a community of singaporeans

The Li Hong Yi saga: the blogosphere steps up to bat

Posted by theonlinecitizen on July 13, 2007

By Choo Zheng Xi

Reuters, when reporting on the Li Hong Yi saga, credited the blogosphere’s work in publicizing the issue:

“Li’s letter — totaling 2,000 words according to the Today newspaper — has been posted online by several Singapore blogs, which have emerged as an alternative source of information for the city-state’s Internet-savvy population, over pro-government newspapers.”

Public interest in the Li Hong Yi issue brought site counts to unprecedented peaks. TOC itself received over 2200 hits in half a day of the email being published in full on the internet. The last time TOC experienced such a spike in readership was after we published the full 47 page Auditor General’s report last month.

It is undeniable that the blogosphere has played a significant role in drawing attention to the recent brouhaha over Li Hong Yi’s email gaffe. It is also obvious that the public is hungry for information that the mainstream media (MSM) can only touch the tip of the iceberg on.

The question is, where does the blogosphere go from here?

Blogosphere coverage: Courage tempered with caution

The initial reaction from the blogosphere was muted and shrouded in aliases and self censorship: the thread on the Hong Yi email was peppered with cautious references to the Internal Security Department and the Military Security Department. The thread on the Hardware Zone Forum was eventually removed.

This caution is understandable: negative portrayal of the Lee family is playing hopscotch in a defamation minefield. Further, anyone familiar with SAF or civil service procedure will know that any SAF documents, regardless of their mundanity, are classified Confidential.

The issue then came to the fore when Lim Yee Hung, an intern working with SPH, published a piece on his own blog that would certainly never see the light of day in an SPH newsroom. In it, he decried the self censorship and paranoia of those who sought to drop the issue or warn others into silence. His plea to bloggers to shrug off the self- censorship that the MSM routinely practices was moving in its brevity: ‘It shouldn’t be this way’.

That seemed to have been the proverbial kick in the butt bloggers needed to write about the issue: in half a day, almost a dozen blogs took the issue up. Some were critical of Li Hong Yi’s arrogance, comparing him to Wee Shu Min. However, a larger number gave credit to him for blowing the whistle on his superiors’ cover-up. TOC counted 9 supportive posts compared to 3 overtly critical ones.

This incident puts paid to several myths about the blogosphere’s credibility: that it is instinctively critical of the government, and that it doesn’t bother to check its facts.

Surveying the blogosphere’s process of news digestion, a very healthy dynamic emerges: initial skepticism about the veracity and legality of running an article gives way to the dynamism of individual efforts to chase a story of interest. Viral dissemination of the story then occurs, followed by an eventual publication of a polarity of views on the news in question, coupled with primary sources for verification.

While this is the same news digestive tract any healthy paper should cultivate, the MSM is hobbled by its overwhelmingly pro government editorial team. More practically, it cannot afford to run primary sources of information such as a 2000 page email, leaving the public to trawl the web for them.

The blogosphere, unhindered by editorial oversight or space constraints, has a vastly greater potential to generate edgy news tidbits, and then clarify and solidify them as more information emerges.

The way forward

Before one is tempted to draw triumphant parallels to Watergate, we need to recognize the limitations of what Singaporean bloggers can do. Many local bloggers have day jobs or are still studying, making them unable to do the hardcore muckraking professional journalism demands.

The quality of local newsblogging suffers from the practical limitation of not being able to do it as a full time job: no one has yet tried to run a commercially viable online news site in Singapore the way Malaysiakini has. As the critical mass of blog readers continues to grow, perhaps a group of bloggers will one day see a point in creating a viable Singaporean version of Malaysiakini.

For the time being, bloggers can draw important parallels between Hong Yi’s willingness to blow the whistle on his superior’s coverup with our initial fear of publishing details of the story.

While drawing from him the admirable example of speaking truth to power, we should also harness our more rational fears in a constructive fashion, tempering rasher instincts with solid investigation and contextualization.

The Blogosphere’s next challenge

Will this incident eventually be spun by the MSM into a parable for the younger Lee’s moral courage? Perhaps this will be interpreted as MINDEF’s shining example of how no one, not even the PM’s son, is above the law? Prepare for a handful of letters to the press and editorials attempting to characterize the issue as such.

For writers and readers of the local blogs: if this incident should be remembered, let it be remembered as yet another landmark in our maturation process. Let us remember to rigorously verify facts despite smelling blood over the whiff of sensationalism, and continue to harvest credibility through rational and substantial opinions.

Above all, let this incident be remembered for the courage of the bloggers who believed that an email of the PM’s son was not above disclosure and discussion.


