Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on March 4, 2008

Getting “cold feet”

Hugo Restall, editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review , reportedly backed down from publishing a review of a book critical of his new boss, Rupert Murdock. The story appeared in the International Herald Tribune February 28 (And here’s another take on the story, on Slate.). Restall, with the backing of his bosses in New York, is defending the Review in a lawsuit filed against the publication by government authorities in Singapore. The lawsuit, which names Restall and others, was filed after the Review published a sympathetic profile of a prominent opposition leader, including comments critical of the government.

The IHT report suggests that Restall’s decision not to publish the review of a book critical of Mudock betrays a double standard (Full Disclosure: Restall took a dim view of a careless error I made in a book review I wrote several years ago, and made sure I wouldn’t forget it. So it could be argued that I’m posting this comment because I’m a disgruntled former freelance contributor.).

Restall has declined to comment publicly according to the IHT report. Meanwhile, the book review has been published on the Internet, including on Asian Sentinal. To be fair, Restall defended his decision not to publish the review in an e-mail exchange with its author, FORTUNE correspondent Eric Ellis. Restall said the book, Rupert’s Adventures in China: How Murdoch Lost a Fortune and Found a Wife by Bruce Dover, appeared to be the work of a disgruntled former News Corp. employee, rather than a clear-minded look at the business case.

That wasn’t Ellis’ view, who concludes that Murdoch’s “shameless sucking up” to China’s leaders produced few, if any, dividends. It’ll be interesting to see if observers conclude that Restall is following Murdoch’s example in this case, and if his efforts are better rewarded. And although Restall claims that he does not comment on editorial decisions, he did in fact do so when the Review was sued by the Singapore government. You can read his comments here.

Now that industry observers, including respected peers, are suggesting that Restall is playing by the Singapore government’s rules — and backing down from taking on authority as former Review editor Philip Bowring has suggested — Restall is lying low. Perhaps that’s because if Restall hopes to survive what may be a serious career misstep, it’s wise to make himself invisible for now. Of course, if he truly believes what he wrote in October 2006 about his job, he’ll eventually have to explain his decision to cancel Ellis’ review.

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