Singapore | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Singapore

Singapore

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

66

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

24

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

19

Media freedom in Singapore is legally and economically constrained to such a degree that in 2005 the vast majority of journalists practiced self-censorship rather than risk being charged with defamation or breaking the country's criminal laws on permissible speech. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of expression in Article 14 but permits restrictions on these rights. Legal constraints include strict censorship legislation, 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, which gives officials the power to restrict publications that incite violence, arouse racial or religious tension, or threaten national interests, 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 regional magazine FinanceAsia was forced to offer an apology and pay undisclosed sums of money to several national political leaders after it published an allegedly slanderous article. The limits to political speech were reflected in the arts as well. In August, police ordered a 36-year-old filmmaker to surrender equipment used to make a documentary on opposition figure Chee Soon Juan. Chee himself was sued for defamation in 2001 and is now facing bankruptcy proceedings.

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 such as Singapore Press Holdings or Media Corp. that have close ties to the ruling party. Moreover, annual licensing requirements cause media outlets to limit or moderate their criticism of the government. By law, the circulation of foreign news periodicals can be limited or barred, and foreign broadcasters are also subject to potential restrictions if they are deemed to be "engaging in domestic politics," according to the U.S. State Department.

Internet use is widespread in Singapore, but political and religious websites are required to register with the government's Media Development Authority. In recent months, the threat of defamation lawsuits has been used to inhibit criticism of the government in cyberspace, much as it has in Singapore's traditional media. In April, Jiahao Chen, a Singaporean student studying in the United States, was forced to shut down his blog for fear of libel action by a government agency that grants research scholarships. In October, two men were jailed for posting racist comments on the internet aimed at the country's ethnic Malay community, which is mainly Muslim.