Eric Ellis, Asia Correspondent, The Bulletin, writes:












I’m
all for transparency and can only presume Singapore-based PR executive
Nick Tymms of Ogilvy seems to think I am Crikey’s ‘senior
correspondent’ as he refers to what seems some recent email contact
(unless he’s having a similar exchange with someone else) between us.

After
his post, I had politely mailed him to ask, in the course of research
and in ‘bothering to check’ as he rightly insists on, if he could
provide examples of the Nguyen matter appearing on page one of the
Straits Times that he cited, which I felt unusual. I got a very
charming response from him, typical of Singapore PR flaks, saying how
much he had admired and enjoyed my work over the years. Nice but not
what I was after, which was evidence of the references he cited. And
which he seemed unable to provide as I received nothing thereafter.
Then he writes to you suggesting bias et al, and that I have long been
so, which as my posting at the end of your report says, is not the
case.

It’s more subtle than all that. I don’t think Lee Kuan
Yew is ‘evil personified’ (Tymms’ words, never mine in any of my reports
he admires). I do think Singapore is illiberal but then LKY and his
colleagues and family would likely be the first to agree, indeed this
has been celebrated and advanced in the ‘Asian Values’ credo and
moreover a selling point in attracting foreign investment, which craves
political and social stability. Singapore is not the region’s financial
centre or richest country by chance.

And in terms of political
stability – Singapore has been ruled rigidly by the same party since
1959 – it compares favourably to Indonesia (five presidents since 1998)
and to a lesser extent Malaysia in its backyard, as Singapore’s
state-controlled press often reminds. Democrats and human rights
campaigners might not like it but I don’t see Singaporeans rising in a
spontaneous display of Philippines-style People Power. In any event,
the sometimes brutal system wouldn’t let them and this Nguyen matter is
a rare case that highlights that liberal v illiberal
intersection/collision in Singapore.

Journalistically, that is
interesting, particularly as other parts of S-E Asia democratise and as
Australia’s liberal democracy cosies up to ‘challenging’ parts of Asia
for its economic future. Of course, when I am in Singapore, I welcome
its safe streets, though I find the hookers, copy-watch and
copy-software touts around Orchard Rd objectionable but I imagine so
would Fred Nile, the Rolexes and Bill Gates. Thus, I am a bit confused
with Mr Tymms, who I’ve not met. Does he admire and enjoy my reporting,
as he said to me? Or not, as he suggests to Crikey? I put this
contradiction down to the usual pragmatic PR sycophancy and thank him
for his reference of November 4.

I would also suggest he consult ex-editors and sub-editors of the Straits Times
for the anecdotes he is after, as I have done in the past. Ogilvy’s
Tymms says he doesn’t work for the Singapore government but admits “the
Singapore Government does have a small shareholding in one of my
clients, but it had no influence on what I wrote for Crikey.” A click
through Google and Factiva throws up reports of old, current and close
business and sponsorship links of Ogilvy’s ad and PR operations to;
Singapore’s Economic Development Board, the Ministry of Communications,
Arts and Information (its propaganda machine), the govt-owned Singapore
Tourist Board, the Singapore Airlines-owned SilkAir, JetStar Asia (a JV
between Qantas and Temasek Holdings), Singapore’s govt-linked Design
Festival (held only last week), the Ministry of Trade, Foreign Affairs,
prominent Singapore universities and a state-controlled bank.

One
website describes Ogilvy developing “campaigns for large corporations,
non-profit organizations (and) whole nations (Puerto Rico, Singapore,
France).” In June this year, the Straits Times reported Ogilvy’s ad
agency “scooped the Grand Prix in Singapore Press Holdings’ (the owner
of the Straits Times) inaugural Ink Awards.”

Tymms asked me to check. I
did. As (the considerably more important matter of) a man waits on
death row, this petty exchange is now closed.

PS The Straits Times has today published an extensive, defensive article and editorial about
the matter, citing “the ‘Singapore model of criminal justice.” No
mention of Burma.