Reporters Without Borders
1 Nov 06
Singapore – Annual report 2006
More than a year after coming to power, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of the country’s strong man, Lee Kuan Yew, had not begun any liberalisation of the media. Despite statements in support of an “open” society, the ruling party still does not brook any criticism.
Questioned by the international press about Singapore’s position in the 2005 World Press Freedom Index (140th out of 167), senior minister Goh Chok Tong called it a “subjective measure computed through the prism of western liberals”. He also defended the Singapore model for controlling the media, saying that a press that was too free was “not necessarily good for the entire country”.
Relatively independent for regional and international news, when it comes to domestic politics Singapore’s press, still controlled by associates of Lee Kuan Yew, is in the grip of a rigorous self-censorship. The government threatens journalists, foreign media and opposition with defamation suits seeking dizzying amounts in damages.
The government uses around a score of draconian laws, particularly those on the granting of licences for publications, on films, religious and political website managers and on national security, to stifle any criticism.
Freelance film-maker Martyn See was accused of breaking the law on films by putting out a “partisan” documentary, “Singapore Rebel”, a portrait of an opposition figure Chee Soon Juan. In August police seized all copies of the film and the videotapes on which it was recorded. The film puts See at risk of a penalty of up to two years in prison or a fine of almost 500,000 euros.
In 2005, Hong Kong-based financial website FinanceAsia.com, apologised and agreed to pay compensation after the authorities threatened a lawsuit against it over an article it posted on a Singaporean investment company with links to the government.
(See World Press Freedom Index for Singapore’s ranking.)
Questionnaire for compiling a 2006 world press freedom index:
[The period runs from 1 September 2005 to 1 September 2006]
During this time, how many journalists:
1. Were murdered?
2. Were murdered, with the state involved?
3. Were arrested or sent to prison (for however long)?
4. Are currently in jail and serving a heavy sentence (more than a year) for a media-related offence?
5. Were threatened?
6. Were physically attacked or injured?
7. Fled the country?
Were any journalists (yes/no):
8. Illegally imprisoned (no arrest warrant, in violation of maximum period of detention without trial or court appearance)?
9. Tortured or ill-treated?
10. Kidnapped or taken hostage?
11. Did any journalists disappear?
Over the period, was/were there (yes/no):
12. Armed militias or secret organisations targeting journalists?
13. Terrorist action against journalists or media firms?
14. Improper use of fines, summonses or legal action against journalists or media outlets?
15. Routine failure to prosecute those responsible for seriously violating press freedom?
16. Prison terms imposed for media-related offences defined by law?
17. Attacks or threats against family, friends or colleagues of journalists?
18. Surveillance of journalists (phone-tapping, being followed etc)?
19. Problems of access to public or official information (refusal by officials, selection of information provided according to the media’s editorial line etc)?
20. Restricted physical or reporting access to any regions of the country (official ban, strict official control etc)?
21. Media outlets censored, seized or ransacked? (how many?)
22. Searches of media premises or homes of journalists?
23. Surveillance of foreign journalists working in the country?
24. Foreign journalists deported?
25. Problems getting journalist visas (undue delay, demand to know names of people to be interviewed etc)?
26. Censorship or seizure of foreign newspapers?
27. Jamming of foreign broadcasts or regulating who can have satellite dishes?
28. Independent or opposition news media?
29. An official prior censorship body systematically checking all media content?
30. Routine self-censorship in the privately-owned media?
31. Subjects that are taboo (the armed forces, government corruption, religion, the opposition, demands of separatists, human rights etc)?
32. A state monopoly of TV?
33. A state monopoly of radio?
34. A state monopoly of printing or distribution facilities?
35. Government control of state-owned media’s editorial line?
36. Improper sackings of journalists in the state-owned media?
37. Journalists forced to stop working through harassment or threats?
38. Opposition access to state-owned media?
39. Strictly-controlled access to journalistic profession (compulsory certificate or training, membership of journalists’ institute etc.)?
40. Use of withdrawal of advertising (government stops buying space in some papers or pressures private firms to boycott media outlets)?
41. Undue restriction of foreign investment in the media?
42. Licence needed to start up a newspaper or magazine?
43. Cases of violating privacy of journalistic sources?
44. Serious threats to news diversity, including narrow ownership of media outlets?
45. A state monopoly of Internet service providers (ISPs)?
46. ISPs forced to filter access to websites?
47. Websites shut down over the period?
48. ISPs legally responsible for the content of websites they host?
49. Cyber-dissidents or bloggers imprisoned (how many?)
50. Cyber-dissidents or bloggers harassed or physically attacked (how many?)