BBC tries to grill PM Lee on press freedom and here's how he responded

BBC tries to grill PM Lee on press freedom and here's how he responded
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking to Stephen Sackur on BBC HARDtalk.
PHOTO: BBC HARDtalk

"Why should you presume to tell me how my country should run?"

That's what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told BBC HARDTalk host Stephen Sackur when asked about Singapore's freedom of speech and trade.

Mr Lee's comments were made during a sit-down interview with Sackur that will be aired in full today (Mar 1).

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee said he discussed "a wide range of issues, both international and domestic" when he met the host last week and elaborated on "how Singapore is navigating forward in these uncertain times".

on Facebook

Sat down with Stephen Sackur of BBC’s HARDtalk programme last week. We discussed a wide range of issues, both...

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, 26 February 2017

Over the past few days, Singaporeans and fellow netizens on the Internet space have been sharing short clips of Mr Lee's highly-anticipated BBC interview.

It's safe to say that his responses have sparked quite a reaction amongst many online.

Mr Lee was candid in his views on various topics that surfaced during the interview, including freedom of speech and trade in Singapore, Section 377A of the Penal Code as well as Brexit.

On press freedom and trade

Sackur sought a response from Mr Lee by saying that Tim Farron, a leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, had apparently suggested: "If we're to seek a deal with Singapore, Theresa May the Prime Minister, must raise issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in any trade talks with Singapore."

With that, Mr Lee offered this comeback: "I don't see you being restrained in asking me any questions."

After a long pause which seemed to heighten the tension in the room, Sackur replied: "No I'm not, but that's not really the point is it?"

The Prime Minister continued: "We have no great wall of the Internet, you can get any site in the world you wish - so where's the restriction?"

Mr Lee also highlighted his answers on this topic in a Facebook post: "The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly on virtue or wisdom. And unless we can accept that, and we prosper together and co-operate together, accepting our differences...I think it becomes difficult."

On Section 377A

A controversial topic, Sackur attempted to get a more personal reaction from Mr Lee when they discussed Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.

In fact, he had pressed for the Prime Minister - not once, but twice - to give his personal take.

Sackur had asked if Mr Lee's perspective would change, if any of his "children or grandchildren were gay".

Mr Lee then acknowledged that if he removed the law, he "wouldn't be removing the problem".

He also referenced cases in the West whereby the notion of gay marriage has incited protests in various countries despite the change in attitude overseas.

His personal view?

"I'm prepared to live with it until social attitudes change," said Mr Lee.

on Facebook

Sex between mutually consenting adult men is illegal in Singapore. HARDtalk asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about his personal view. http://bbc.in/2m5nhDZ #BBCPMLee

Posted by BBC News on Monday, 27 February 2017

On Brexit

Mr Lee was straightforward and admitted that a country like the UK "may not have strengthened its influence in the world" by leaving the European Union (EU).

"It's an enormous market that's on your doorstep. You can't avoid doing business with it, and if you can't influence it, you might not have strengthened your influence in the world," said Mr Lee.

Last year, the Prime Minister took to his Facebook page to share his thoughts on Brexit when news broke.

He had called the UK vote to leave a "turning point".

At the 34th People's Action Party (PAP) Conference held at Singapore Expo in December 2016, Mr Lee reminded his country to fight the trend of developed countries turning inwards, and that Singapore "must remain open".

He told Sackur: "From our point of view, we think that Brexit weakens the EU. We are not sure it strengthens the United Kingdom."

Read also: HARDtalk host: DPM Tharman dodged 'Sackur punch' at symposium

The full BBC HARDTalk interview will be televised today (Mar 1) at 12:30pm, 5:30pm, and 11:30pm on BBC (StarHub TV Ch 70) as well as on radio's BBC World Service (88.9 FM) on Friday (Mar 3) at 12:06pm.

ssandrea@sph.com.sg

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