Reporters Sans Frontiere
2003 Annual Report
Area : 618 sq. km.
Population : 4,108,000
Languages : English. Chinese, Malay, Tamil
Type of state : republic
Head of state : President S.R. Nathan
Head of government : Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong
Nothing changed media-wise in Singapore in 2002. The People’s Action Party, in power since 1960, was still firmly backed by all privately and publicly-owned media groups. Freedom of expression problems are often discussed in the press, but never with reference to local affairs.
The people of Singapore have access to the foreign media through satellite TV and the Internet, which is very developed in what is one of Asia’s richest countries. But independent news on the situation in Singapore itself is not found in the local press.
Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp, the two major press conglomerates, are headed by political and business allies of those in power. Independent media do not exist. Only a few Internet websites run by political opponents or rare independent journalists attempt to provide impartial news at the risk of being sued for libel and punished with huge fines.
Information minister David Lim said on 13 April that the government had set up a committee of film-makers, writers and publishers to review existing censorship laws, consult the public and report back in January 2003.
The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) announced on 3 June that the Chinese-language radio station UnionWorks had been fined more than 8,000 euros for broadcasting “personal remarks and observations” during news programmes about subjects including the price of petrol and sex crimes by priests. The SBA said the remarks violated the censorship laws, which required news to be “objective, accurate and balanced.” A senior station official told Associated Press that he approved of the verdict and that the journalist who made the comments no longer worked at the station.
In July, Judge Choo Han Teck said during the hearing of a libel suit by a businessman against the Singapore Press Holdings group that courts could force journalists to reveal the sources of their information in civil cases, rejecting the local century-old “newspaper rule” from British colonial times that protected sources.
Only lawyers and their clients were exempt from revealing them, he said, but journalists, like members of other respected professions, such as priests and doctors, did not have this privilege. He added that it was up to each court to decide whether such revelation was appropriate.