S’pore press freedom near Iraq, Bhutan

October 29, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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Reuters
28 October 2004
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/041028/3/3o35t.html

Singapore, Southeast Asia’s wealthiest country, is amongst the region’s poorest in terms of press freedom, officials from Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said on Tuesday.

An annual index produced by Reporters Sans Frontieres that was published on Tuesday, ranked Singapore 147th out of 167 countries, faring worse than tightly governed states such as Russia and Bhutan and just one notch above Iraq.

“It is very strange that in a country where you have so much access to international sources, at the same time you have very limited access to local information and coverage of what is really happening in the country,” said Vincent Brossel, a spokesman for Reporters Sans Frontieres.

China was ranked in 162nd place out of 167 and has locked up the largest number of journalists with 27 reporters currently behind bars and at least another 35 cyber-activists detained for spreading dissenting views, the group said.

Brossel said Singapore’s two media giants, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp, “keep strict control of the editorial line” of their newspapers, television and radio stations.

SPH is a near-monopoly publishing group with state links that was formerly run by an ex-director of the Internal Security Department. MediaCorp is 100 percent-owned by the government and mainly operates free-to-air television stations.

Singapore’s main English daily, The Straits Times, which is published by SPH, “practices systematic self-censorship in its domestic reporting”, Reporters Sans Frontieres said in a report that accompanied the publication of the latest index.

The tightly controlled city-state is known for its heavy handed state censorship in the media and arts, largely enforced through a system of issuing publication and performance licences.

Public expression is a delicate act in Singapore, even for foreign news organisations. International newspapers such as The Asian Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune have paid large amounts of damages in libel cases brought by senior government figures such as former prime minister Goh Chok Tong and minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Last month, The Economist apologised to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and agreed to pay 127,000 pounds ($227,700) in damages over an article on a government company run by his wife.

But the city-state’s ambition to be a global media hub has led to a gradual easing of its tough censorship laws with bans lifted on U.S. women’s magazine “Cosmopolitan” and award-winning sitcom Sex and the City.

Reporters Sans Frontieres also identified countries in East Asia, such as North Korea and Myanmar, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East as having either an absence of an independent media or a situation in which journalists are “persecuted and censored on a daily basis”.

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10220

Singapore – 2004 Annual Report

The government’s policy of far-reaching control of the news media did not change. The two big press groups, Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp, were still controlled by the ruling party’s allies. There are no independent media. But Singaporeans have plenty of access to foreign media.

The authorities were urged to liberalise censorship of the news media, the arts and public meetings on 24 June 2003 by the committee that was set up by the government in April 2002 to review the existing censorship laws. The panel of experts said a new balance needed to be found between public order requirements and the Singaporean people’s creativity. The government had still not acted on the recommendations at the end of the year.

Today, one of the three English-language dailies, ran a column in October by Australian journalist Michael Backman that was scathing about Singapore’s system of censorship. He criticised the information minister’s meddling in editorial content, the system of publication licences and the regime’s paranoia.

The government’s reaction was acrimonious. In a response published five days later, the information ministry insisted that the media system was suited to Singapore’s circumstances. At the start of November, information minister Lee Bon Yang told the Press Club that foreign journalists should stay out of Singapore’s politics. He said Backman had knowingly crossed the line and meddled in internal politics. He also insisted that the government was not going to liberalise the censorship system just to please an excited minority and that censorship was needed to protect society from violence and a decline in morals.

The censorship department in 2003 nonetheless authorised the sale of the international magazine Cosmopolitan and the screening of the American TV series “Sex and the City.” On the other hand, a commercial radio station was fined more than 8,000 euros in September for broadcasting a recording of a female orgasm, which the censors considered “obscene.”
An adviser to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew reprimanded Today editor Mano Sabnani in November for allowing a report to be published about a trip by Lee’s wife to London for medical reasons. The young journalist who wrote the story, Val Chua, reportedly had her press card suspended.

The country’s two press groups, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Mediacorp, are led by supporters of the People’s Action Party, which has been in power for nearly 40 years. They keep strict control of the editorial line of their TV and radio stations and newspapers. SPH, the dominant group, is headed by Tjong Yik Min, who was one of the directors of the security services in the 1980s. Chua Lee Hoon, the star columnist of the daily The Straits Times, admits to also acting as an “expert” for the political police. The Straits Times bills itself as “one of the world’s most respected newspapers” and it does indeed have a reputation for its Asia coverage. But it practices systematic self-censorship in its domestic reporting. Its competitors are Today and Streats, which dare more often to publish independent commentaries on the domestic situation.

Nonetheless, the only real freedom is to be found on a small number of Internet sites operated by government opponents or by some of the few independent journalists. But they risk very heavy fines for defamation while the internal security law allows the authorities to imprison people without judicial approval.

The media are also at the service of the state. In the middle of the Sars epidemic in May, for example, the two main press groups got together to launch a TV channel entirely given over to “informing and educating Singaporeans about the different aspects of Sars.” The programmes, which went out by cable, were terminated when the epidemic had been contained. The state tends in general to be interventionist.

