Singapore could use a tad more opposition voices in its Parliament.

d) The post-LKY-engendered sympathetic factor in the form of a surge in patriotism and big-party affinity isn’t in play in this race. If anything, I suspect there is a groundswell of sneaking sympathy for him to come in from the cold after muddling along in the wilderness for the better part of a quarter century.

e) On the stump, Dr. Chee comes across as more dynamic and ebullient whereas Mr M. Pillai appears rather flat and phlegmatic. The impression of the former going for broke, campaigning as if his life depended on it, is palpable to me. As for Mr. M. Pillai, notwithstanding the solid corporate team support he is getting, this is after all an SRC contest in which the electorate will identify with the individual running rather than with the collective team as a whole. (As an aside, whenever an opposition labels you Mr. Nice Guy, as was the case,  that is when you know your campaign is under water.)

3) The deep culture of bowdlerization at SPH… The recent altercation between Dr. Lee Wei Ling and her SPH ‘handlers’ has provided a rare window into what editors at SPH do, and if you ask me, it has taken the shine off the performance at the paper’s editorial department. I’m simply flabbergasted to read about the degree of sanitization that prevails in that office, about just how heavily Dr. Wei Ling was managed as a columnist. In their heated Internet exchange, one of her former editors, Janadas Devan listed 7 areas that behoove an editor to hold sway over… ranging from the obvious ‘grammar’ and ‘language’ department to the curiously personal aspect of ‘taste’. But upon reading the word ‘taste’, it gave me pause to wonder: isn’t one man’s meat another man’s poison? Any such attempt at regulating one’s ‘taste’ of expression is but indicative of a deeply ingrained mindset of bowdlerization run amok… a culture of sanitization so deeply entrenched and long penetrated the warp and woof of the SPH editorial department that the editors themselves may not even realize it. As regards Dr. Wei Ling’s concern over the undue heroization of her father, personally I would beg to differ with her on that. But in view of her being an esteemed and veteran columnist of the paper, and her writing from a grieving daughter’s perspective, I was thus totally confounded to learn of her ‘handlers’ having such issue with her effusive, heartfelt expression on that very personal subject so much so that it necessitated expurgation. The issue of her plagiarism was then subsequently trotted out — belatedly and inopportunely to the extent of being anachronistic I must say — as justification for the sweeping editing of her said article. Discerning readers would much doubt that to be the case. Alas, had her professional handlers been sincere and upfront and not trifled with her over the reasons behind their insatiable need for editing, no one would be any the wiser about the pervasive, paranoid culture of bowdlerization at SPH that spares no one, not even their own columnist- colleague.

My dear PM, in 1807 Thomas Bowdler in England for obvious reason of taste, thought it incumbent upon him to publish a sanitized version of 24 Shakespearean plays which he dubbed The Family Shakespeare. I would happily surmise the copydesk at SPH does not plan to follow suit. Then again, with the current knowledge of such a torrid atmosphere of obsessive-compulsive, heavy-handed editing saturating that department, I for one am not (neither is Dr. Wei Ling for sure), to borrow a Briticism, chuffed to bits about it.


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