Never mind going
free online; if the Financial Times really wants to be taken seriously it
will have to do better than the craven
display of gutlessness it presented to the world today, in the wake of a
September 29 column by Sunny Tucker. The article mentioned facts which are familiar
to any Singapore watcher, among them the fact that prime minister Lee Hsien
Loong is the son of the former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew; and that that Ho
Ching, the head of Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, is Lee Hsien
The problem is that Singapore’s first family really
hates reading anything which implies there might be nepotism going on. The
International Herald Tribune, in 1994, and Bloomberg News, in 2002, both apologized
abjectly to the Singapore government after publishing articles which seemed
to suggest that Lee Jr might have gotten his job due to the fact that is the
son of Lee Sr. Now, the Financial Times is following in those ignoble footsteps.
It is not only saying that "these allegations are false and completely
without foundation"; it’s even paying damages to both Lees and
to Ho Ching.
The FT has published, under its own name and on its editorial page, a lie.
Of course there’s a basis to allegations of nepotism in Singapore:
it’s the fact that one family runs the whole country, including its enormous
wealth fund. So when the FT says that such an implication is "completely
without foundation", it loses an enormous amount of credibility.
And here’s what’s really pathetic about the way that the FT folded so quickly
and so spinelessly: the article wasn’t even libelous. Here’s the offending passage:
On the subject of sovereign wealth funds, there seems to be a whole lot of
lovin’ going on within the Temasek family.
DBS Bank, whose biggest shareholder is Temasek, this week surprised many by
announcing that US-born Jackson Tai would step down towards the end of the
year. Mr Tai was said to be keen to "spend more time with his family".
Last week Jimmy Phoon, Temasek’s chief investment officer, announced he was
leaving "to take a break and spend some time with the family".
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the reasons. Singapore, after all, is
built on strong family values. Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of the city-state,
must be proud to see Lee Hsien Loong, his son, occupy the role of prime minister.
Mr Lee (Jnr) himself will be pleased Ho Ching, his wife, has helped turn round
the performance of Temasek after being appointed chief executive in 2002.
The rumour mill now suggests Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother, could replace
Mr Tai at DBS. The younger Mr Lee earned his spurs as chief executive of SingTel,
also part of the Temasek firmament.
An article isn’t libelous if it’s true, and everything here is true. To think
that when Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones, people were worried that it was the
WSJ that would be showing signs of timorousness in East Asia! It turns out that
while everybody was bellyaching about the future of the WSJ, they should have
been much more worried about the present of the FT.
It’s time for Pearson to sell the FT: it obviously has no business owning such
a storied newspaper. It should sell the paper to Thomson-Reuters, or to any
other company with principles. For publishing a newspaper takes something that
Pearson clearly lacks: a certain amount of testicular fortitude.