The FT is Spineless and Craven

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

Loong’s wife.

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.

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