Mostly scathing, but Asean newspapers more objective and evenhanded

Singapore’s hanging of Filipino maid Flor Contemplacion last Friday for two brutal murders received much attention from the foreign media. Our Manila correspondent NIRMAL GHOSH reports on how the Philippine press covered the episode while DERWIN PEREIRA examines the apprach taken by newspapers in the region, internationnal broadcasters and wire services.

WHAT OTHER MEDIA SAID

AS in the Michael Fay saga, elements of the foreign media have been quick to attack Singapore over last Friday’s hanging of Filipino maid Flor Contemplacion for double murder.

From the predictably hostile New York Times to Hongkong’s Eastern Express, the media portrayed Singapore as unbending,insensitive and harsh.

Most lashed out at the Government for not allowing a stay of execution or retrying her on the basis of so-called “new evidence” provided by two Filipinas just before the execution.

Scant mention was given to the Singapore government’s detailed refutation of these allegations, Contemplacion’s refusal torecant her confession and how her lawyers were given every opportunity to defend her.

There were, however, saner voices among newspapers in the region like the Jakarta Post of Indonesia, and the Hongkong Standard, which took objective and analytical stances.

The New York Times, which led the protest against the caning of American vandal Michael Fay last year, was equally strident in this case and even took a swipe at critics of its editorial stance in the Fay incident by attempting to link the two.

“Her case was reminiscent of Singapore’s notorious flogging last year of Michael Fay on disputed charges of vandalism.

“While some misguided Americans applauded the flogging of Fay, Filipinos have overwhelmingly identified with Mrs Contemplacion,” it said in an editorial yesterday, and called for international pressure on the Republic to deter future “judicial outrages”.

In an equally scathing editorial, Hongkong’s Eastern Express noted: “Singapore may have all the outward appearances of a civilised society but scratch the surface and you will find a society run by fear. Not quite George Orwell’s 1984 but pretty close.”

Sharing a similar sentiment – though with less vitriol – was Trevor Watson of Australian Television International (ATVI). He observed that “concern for the fate of a single individual is rare in this part of the world where there is a strong belief that the welfare of the group is paramount”.

Associated Press referred to Singapore’s “unbending legal system” and “rigidity” in the execution.

The British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable News Network also portrayed Singapore as merciless, with the BBC saying: “The judicial authorities in Singapore are renowned the world over for their tough implementation of the law and once again they’ve shown no clemency.”

In a similar vein, CNN’s Maria Ressa commented on Contemplacion’s fate: “Many believe that she was a victim of Singapore’s legal system.”

With the foreign news agencies’ and international broadcasters’ steady diet of condemnations in the Philippines of the hanging, threats to Singaporeans, and allegations of Contemplacion being tortured into confessing, there was little to challenge the transformation of the 42-year-old killer of a four-year-old boy and another Filipino maid into a “national heroine” by Filipino politicians and in the eyes of their less-informed countrymen.

Thai newspapers also took a shot at Singapore. Thailand’s Bangkok Post pointed to “a distinct lack of compassion” in Singapore’s law enforcement.

“It is clear enough her hanging will not prevent any future murders in Singapore,” it said. “The only achievement in the minds of many is to demonstrate the cold and merciless nature of the nation’s legal system.”

And Ms Cristina Pastor wrote in The Nation, an English-language daily in Thailand: “Singapore, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, is notorious for employers who mistreat their Filipino maids.”

Newspapers in the other Asean countries, apart from the Philippines, carried foreign agency reports of the case without overplaying the issue.

Among these was The Jakarta Post which said Singapore’s leaders “cannot be blamed for not trying to halt the execution because they themselves have to bow to their country’s judicial system.

“Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced,” it quoted Albert Einstein in an editorial.

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