November 02, 2005

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Singapore's former Prime Minister has taken another leaf out of the China book and said that there can be such a thing as too free a press. The SCMP:

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong has defended Singapore's pro-government media industry from international criticism, saying a liberal press is not necessarily good for every country...Lee Hsien Loong, said Singapore's government and economic performance proved the city-state's system worked.

"Western liberals often argue that press freedom is a necessary ingredient of democracy and that it is the fourth estate to check elected governments, especially against corruption," he said in a speech on Monday night. "But a free press by western standards does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity."

The article doesn't mention if he provided examples to support this last statement, but I doubt it. Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom, while China was 159th (and Hong Kong 39th). As if to back up the ex-Prime Minister, the SCMP notes China's enlightened policy to coverage of bird flu:
ontrols over reporting on bird flu outbreaks have been tightened, despite Beijing's pledges to employ "complete openness" in the fight against the potentially catastrophic virus.

In a recently issued directive, the Publicity Department ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and any animal or human deaths which result...

Apart from the reporting of outbreaks and any deaths they cause, news about an exercise to prepare for the closure of ports in the event of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 has also been kept under wraps. Authorities were wary that news of the drill could spark speculation that human cases had been reported, according to government sources.

This stands in stark contrast to what the Secretary General of ASEAN was saying just yesterday: that Asian countries need to be open about bird flu news. It also contradicts comments by disease control director Qi Xiaoqiu on openness over bird flu. But remember, a free press is not necessarily does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity.

As a vote of thanks to Singapore, it appears PBoC's Huijin Investments has rejected Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings from taking a 10% stake in Bank of China (although Bloomberg contradicts the Caijing Magazine report). Why the rejection? The SCMP again:

"Huijin is BOC's major shareholder and at present it does not agree with Temasek becoming a strategic investor," a senior China Banking Regulatory Commission official told the South China Morning Post...The eight-member board of directors at Huijin, which controls 78.15 per cent of BOC, voted to reject the deal because Temasek's investments were seen as excessive, according to a report in Caijing magazine...

"What the government wants to do by allowing foreign strategic investors is to bring in the products, the management skills and the banking technology, and Temasek is not actually a bank," said Frank Gong, the chief economist at JP Morgan. "Temasek clearly doesn't bring as much to the table as Bank of America and Royal Bank of Scotland," added ABN Amro banking analyst Simon Ho, referring to the two banks' investments in China Construction Bank and BOC, respectively. "It brings a lot of money but not banking technology per se."

That's what not having an open press gets you.

Meanwhile in soon-to-be-police-state-for-a-week Hong Kong, an example of press freedom gone wrong. Again the SCMP:

Journalists adopting unethical tactics to pursue stories are ruining press freedom and destroying the credibility of the media, industry representatives warned yesterday. The accusations came after two reporters from a Hong Kong-based publication allegedly broke into Canto-pop star Gigi Leung Wing-kei's room in China World Hotel in Beijing last month while she was there to attend a Ferragamo fashion show...

Tam Chi-keung, vice-chairman of the Journalists' Association and convenor of its ethics committee, condemned media members who worked "under the umbrella of press freedom but were actually destroying it".

And you thought Western paparazzi were bad. At least you know in Hong Kong your personal data and privacy are well protected by the mis-named Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Right? Ummm...the SCMP one more time:
A privacy watchdog has found no reasonable grounds to launch an investigation into the disclosure of e-mail subscribers' information by Yahoo! that led to the imprisonment of a mainland journalist.

Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun told a special Legco panel meeting on information technology and broadcasting yesterday that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) had only disclosed information related to an office of a Chinese newspaper. He said that according to a verdict of the Changsha Intermediate People's Court in Hunan , "the information disclosed by Yahoo! ... to mainland authorities was only about the Contemporary Business News office in Hunan, which is not personal data".

Calling Rebecca MacKinnon.

To sum up: free press is bad for you, agreeing with China won't get you a piece of their banks, being a celebrity sucks, China learnt nothing from SARS and your email isn't private. Welcome to the Asian Century.

posted by Simon on 11.02.05 at 10:20 AM in the ASEAN category.China economy category.China food/environment/health category.Hong Kong category.Media category.Singapore category.


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i am sure Pasuya Yao of Taiwan love this idea.

on a separate note, yahoo! treat everybody equal, when it is shi tao in hunan, or another hapless chap in W Virgina

posted by: sun bin on 11.02.05 at 01:05 PM [permalink]

I liked the summing up in the last paragraph. You should right like that all the time.

posted by: doug on 11.02.05 at 08:45 PM [permalink]

There's another possibility to consider with Avian Influenza: that the Chinese govt has learned its lesson from SARS, but is helpless to apply that experience in the face of bureaucracy: no one wants to report bad news without being able to report it "solved" at the same time. That results in a near-guarantee of hesitation.
Bureaucracy swallowed the Mongols and made them Chinese. Bureaucracy swallowed the Manchus and made them Chinese. I'd say the Communists resisted for a few decades in the Mao Zedong Cult of Personality, but especially after the demise of Deng Xiaoping, the Bureaucracy trumps Communist ideology.
I wouldn't be surprised if we start hearing that the Eunuchs of the East Chamber are plotting against President Hu...[grin]

posted by: Nathan on 11.03.05 at 07:36 AM [permalink]

Thanks Doug. Maybe I'll try more "summing up" in future.

Nathan - interesting interpretation but I'm not that optimistic. Manadarins' natural reaction is still to cover-up and evade, not be open and deal with the problem. And that applies to far more than just health issues.

posted by: Simon on 11.03.05 at 09:58 AM [permalink]

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