Saturday, 7 June 2008

Buying news by the kilo

NewspaperI have given up buying the daily paper, instead I just catch the main stories online for free at the 2 newspaper's websites and also on local blogs. But I do generally buy the Saturday and Sunday editions for several reasons. All the advertising is much bulkier on Saturdays especially classifieds and property sections, the editorials and summaries are filled out but mainly because it is double the size for the same 80cents; the edition on my lap is 306pages and weighs 1.5Kgs.

It's enough to make you anxious; that's a lot of reading time to devote to keeping up with society and the implied imperative to do so runs counter to sound principles of time management, a focus on high-value productivity and the elimination of overhead. With my speed reading and skimming skills on song, I'm looking forward to see the coverage and summary of an eventful week.

First up will be the volte-face by the Malaysian Government over the ban on fuel sales to foreign vehicles within 50kms of a national border (ie, Singapore and Thailand). The policy was morphing before the end of the press conference that announced it. First, it wasn't really about Singapore but Thai truckers loading up on subsidised diesel, but they felt they had to be fair and apply the rule at both ends of the country. Then they delayed introduction by a week. Then it didn't apply to motorcycles because they have small tanks and were generally used by those less well off. Then they decided to scrap all fuel subsidies forcing an immediate 40% hike in prices for everyone. Talk about making policy up as you go along.

This still leaves Singapore gas more expensive but with the benefits reduced to the point of marginal gain. We might see a change in the 3/4 tank rule at some point but given the trigger is crude oil price volatility, I imagine the Singaporean Government will wait and see.

The other gem is a long tale of political mud-slinging and court cases. Briefly, a brother-sister pair of opposition politicians, the Chees, have a long history for spouting pure political vitriol against the ruling party (PAP) and its leaders. Their main target of course are the Lees (father MM Lee Kuan Yew and son , the current PM Lee Hsien Loong). The Lees sued the Chees for libel for their accusations in the lead up to the 2004 election. The Chees lost (they didn't turn up to court) and the hearings for damages have just concluded. They did turn up this time and with the opportunity to cross-examine the Lees in the dock, continued their outbursts which were comprehensively ruled irrelevant by the judge. The Chees have now both been convicted of contempt of court and received 12 and 10days in jail. The damages award (irrelevant since the Chees declared bankrupcy ages ago) is deferred.

The next story dovetails with the last. A long time Singaporean lawyer and dissident (his term) now a US citizen came back to Singapore to cover the Chee/Lee case. He checked in to a hotel and then posted his address and phone number on his blog together with a continuing diatribe (some well argued, some not) against the Government with a "come and get me" invitation. More seriously, he apparently e-mailed the judge of the Chee/Lee case with some unflattering comment on her impartiality. He was arrested for insulting a civil servant, held for 4 days, and while now out on bail, looks set to be charged with Sedition.

What I find curious is that sitting members of the cabinet will take on libel cases and defend themselves in court. The Chees certainly went beyond fair opinion into libel but it's the Singaporean way apparently that even fringe political accusations are never allowed to rest on file unchallenged. I don't think either side comes out well in the end although the court transcripts make for vicarious entertainment and many headlines. The dissident lawyer has no defence and provoked the authorities into arresting him. That's a standard dissident tactic but he's no Gandhi I don't see a bigger game plan. What now?

And that perhaps is the overall point. If this is the state of the art of Singaporean political opposition, then the Government has nothing to worry about.