International news gets real on the Lee family dispute

To some people, the Lee saga might seem like a 200-episode long soap drama focused on the conflict over a family inheritance.

Yes, there are some dramatic events in the dispute that mirror that of a soap opera: plans that manifest at the opportune time of 2am in the morning, a respectable father and his last dying wish, sibling rivalry and the need to leave a country out of fear.

International news outlets however, are able to distinguish between a family feud that should have stayed private and an issue of national concern. And they have reported it as such.

Here’s a look at how international media reports differed from our local mainstream media.

1. Selective usage of quotes


International papers have been lifting particularly explosive quotes directly from Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang’s statement itself.

Daily Mail. Source

Reuters. Source

International media hasn’t been afraid to focus their stories on the allegations against PM Lee, choosing to lift direct quotes from the statement.


The Straits Times. Source

16th June Update: We originally reported that the words “official power” were not used together. We were wrong. These words were indeed used by Lee Wei Ling. Not in the original statement but in her Facebook post the next day. We’ve since updated the below paragraph for factual accuracy.

In ST’s article, they selectively used the quote Lee Wei Ling made the next day instead of in the original statement. It had the word “official”,  to make it sound more warranted.

At no point did the original statement have the words “official” and “power” placed together. A simple control+F in the 6 page document will reveal the word “official” only appears once, and that is in reference to Ho Ching. However, that quote was not reported in the press but it was carried over international media.

2. Not Mentioning Implications This Has On Singapore


Financial Times. Source

Malaysiakini. Source

Instead of just reporting on what had happened, international news went a step further to explore what this could mean for the future of politics in Singapore.

Bloomberg. Source

At least one news agency provided an optimistic outlook.

It’s good to have a postulation, be it bright or bleak, much better than having none at all.


Channel NewsAsia. Source

This was the only quote picked up by local news – an assurance that everything will be fine.

3. No Mentions Of The Politicising Of The House


Malasiakini. Source

Most international news have quoted the allegation by the siblings on the use of late MM Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy to reinforce political dominance.

Meanwhile, we pored over various local reports, and although many of them talked about the house, the alleged politicising of it was strangely left out.

4. Subdued Headlines


CNBC. Source

Financial Times. Source

While CNBC and Financial Times have chosen to flesh out “feud” in their headlines, indicating making reference to the war of words that has erupted among the Lee siblings.


The Straits Times. Source

The Straits Times has chosen to reveal how PM Lee Hsien Loong felt about the whole saga – “saddened” and for more effect, “deeply saddened”. This is not new to Singaporeans though. In the past, many of us would be able to recall how the word ‘ponding’ was carefully used to underplay the severity of flash floods in Singapore.

With little mention of “feud” in any of the local news, the magnitude of the situations have been downplayed.

The Straits Times. Source

In an attempt to acknowledge the wide media coverage of the saga, The Straits Times has chosen to quote a rather mild headline from the South China Morning Post.

5. Lack of Video Coverage


Video has become a very popular format and mainstream media have learned how to create interesting videos to cater to the social media generation. Despite news reports from Channel 5 and Channel 8, it seems Channel NewsAsia is the only mainstream local news source to have uploaded any related videos on their Facebook page — 24-second video of Acting PM Teo Chee Hean’s comments — right beside a two-minute plus video of wild boars at Tuas.

6. No mention of the Ho Ching allegation


While local news have only briefly mentioned Ho Ching, international news outlets have dedicated some column space to her.

CNBC subtly mentioned Ho Ching’s background. Source

Malaysikini includes this from the siblings’ statement. Source

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Astro AEC, a Taiwanese news agency, has even spent a good 20 seconds or so – between 1:20 and 1:54 of the clip – exploring Ho Ching’s involvement in this. In a blatant fashion, they’ve stated that “Ho Ching should learn to be like her late mother-in-law”, and stay in the periphery of political issues.


That is not to say the local news tried to include subtle mentions of political ambition but “ambition” still holds a rather positive connotation.

Channel NewsAsia. Source

7. Selective use of cover images


International news puts the Lee siblings together, seeming to hope that everything would be resolved soon and everyone would live happily-ever-after.

Financial Times’ attempt to put the siblings together. Source

Reuters. Source

In an praise-worthy attempt, Reuters put a nice family photo.


Meanwhile, The Straits Times chose to use the exact same picture for two separate articles. Almost as if because they may have had to seek careful approval of which pictures to use. And surely these two public figures have more flattering pictures then the ones used.

The Straits Times article dated 14 June 2017. Source

The Straits Times article dated 15 June 2017. Source

TODAY tried using photoshop but failed to do any justice to their pictures as well. Just look at that horrendous shade of pink behind LHY.


8. Not highlighting international views of Singapore

This is general perception of Singapore in the words of international news:

Financial Times. Source

They’ve also included a warning for dissidents:

Screenshot from Daily Mail. Source

The Guardian. Source

Is There Press Freedom in Singapore?

It’s no surprise international news has covered the saga very differently from our local media.

Li Shengwu speaking out on Facebook. Source

Even Li Shengwu, son of Lee Hsien Yang has spoken out, stating the Singapore news is heavily controlled by the government. He also responded with a link to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, where Singapore is ranked #151, below Malaysia and sandwiched in the fine company of Ethiopia and Swaziland.

Here’s where we stand.

And to end this article, here’s an important quote from Reporters Without Borders, the people behind the rankings.

“Freedom of information is the freedom that allows you to verify the existence of all the other freedoms.”
-Win Tin, Burmese journalist

Read the full story here.