Singapore says Bloomberg to pay libel damages

August 26, 2002

By John O'Callaghan

NEWS and information provider Bloomberg LP has agreed to pay libel damages to three Singapore leaders over a column about the appointment of the deputy prime minister's wife to a top post at a government agency, the government said late on Sunday, August 25.

US-based Bloomberg published an apology on its Web site to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the article by US-based columnist Patrick Smith.

The government said Bloomberg accepted the article contained allegations which were false and without foundation.

"It also undertook not to repeat these or similar allegations, and to pay damages and costs for libel," Goh's press secretary, Ong Keng Yong, said in a statement.

Bloomberg had until Wednesday to propose an amount for damages and costs, he said, adding the matter would go to a Singapore court if the leaders did not accept the proposal.

Bloomberg is the latest foreign media organisation to fall foul of Singapore's defamation laws.

Christine Taylor, a Bloomberg spokeswoman, declined to comment about discussions on damages or the potential amount.

"Patrick Smith is not on staff. He's an outside columnist," she told Reuters by telephone from New York. "When there are legal issues involved, it's very hard for me to give you more."

Ho Ching, the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Lee, was appointed as executive director of state investment agency Temasek Holdings in May. Ong said the appointment was "on merit and through proper process".

The state agency holds stakes in about 40 of the nation's largest companies, including Singapore Airlines, Singapore Telecommunications and banking giant DBS Group.

Lee, who is also finance minister and head of the central bank, is the elder son of Senior Minister Lee, Singapore's founding prime minister.

The government has countered concerns about the appointment of Ho and members of the Lee family to state-linked companies with arguments about a shortage of talent and the need for Singapore to be steered by an elite who know the ropes.

"It is awkward. We know that," Prime Minister Goh told Business Week magazine recently. "There is some conflict of interest but, you know, we work for the larger good."

The city state has identified media as a growth sector as it tries to diversify away from its heavy reliance on manufacturing.

Local media is dominated by two firms -- state-owned broadcaster Media Corporation of Singapore and the pro-government newspaper group Singapore Press Holdings. Other media must obtain a yearly publishing permit.

Singapore laws also can limit the circulation of foreign publications and suspend or impose financial penalties on broadcasters found to be interfering in domestic politics.

This law has been used in the past against publications including the Economist and the Asian Wall Street Journal.

Matt Winkler, Bloomberg's editor-in-chief, is due to arrive in Singapore on Tuesday. The Bloomberg spokeswoman said the visit was part of a scheduled trip to Asia.

The company grew from an investment information service founded in 1981 by Michael Bloomberg, a former general partner with Salomon Brothers who was elected mayor of New York last November.