Singapore | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Media freedom in Singapore is constrained to such a degree that the vast majority of journalists practice self-censorship rather than risk being charged with defamation or breaking the country's criminal laws on permissible speech. The constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 14 but permits restrictions on these rights. Legal constraints include strict censorship laws, including the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, which allows authorities to restrict the circulation of any foreign periodical for publishing news that interferes in domestic politics, and the Internal Security Act (ISA). Although not implemented in recent years, the ISA gives officials the power to restrict publications that incite violence, arouse racial or religious tension, or threaten national interest, national security, or public order. Given the government's record of successfully suing critics under harsh criminal defamation laws, journalists most often refrain from publishing critical stories about corruption or nepotism. In September, The Economist agreed to pay a fine of more than US$200,000 to avoid a lawsuit over an article it had published that claimed a government-linked investment company lacked transparency.

The government has mastered the art of "calibrated coercion," in the words of a veteran Singapore journalist. The vast majority of print and broadcast media outlets, as well as Internet service providers and cable television services, are either owned or controlled by the state or by companies with close ties to the ruling party. Moreover, annual licensing requirements cause media outlets to limit or moderate their criticism of the government. The primary development on the media scene in 2004 was the megamerger between two giants-Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes 14 paid newspapers and 1 free paper in four official languages, including the flagship Straits Times, and Media Corp TV Holdings, which operates 5 television stations, 1 free newspaper, and Media Corp Studios. The merger was agreed upon to stop four years of cutthroat competition, ending any semblance of competition and diversity in the Singapore mass media, which virtually without exception support the government line. International newspapers and magazines are available, although authorities have at times banned or censored foreign publications that carry articles the government found offensive. The circulations of some Western-owned publications are "gazetted," or limited. Internet use is widespread but the Internet is under the supervision of the Singapore Broadcast Authority, which controls access to Web sites and censors some information, and political and religious Web sites are required to register with the government's Media Development Authority.