Freedom House Press Freedom Report on Singapore


Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 24
Political Environment: 24
Economic Environment: 21
Total Score: 69

Media freedom in Singapore continued to be constrained in 2007, with the vast majority of print and broadcast journalists practicing self-censorship for fear of harsh defamation charges, while a government review raised concerns of increased restrictions for online content in the future. The Singapore Constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 14, but also permits restrictions on these rights. In addition, the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, the Defamation Act, and the Internal Security Act (ISA) constrain press freedom, allowing the authorities to restrict the circulation of news deemed to incite violence, arouse racial or religious tensions, interfere in domestic politics, or threaten public order, national interest or national security. The judiciary lacks independence and systematically returns verdicts in the government’s favor, further undermining press freedom in the city-state. Singapore law does not recognized journalists’ rights to protect the identity of their sources and in May 2007, Reuters correspondent Mia Shanley was forced to reveal an anonymous source in a commercial case under an order from the Court of Appeals.

Films, television programs, music, books and magazines are sometimes censored; all films with a political purpose are banned unless government-sponsored. In April 2007, the government banned a film by filmmaker and blogger Martyn See about Said Zahari, a journalist and political activist who was held without trial for 17 years under the ISA. Although Zahari’s 17 Years, was banned under the Film Act from being screened in Singapore, it could still be viewed on the Internet. The Singapore government and ruling party members are quick to sue critics under harsh civil and criminal defamation laws in order to silence and bankrupt political opponents and critical media outlets. Foreign media in Singapore are also subject to such pressures and restrictive laws. In October 2007, the Financial Times published an apology and agreed to pay damages to the ruling Lee family for a September article that suggested nepotism factored into various appointments allocated to several of its members. Foreign publications are required by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts to post a bond of S$200,000 (approximately $127,200) and appoint a local legal representative if they wish to publish in Singapore. In August 2006, after the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) published an interview with opposition party leader Chee Soon Juan, it and four other foreign publications were informed they would no longer be exempt from the regulations as they had been previously and needed to post a deposit. When the FEER did not comply, its circulation permit was revoked, effectively banning the publication, a ban which remained in effect throughout 2007, though the publication was accessible online. In a corresponding defamation suit filed by the prime minister and his father over the article, a June 2007 ruling by the Singapore High Court rejected the magazine’s application for a Queen’s Counsel from the United Kingdom to represent it.

Nearly all print and broadcast media outlets, Internet service providers, and cable television services are either owned or controlled by the state, or by companies with close ties to the ruling People’s Action Party. Annual licensing requirements for all media outlets, including political and religious web sites, have been used to inhibit criticism of the government. Internet use is widespread in Singapore, but the government attempts to restrict and control it by licensing Internet service providers. Websites offering political or religious content are also required to register with the government’s Media Development Authority (MDA), thus making a website’s owners and editors criminally liable for any content that the government finds objectionable. Although the ruling party has been successful in curbing dissenting opinion among traditional print and broadcast media, the Internet has proven more difficult to control. Bloggers and discussion groups still offer alternative views and a virtual channel for expressing dissent. During the year, an online petition against a proposed salary hike for government ministers collected thousands of signatures as well as comments criticizing the hike and the authorities’ lack of accountability. In March 2007, the MDA announced that it was seeking to expand the jurisdiction of its Media Market Conduct Code from the traditional print and broadcast sectors to new media markets. Although the MDA said its review was intended “to better address competition issues that may arise under the new landscape”, international watchdog groups expressed concerns that the revisions would be used to limit ownership and stifle online dissent. The internet was accessed by over 66 percent of the population in 2007.

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Singapore was ranked 153rd out of 170 countries.