Why PM defending against defamation is important for Singaporeans

The PM’s office sent a request to TOC chief editor Terry Xu yesterday, the letter referred to allegations in an Aug 15th article titled, “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members“, as well as a post on TOC’s Facebook page containing a link to the article. PM Lee has asked Xu to remove the articles as they are allegedly libellous and to immediately publish a “full and unconditional” apology by Wednesday.

Of course, the critics come out with the same tired criticism that the PM should be “the bigger man” and he ought to “let it go”.

But he can’t. He shouldn’t. This isn’t just about the PM.

The bigger picture is this: the brand of Singapore.

The PM, of all people would be experienced enough to know that defamation laws seldom provide any satisfactory remedy. Apologies usually arrive too late, too orchestrated and is never genuine. Monetary payouts in terms of damages seldom repairs anything – moreover, if there are deep pockets behind the defendant, damages inflict little damage. The interests of the tortfeasor in fact, are further advanced.

We always say that Singapore is “law-by-law”. By commencing litigation, we are walking the talk. We are telling the world that Singapore is a place that run by the law. And the rule of law is a very important brand for our country: it tells businesses that we are no nonsense, that you can be assured when you setup shop here (and it is not cheap to setup shop here by the way). It is good for our foreign affairs – other countries get the message that we do not act and make policies out of the whims and fancies of individual persons. Everything works through method and reasoning. 

The rule of law tells the world that we are serious and we do not monkey around.

It is a strong reminder to citizens to comply and respect the laws and processes that were so tediously laid down for the functioning of a country. We are not a country that operates on concepts such as feelings, or the whims and fancies of a man, whether that man be the Prime Minister or not. It is very clear, you make a libellous statement, you get sued – you don’t have to think about how to bribe him, cajole him, brown-nose him… it won’t work. 

You can call it being litigious, but there is no other way it can be done. The only deviation from this, is that he stopped short of suing his own siblings – and it is very well within the rights of private litigations for the plaintiff to chose whom he wants to sue. And this is also a good example, there are far too many instances of siblings aggressively suing each other over a dead person’s estate – this does not set good precedence.

It is important For Singapore that the Prime Minister sets the example and adheres to the rule of law. Singapore thrives on the rule of law. It makes us relevant, it gives us a fighting edge over the rest of the world and it maintains the stability that we take for granted so often.

As for The Online Citizen – it is a shame that they have volunteered to make themselves an example. They have removed the article, but it remains to be seen if they would comply with the apology or if they will chose to make themselves a martyr – which would be rather silly, given few Singaporeans have the appetite for juvenile acts such as these.

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