RSF slams Govt for intimidating foreign press

7 Aug 06

Reporters Without Borders (Reporteurs Sans Frontier) has condemned Singapore for imposing conditions on five international publications in a move that the media watchdog says amounts to pressure for self-censorship.

The statement from the group came after Singapore’s Information Ministry announced that the five would be classified as “offshore newspapers,” meaning they must appoint legal representation and post a 200,000 Singapore dollar (US$127,173; ?98,780) security deposit in case any lawsuits arise.

“The authorities are looking for effective ways, including fear of prosecution and heavy fines, to intimidate these publications into censoring themselves,” the worldwide press freedom organization said. “This is the latest threat against the foreign media, which are the only means of reporting independently on political and economic events in the country since the local press is controlled by the government.”

The Far Eastern Economic Review was singled out by the ministry, saying it had until Sept. 11 to meet the conditions. The other four publications – International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Newsweek and Time – were operating under an exemption to the terms of the newspaper act and will have those exemptions lifted when their current permits expire.

The ministry noted in a statement this week that “it is a privilege, and not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore. They do so as foreign observers of the local scene and should not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore.”

No direct reason was given for the reclassifications, but the statement noted that the latter four publications “regularly report on political issues in the region and Singapore.”

The move came after a recent interview in the Far Eastern Economic Review with opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who the magazine called a national “martyr” because of the many lawsuits against him.

Singapore has a low tolerance for criticism and tightly restricts media and political speech. Ruling party leaders have successfully sued several opposition politicians and journalists for defamation over the years. They say they sue to protect their reputations.

The Economist, International Herald Tribune, Bloomberg, Far Eastern Economic Review and the then-Asian Wall Street Journal – since renamed The Wall Street Journal Asia – have paid large fines or had their circulation restricted in lawsuits brought by Singapore’s ruling party stalwarts.

Note: Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 worldwide press freedom index.

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