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How the Singapore press covered the Lee family’s Facebook spat

In the early hours of this morning, the siblings of Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong published a six-page denunciation in which they said they had lost complete confidence in their brother.

Written by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, the statement entitled ‘What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values? ‘appeared on the latter’s Facebook page at 2am. The statement includes Hsien Yang’s affirmation that he feels “compelled to leave Singapore” due to the familial division.

Despite its contentious nature, the news began to began to hit Singapore’s press headlines six hours later.

Here is an overview of the media coverage so far.

Unsurprisingly, national broadsheet The Straits Times reported the story relatively straight.

The Singapore Press Holdings-owned paper referenced how the siblings “felt closely monitored and fear the use of organs of state against them and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Suet Fern”.

The news site also emphasised the statement’s reference to the long-running dispute over the demolition of their father Lee Kuan Yew’s house, of which the two siblings are joint executors.

Meanwhile, The Straits Times’ sister title The New Paper has so far kept quiet on the subject.

At the other end of the scale, the more tabloid-leaning Today Online came up with a slightly more emphatic headline through the use of the word ‘threatened’.

The introduction follows through with the ‘threatened’ line, but the story soon falls into similar territory as The Straits Times – by the second paragraph

“We feel extremely sad that we are pushed to this position,” Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang said in a joint statement posted on their Facebook accounts at 2.20am on Wednesday (June 14), where they expressed fears that the “organs of state” might be used against them and the wife of the younger Mr Lee’s wife, Ms Lim Suet Fern,” the news site read.

Meanwhile, youth-focussed blog-come-news outlet Mothership SG also reported the event.

The website opened with: “Singaporeans woke up on June 14 and found themselves gripped by the rapidly-unfolding family drama of the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s family.

“A coordinated release of a public statement by Lee Kuan Yew’s two children Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) and Lee Wei Ling early Wednesday morning is now well-circulated on social media, with LHY sharing his post in the wee hours of the morning.”

Mothership SG is the only publication out of the three to publish the Facebook post itself and then delved into some of the more emotionally-charged elements of the statement:

“We are disturbed by the character, conduct, motives and leadership of our brother…. We do not trust Hsien Loong and have lost confidence in him. We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government.”

The story then ends with this resounding political analysis: “We’ll admit, we’re not sure what to make of this. But if it’s important enough for the third Lee sibling to join Facebook, it’s definitely important enough for us.”

Hours after Hsien Yang’s Facebook post, the PM himself took to the social media network to post his own version of events.

Both The Straits Times and Mothership SG covered the story before the PM’s response. The former initially added in Lee’s comments following his Facebook post, but then later followed with a new story of the his rebuttal, along with Mothership SG and Today.

Mothership SG and The Middle Ground have since published a further follow up as the PM’s nephew, Li Shengwu, became the third member of the family to weigh in on Facebook.

At the time of going to press, The Straits Times and Today have stayed clear of Li’s comments.

Assessing the press coverage so far of an unprecedented story in Singapore’s history, media commentator Alan Soon said: “Will any of the media outlets dig deeper to add context to the story? Now that the story has everyone’s attention, the public wants to know – what are the merits to this story. Apart from being a family feud, what else is worth reporting as part of this?”

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