On honesty and double standards of the PAP and mainstream media
Png Eng Huat, the WP candidate for MP in the Hougang By-election 2012 recently came under fire when DPM Teo Chee Hean said WP was not being truthful. Png had earlier said that he had taken out his name from the WP CEC NCMP ballot, but this appeared to have contradicted by a leaked minutes of the 2011 CEC minutes which saw one vote recorded for him. Png later clarified that he had misspoke and merely his preference that he should not be selected as NCMP.
The Straits Times, long known to be sympathetic to the ruling party, wasted no time in printing the front page headline as follows, juxtaposing a picture of WP’s Low and Sylvia Lim whispering over Png Eng Huat, as if reinforcing the idea that the allegations are true:
Such a blatant display of political propaganda on the front pages of Singapore’s most established daily contrasts strikingly with a certain event transpiring four years earlier. In 2008, then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew took to the stand in court under oath, rebutting SDP’s Chee Soon Juan’s allegations by stating that the International Bar Association (IBA) had praised Singapore’s judiciary for being independent and fair-minded:
Lee, Singapore’s octogenarian Minister Mentor and the country’s first Prime Minister, volunteered under oath during cross-examination in the May trial of Chee that the International Bar Association, following its October 2007 convention in Singapore, wrote a letter to the organizers, the Law Society of Singapore, describing “how impressed they were by the standards they found to obtain in the judiciary…Standards of the rule of law and the judges, the meritocracy which is practiced throughout the judiciary.”
There was one problem. The IBA wrote no such letter.
In fact, says the International Bar Association, it did no such thing. On July 2 the association told the Singapore Democratic Party, according to the SDP website, that there was no such letter. The Law Society of Singapore also denied it had received a letter from the association, according to the website. Then, on July 8, the IBA issued a report expressing concerns about the “limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and the press, and of the independence of the judiciary in Singapore.”
Attempts by the Singapore Democratic Party to draw attention to a possibly perjurious statement made under oath went nowhere, with Lee Kuan Yew’s senior counsel Davinder Singh simply declaring that his client had likely misspoke. The record of the SDP’s account and the exchange of letters are recorded here on the SDP’s website. As the SDP had noted at the time, the Straits Times had blacked out Chee’s first letter. As Asia Sentinel mused, such a slip-up under oath if committed by an opposition party member would likely have resulted in a perjury charge:
It was the kind of error that would earn a Singapore opposition politician a trial for perjury, probably with a heavy fine and perhaps a jail term. But when Lee Kuan Yew testified in the recent trial of opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, he probably “misspoke” – told a crucial untruth, deliberate or not.
How did the Straits Times report on the Minister Mentor’s misstatement under oath? The newspaper relegated the matter to the closing paragraphs of a third page news article:
Dr Chee sent a letter to the Supreme Court on Tuesday saying that MM Lee had given evidence “that may not be accurate” when cross-examined by him during a hearing in late May to assess damages in a defamation case.
That evidence related to MM Lee’s claim that the IBA had written to the Law Society of Singapore praising the judiciary.
“The IBA has denied that they had sent such a letter and has also confirmed that the Law Society has not received any such letter,” said Dr Chee.
Responding, Mr Singh said the only inaccuracy in Mr Lee’s testimony was his statement that the IBA had conveyed this view in a letter to the Law Society, when it was actually a public speech by the IBA president.
“If anything, Mr Lee’s testimony did not do enough justice to the fact that an international organisation like the IBA was prepared to and did publicly endorse the excellence of our judiciary,” said Mr Singh.
Yup, just like that, the matter was closed. There was no discussion by the Straits Times article, of whether the Minister Mentor would find himself in a spot despite having misstated a claim under oath which was later disproved separately and independently by the Singapore Law Society and the IBA. No references were made at all as to whether this possibly constituted controversial development in the Lees’ case against Dr Chee Soon Juan. No fancy headline that time round.
So why the double standards this time round? Why was LKY’s misstatement under oath so easily dismissed whereas that of WP’s Png exploited and charges of dishonesty leveled against WP?