Far Eastern Economic Review (1946-2004)
by Kenneth Lyen
We mourn the death of the Far Eastern Economic Review, which published its final issue last week.
Born in Hong Kong a year after the Japanese surrender, the Far Eastern Economic Review made a name for itself in its incisive reporting especially of Asian matters. Affectionately known as FEER, it gained wide readership because of its fearlessly critical articles. Among the people it took on included the then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, but it lost the legal battle. FEERs circulation in Singapore was curtailed.
The Dow Jones acquired the magazine in 1987. To avoid being banned and attracting too many lawsuits, it seemed to have toned down its reporting. It remained a competent magazine, but lost some of its pungency.
Several authors gained international fame writing for it. They include the late David Bonavia, Ian Buruma, and Christopher Wood. Two Singaporeans worked for this magazine, TJS George, founder of Asiaweek, and Chairman of the Singapore Management University, Ho Kwon Ping. One must not forget that Singapore imprisoned the latter twice for his reporting in the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Sadly, Singapore still has not changed. On 26 October 2004 the Reporters Sans FrontiPres published its third annual report.
We are ranked 147 out of 167 countries, below Malaysia and only marginally above Iraq.
Lack of press freedom is something that should make us sit up and re-examine our values and philosophy. It does not help that we are too sensitive about misreporting, and resort to the law courts as a means of redress far too readily.
This has resulted in the practice of self-censorship. The sad thing is that by restricting freedom of expression, self-censorship results in a muted population lacking in the vigor and exuberance associated with intellectual and academic freedom. As a nation, I hope that we will learn to develop a thicker skin and accept criticisms, both just and unjust. Sometimes the best course of action is to laugh it off.
The Far Eastern Economic Review was an important journal because it was one of the first magazines dedicated to Asian affairs, letting us look at ourselves, warts and all. Rest in peace.
4 November 2004