I think the New York Times phrased this “apology” exactly right.
Apology: In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.
Personally, I’m quite sure that Lee Hsien Loong achieved his post entirely on the basis of merit, and that the fact that his father, Lee Kuan Yew, was the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, dominated its politics for 40 years, and still carries the title “Minister Mentor” has nothing to do with it. Further, I don’t think the above item in the NY Times has anything to do with the fact that in Singapore, organizations that publish unflattering things about people who happen to be related to the Prime Minister, and who often themselves happen to hold important offices in government, tend to get sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I think that to suggest that this system represents a privatized sophisticated commercial-law version of the types of oppression of free expression that exist in, say, Communist dictatorships would be completely inaccurate and quite probably libelous under Singapore law.
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