The information minister announced in June that Singapore wanted to become a “global media city.” To this end, the state Media Development Authority plans to invest nearly 100 million euros in the media sector over the next five years. In return, the government expects media professionals to step up their efforts to increase the sector’s share of Singapore’s GDP. But when a foreign specialist called for a radical liberalisation of censorship and media control policies, the minister bristled. He finally conceded that some regulations might have to be revised in order not to hold back economic growth.

The ranking:

N Country Note
1 Denmark 0,50
– Finland 0,50
– Iceland 0,50
– Ireland 0,50
– Netherlands 0,50
– Norway 0,50
– Slovakia 0,50
– Switzerland 0,50
9 New Zealand 0,67
10 Latvia 1,00
11 Estonia 2,00
– Germany 2,00
– Sweden 2,00
– Trinidad and Tobago 2,00
15 Slovenia 2,25
16 Lithuania 3,00
17 Austria 3,25
18 Canada 3,33
19 Czech Republic 3,50
– France 3,50
21 Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,67
22 Belgium 4,00
– United States of America (American territory) 4,00
24 Jamaica 4,17
25 Portugal 4,50
26 South Africa 5,00
27 Benin 5,50
28 El Salvador 6,00
– Hungary 6,00
– United Kingdom 6,00
31 Dominican Republic 6,75
32 Poland 6,83
33 Greece 7,00
34 Hong-Kong 7,50
35 Costa Rica 7,63
36 Bulgaria 8,00
– Israel (Israeli territory) 8,00
38 Cape Verde 8,75
39 Italy 9,00
– Spain 9,00
41 Australia 9,50
42 Chile 10,00
– Japan 10,00
– Namibia 10,00
– Uruguay 10,00
46 Mauritius 10,50
– Paraguay 10,50
48 South Korea 11,13
49 Macedonia 11,25
50 Albania 11,50
– Botswana 11,50
52 Nicaragua 11,67
53 Honduras 11,75
54 Croatia 11,83
55 Grenade 12,00
56 Mali 12,83
57 Ghana 13,50
– Timor-Leste 13,50
59 Thailand 14,00
60 Taiwan 14,25
61 Panama 14,50
– Tanzania 14,50
63 Fiji 16,00
64 Burkina Faso 16,25
– Mozambique 16,25
66 Brazil 16,50
– Ecuador 16,50
– Guatemala 16,50
69 Congo 17,50
70 Romania 17,83
71 Niger 18,33
72 Madagascar 18,50
73 Burundi 19,00
– Mongolia 19,00
75 Togo 19,50
76 Bolivia 20,00
77 Serbia and Montenegro 20,13
78 Moldova 20,50
79 Argentina 21,33
80 Senegal 21,50
81 Cyprus (North) 22,00
82 Kenya 22,25
83 Armenia 23,50
– Guinea-Bissau 23,50
– Seychelles 23,50
86 Uganda 24,00
87 Lebanon 24,38
88 Guinea 24,50
– Sierra Leone 24,50
90 Venezuela 24,63
91 Angola 26,50
– Comoros 26,50
93 Cameroon 27,00
94 Georgia 27,50
95 Tajikistan 27,75
96 Mexico 27,83
97 Afghanistan 28,25
98 Gambia 29,50
– Lesotho 29,50
100 Zambia 29,75
101 Malawi 31,00
– Swaziland 31,00
103 Kuwait 31,67
104 Central African Republic 32,50
– Qatar 32,50
106 Chad 33,25
107 Kyrgyzstan 35,25
108 United States of America (in Iraq) 36,00
109 Cambodia 36,50
– Sri Lanka 36,50
111 Philippines 36,63
112 Ethiopia 37,00
113 Rwanda 37,25
– Turkey 37,25
115 Gabon 37,50
– Israel (Occupied Territories) 37,50
117 Indonesia 37,75
– Nigeria 37,75
119 Tonga 38,17
120 India 38,50
121 Jordan 39,13
122 Malaysia 39,83
123 Liberia 40,00
– Peru 40,00
125 Haiti 42,13
126 Morocco 43,00
127 Palestinian Authority 43,17
128 Algeria 43,50
– Egypt 43,50
– Somalia 43,50
131 Kazakhstan 44,17
132 Sudan 44,25
133 Equatorial Guinea 46,25
134 Colombia 47,38
135 Yemen 48,00
136 Azerbaijan 49,67
137 United Arab Emirates 50,25
138 Mauritania 51,00
– Ukraine 51,00
140 Russia 51,38
141 Democratic Republic of Congo 51,50
142 Uzbekistan 52,13
143 Bahrein 52,50
144 Belarus 54,10
145 Djibouti 55,00
146 Bhutan 55,83
147 Singapore 57,00
148 Iraq 58,50
149 C?e d’Ivoire 60,38
150 Pakistan 61,75
151 Bangladesh 62,50
152 Tunisia 62,67
153 Laos 64,33
154 Libya 65,00
155 Syria 67,50
– Zimbabwe 67,50
157 Maldives 69,17
158 Iran 78,30
159 Saudi Arabia 79,17
160 Nepal 84,00
161 Vietnam 86,88
162 China 92,33
163 Eritrea 93,25
164 Turkmenistan 99,83
165 Burma 103,63
166 Cuba 106,83
167 North Korea 107,50