PM Lee scores first on BBC 'HardTalk' trailer, but will he win the battle?

Both BBC and PM Lee are publicising the event. We can judge who won or lost tomorrow.

Martino Tan| February 28, 04:26 PM

Remember BBC's Stephen Sackur?

We can't resist sharing the pun again. Anyway, he is this guy:

Source: Mothership.sg Source: Mothership.sg

Yeah, he got owned by Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam nearly two years ago at the St Gallen Symposium regarding the concept of safety net.

When DPM Tharman was forced by Sackur to give a "yes-or-no answer" whether he believed in the concept of safety net, Tharman said that he "believe in the notion of a trampoline", which drew a laughter and silence in the crowd for 10 seconds.

tharman-st-gallen-02 "Trampoline"

He's back in Singapore for an interview

Sackur must be a sucker (pardon the pun) for pain because he has returned to interview a Singapore leader again.

This time, it is with PM Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee will be following the footsteps of his predecessors, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, in being interviewed on BBC HARDtalk.

How does the HARDtalk format work?

It is a 30-minute one-on-one current affairs interview program. The interviewee is subjected to nearly 30 minutes of tough questioning by the host.

BBC has provided a trailer of its interview with PM this morning, by offering a snippet of the exchange between Sackur and PM Lee on trade deals and human rights.

From the initial looks of it, Sackur is going to become the favourite verbal "trampoline" punching bag for Singapore leaders.

Sackur: This is what Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK said, he said, “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”. How do you respond to that?

LHL: I don’t see you being restrained in asking me any questions…

Cue three seconds pause, as the air tensed up as PM Lee waits for Sackur to reply.

Source: BBC News Facebook. Source: BBC News Facebook.

Sackur: No, I’m not but that’s not really the point is it?

The point is whether you would be prepared to offer guarantees on your treatment of the press at home, here in Singapore? Whether you would be prepared to talk about wider freedoms for the press in this country?

So Sackur has already lost the first round by saying he's not restrained in asking PM Lee any questions. "But but but..."

LHL: I would not presume to tell you how your press council should operate, why should you presume to tell me how my country should run? We are completely open, we have one of the fastest Internet accesses in the world -- we have no great wall of the internet, you can get any site in the world you wish. So where’s the restriction?

Sackur: So if the government of Britain were to make linkages between a trade deal and seeking guarantees about human rights, press freedoms, workers’ rights, demonstrators’ rights in this country, your reaction would be...?

LHL: I would wait to react until I see it... You look at the Americans; they don’t lack fervour in moral causes. They promote democracy, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, sometimes even transgender rights. But you don’t see them applying that universally across the world with all their allies. Yes, they do it when the cost is low, and then they can take a high position...

Sackur: But you don’t think the British...

LHL: You look at some of the most important oil producers in the world -- do they conform? Have they been pressured? You have to do business... 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 cooperate together, accepting our differences. Differences in values, differences in outlooks, differences even in what we see as goals of life to be. I think it becomes difficult.

By contextualising the notion of press freedom along nationalistic lines, it is no wonder that Sackur has lost his verbal spar with PM Lee.

But there may be a reason for Sackur to present "press freedom" as a British value and not a universal value.

The United States, whom British shares "a special relationship", is not exactly the best proponent of press freedom now, especially since it just ban its own media from an off-camera press briefing.

The state of the media in relation to press freedom is not perfect in Singapore, but the last we checked, Singapore doesn't ban its own mainstream media from the press conference in this day and age.

Both BBC News and PM Lee have publicised the interview

BBC must be quite proud of their interview with PM Lee to take up a whole page of advertisement on the Financial Times.

Good morning all! Ah pek lim kopi, all ready for another exciting week. Plenty of important macro data from Australia, Japan & the US to look out for this week, including a slew of Feb PMI releases. And then there's Mr Trump's first speech to Congress (Wed morning Asian time). For Spore watchers, Wed will be busy day bcuz after Trump's cakap to US lawmakers, we turn to BBC TV to watch Stephen Sackur interviewing PM Lee. Will it be Spore Boleh or TrumpLand Boleh on Wednesday? My money & kopi is on the Little Red Dot! ☕?

A post shared by Song Seng Wun (@songsengwun) on

But PM Lee must be feeing quite confident of his own performance too.

He publicised the interview online and urged Singaporeans to watch it.

So who won? And who lost?

We will know when the episode air on BBC (StarHub TV Ch 701) tomorrow at 12.30pm, 5.30pm and 11.30pm.

Related article:

PM Lee on 377a: “An uneasy compromise, I’m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change”

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