In its defence of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), the Ministry of Information, Community and the Arts (MICA) said that “the media operating in Singapore play a responsible role and that publishers are accountable for the content they publish.”
This is PAP-speak for ensuring that the media promote the party and its policies while censoring the news of the opposition and civil society. It comes in the wake of Malaysia announcing plans to reform its media laws to allow greater freedom of the press.
In truth Singapore’s media industry was not always this dead. In the 1950s and early 60s, the press was lively and free to report without hindrance from any ruling party. Through the years, however, the PAP started its crackdown on the varuious newspapers and their editors leaving an emaculated press that behaves more like the PAP’s outreach committee.
Helming the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) were two cabinet ministers (Lim Kim San and current President Tony Tan) and a former director of the Internal Security Department (Tjong Yik Meng). The company manages all the newspapers (except Today which is published by Mediacorps) and is the only newspaper chain in Singapore.
Below is a brief history of the various newspapers that were closed down by the PAP.
The Straits Times editor Leslie Hoffman fled to Malaysia after Mr Lee Kuan yew became prime minister and threatened to detain him under the ISA. After Mr Hoffman’s departure the newspaper was reconstituted and has become the flagship publication of the SPH.
Today the newspaper is, according to a former columnist Pranay Gupte, “run by editors with virtually no background in journalism. For example, my direct editor was Ms Chua Lee Hoong, a woman in her mid 30s. She was an intelligence officer.”
After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia on August 8. 1965, the Utusan Melayu continued to publish and circulate in Singapore. But in March 1967, the newspaper was accused of publishing “humiliating articles” that were intended to cause political tension between Malaysia and Singapore. It prudently shifted its operations to Kuala Lumpur, but continued to circulated in Singapore until 1969.
Nanyang Siang Pau
After alleging this family-owned newspaper for playing up pro-communist sentiment, and working up Chinese language “issues”, the Government arrested the general manager and three other leading staff members including the editor-in-chief under the ISA in May 1971. The nub of the problem was that the newspaper was fiercely independent, refusing to be intimidated by officialdom and its directives.
Sin Chew Jit Poh
This publication was one of the two long-established leading Chinese newspapers; the other being Nanyang Siang Pau. Armed with its new powers under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, a statement issued by the prime minister’s office in April 1982 proclaimed the “need to restructure the ownership of the English and Chinese newspapers,” and decreed an “arranged marriage” between the Nanyang Siang Pau and the Sin Chew Jit Poh.
On 16 March 1983, these two newspapers ceased their separate publication. In their places were the Lianhe Zaobao and the Lianhe Wanbao which were published under a single holding company called the Singapore News and Publications Limited (SNPL).
The Eastern Sun
This newspaper commenced publication on July 17, 1966, using the premises of the defunct Singapore Standard. But in less than five years, it had to fold up following allegations by Mr Lee Kuan Yew that the newspaper was associated with a communist black operation in May 1971.
Another victim of the PAP’s “black operations” allegation, the Singapore Herald was accused of “taking on” the Government. It commenced publication in July 1970 stating that it would be a “pro-Singapore rather than a pro-government newspaper.” On 28 May 1971, the Government revoked the newspaper’s printing permit, forcing it to fold.
In 1980 the Government had sponsored the formation of the Singapore Monitor to compete as a daily morning broadsheet with the Straits Times, which had gained a reputation for being too pro-PAP. Since the PAP had complete monopoly of Parliament, the Government thought it was safe to loosen up a little on its control of newspapers.
The Singapore Monitor was thus officially launched on 16 November 1982b but as an afternoon tabloid. However, after the unexpected by-election victory of the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam in October 1981 and the 1984 general elections, where two opposition MPs were elected, the PAP changed its mind and closed down the Singapore Monitor on 14 July 1985.
The SNPL, which also owned the Singapore Monitor, and the Straits Times Press Limited were merged into one publishing monolith, the Singapore Press Holdings Limited.
On 5 May 5 1986, the Government introduced a bill to amend the NPPA to restrict through the sale and distribution in Singapore of a foreign publications if they were found to be “engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore”.
This plugged the final hole in the PAP’s plan to kill of a free press in Singapore. To this day, Singaporeans are still very much influenced by all that they read, watch and hear on the mass media. Such an arrangement may work wonders for the PAP but it is a danger to the future of this country and its people.