Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The media environment in Singapore remained unchanged in 2012, with few developments in the areas of freedom of the press or expression that attracted international attention. Social media sites and other internet-based sources of news continued to grow but also drew scrutiny from government authorities, with several bloggers forced to retract postings and one jailed for inciting violence.
Freedoms of speech and expression are guaranteed by Article 14 of the constitution, but there are restrictions on these rights. The Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, the Defamation Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA), and articles in the penal code allow the authorities to block the circulation of news deemed to incite violence, arouse racial or religious tensions, interfere in domestic politics, or threaten public order, the national interest, or national security. The Sedition Act, in effect since the colonial period, outlaws seditious speech, the distribution of seditious materials, and acts with “seditious tendency.” In September 2012, 36-year-old Gary Yue Mun Yew was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for inciting violence under article 267C of the penal code—the first time this article had been used—for a comment posted on the Facebook wall of the Temasek Review blog in connection with 2010 National Day celebrations.
Singapore’s Parliament has been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since 1959, and ruling party members are quick to use harsh civil and criminal defamation laws to silence and bankrupt political opponents and critical media outlets. With bloggers and discussion groups increasingly offering alternative views and a virtual channel for expressing dissent, the government has begun to crack down on postings it deems offensive. A comment made on the Temasek Review website led three members of Singapore’s ruling Lee family (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his wife, Ho Ching, and his brother, Lee Hsien Yang) to demand an apology for allegations that they had filled top government positions with family members. In February 2012, Temasek Review took down the posting and apologized, but on February 17, Singapore media outlets reported that Parliament had pushed through an amendment to the Evidence Act allowing courts to admit deleted online posts as evidence. The amendment, according to the New Paper, gives the courts “the discretion to consider relevant evidence by widening the admissibility of several categories. Among them are changes to the computer output evidence—which means computer printouts and sound and video recordings can be treated just like other evidence in Singapore courts.”
The judiciary lacks independence and systematically returns verdicts in the government’s favor. Journalists and other commentators who raise questions regarding judicial impartiality are subject to being charged with contempt of court. Singapore has no freedom of information law and attempts by opposition legislators to introduce legislation have not been well-received.
Annual licensing requirements for all media outlets and internet service providers have been used to inhibit criticism of the government. Websites offering political or religious content are required to register with the Media Development Authority, and a website’s owners and editors are criminally liable for any content that the government finds objectionable. In August 2012, a proposed Code of Conduct for bloggers was discarded by the government in favor of a Media Literacy Council, which was tasked with promoting public education on media literacy and cyber wellness. Critics questioned the lack of transparency in appointing council members, expressing concern that it might become just another internet censorship tool. Foreign media are also subject to pressures and restrictive laws such as the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, and are required by the Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Arts to post bond and appoint a local legal representative if they wish to publish in Singapore.
Films, television programs, music, books, and magazines are sometimes censored; all films with a political purpose are banned unless sponsored by the government. The majority of print and broadcast journalists practice self-censorship to avoid defamation charges or other legal repercussions. A recently published book, OB Markers: My Straits Times Story, by Cheong Yip Seng, the former editor in chief of Singapore Press Holdings, documents some of these practices, as well as the ever-shifting markers of what is “OB” or “Out of Bounds.” However, coverage of sensitive socioeconomic and political topics is more widespread on the internet. Journalists can generally gather news freely and without harassment. Cases of physical attacks against members of the press are extremely rare, and none were reported in 2012.
Nearly all print and broadcast media outlets, internet service providers, and cable television services are owned or controlled by the state or by companies with close ties to the PAP. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service is the only completely independent radio station available in the country. Satellite television is forbidden. A substantial variety of foreign newspapers and magazines are distributed uncensored, but the government is authorized to limit the circulation of print editions.
Internet use is widespread in Singapore, accessed by about 74 percent of the population in 2012. It is believed to have played a significant role in informing voters ahead of the 2011 parliamentary elections, in which the ruling PAP received its lowest vote share since the country’s independence, as well as providing a space for alternative or dissenting views.