Read also:

The power of the blogosphere and the ensuing burden by HUNGonline

Li Hong Yi’s case: Bloggers force officials’ hand this time but… by


Blog roundup

(If any of the following attributations mischaracterize the stands taken in your articles, or you would like to be added to the list of attributed blogs, please drop us an email at

First forum to take up the issue (later deleted)
Hardware Zone

First blogger to post about the issue (blog post has since been deleted)
Lim Yee Hung

First blog to carry the full email:

The following sites carried articles that were critical of a climate of self censorship (MSM, government, civil service, or blogosphere)

Hear Ye Hear Ye


Chemical Generation Singapore

The following sites carried articles that were largely critical of Li Hong Yi:

This Lush Garden Within

Decay On The Net

Hard Hitting In The Lion City

The following sites carried articles that were largely supportive of Li Hong Yi:

E pur si mouve

The Legal Janitor

Hear Ye Hear Ye

My Singapore News

Think Happiness

Winter Is Coming

Darth Grievous Dark Domain

To Fix A Mocking Peasant

The following site was largely neutral on Li Hong Yi

Simple Is The Reason Of My Heart



12 Responses to “The Li Hong Yi saga: the blogosphere steps up to bat”

  1. mrbiao said

    I’ve given in to the climate of fear and self-censorship since a long time ago. It’s just not worth it to put oneself at risk of legal trouble just to voice out one’s genuine thoughts and feelings about his own country and its leadership.

    Many a time I’ve posted articles on my site, only to have them heavily edited or just deleted shortly later because I felt that I should be less vocal for my own good.

    Maybe this seems cowardly to others out there, but I have many years of life down the road to journey through and I don’t want a permanent scar left on my records just because I wanted to satisfy a moment’s need for being heard.

    My guess is many other bloggers out there are in the same situation as myself. We want to speak up, but are repressed by the climate of fear.

  2. Shaun said

    It’s a pity that despite Singapore being such a pleasant country in many aspects, fails to allow its citizen to voice their true thoughts openly.

    This climate of fear has been passed down from our parents and forefathers who lived in the era of real ‘self-censorship’. Heck those days no one even talks about the government in the coffee shops. Also, there definitely was no such thing as blogging.

    With the increasing use of IT and a increasingly educated population, I believe its only a matter of time that we will find a way to circumvent these invisible barriers (self-imposed or otherwise), and find an avenue where we can really voice our opinions on any issues without fear.

    Till the situation changes, we just have to wait for the right time and the right avenue. I mean, look waht happened to Hong Lim Park?

  3. What is there to fear if you are upright.
    I put up a piece of LHL slapping Balakrisnan in my websites.
    A pessenger told me the story when I was a taxi driver. He said he was an ex military officer attached to Mindef in Gombak. He said his friend was present when the slapping occured. His friend told him the details.

  4. […] The blogosphere steps up to bat […]

  5. jon said

    Two supervising officers were issued letters of warning for administering inappropriate punishment.

    Think about that.

    This means at least two senior officers were aware of the problem and had decided to ignore 2LT Li Hongyi’s complaint.

    If 2LT Li had followed the “proper channel”, what makes you think the 3rd senior officer up the chain of command will do anything?

    MINDEF needs to clarify what it means by “proper channels”.

    Will Li Hongyi be charged if he merely sent his letters to everyone directly above him (ie, Defense Minister, CDF, CoA, Chief Signal Officer, etc)?

    The problem with that approach is that all these senior guys may still decide to ignore his complaint. What can he do then? In my opinion, his letter to everyone (including the unit storemen, cook, etc) directly causes the AWOL LTA to be court-martialed.

    Cos the SAF leaders are now aware that justice must be seen to be done. Otherwise, they cannot no longer maintain effective discipline among the men.

  6. gggg said

    All these could just be a show to introduce the future PM.

  7. sgpolitics said

    new stuff..enjoy!

  8. Numb Already said

    The climate of fear is still very evident. Going through the blogs, whether pro or otherwise, the constructive or otherwise, the “fear” is evident. But this is not surprising. The cheng hu already knew this when they went into the election. Having garnered a “Band II” mandate, they knew there will be little to stand in the way of their implementing their “grand plans”. These are now historically implemented in the 12 months following their victory after allowing the people’s representatives, our esteemed MPs, and the general net-savvy community to “debate” about them. Are Singaporeans beginning to have an impact via the internet to have a voice? Are we being monitored? Many wished that we are, maybe just so that the cheng hu knows that there are unhappy citizens out there. Others are just too disillusioned or disenchanted to even hope that anything will come out of all these “voices” on the web. Does the LHY saga give hope to the environment for greater transparency and representation/reporting? Or is this part of a greater plan? Time is on whose side?

  9. […] other blogs started putting up the said email with names being censored. The Online Citizen has rounded up the information on this case. Quite a […]

  10. […] Media, be it in the incident of the Ministerial Salary debates, the Wee Shu Min Incident and the Lee Hong Yi incident, has risen to the occasion and I daresay has surpassed the one sided reporting/commentary that is […]

  11. Clarence said

    Well done guys, I am proud of you all =)

    Keep me updated on local news! 😀

  12. […] extract from The Online Citizen traces the development of the online chatter which was eventually picked up and reported by the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: