The cost of reporting in Singapore

October 27, 2007
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.
27 Oct 07

How much money did the FT save by caving in to the Singapore government’s bullying tactics? In the first instance, about £67,000. Dow Jones’s Far Eastern Economic Review is fighting the Singapore government in a similar case, showing a bit of backbone. And at the end of a story from last year about the FEER case, we find this:

The government ordered Time, Newsweek, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune to post bonds of 200,000 Singaporean dollars and appoint representatives in Singapore.

That doesn’t mean that the bond is the maximum that the FT stood to lose, of course. There’s the cost of legal representation, and then the Singapore courts can award any amount they like against the FT. Once damages were awarded, Singapore could then try to collect in any jurisdiction in the world, including the UK, although I’m not sure if it’s ever gone that far or had any success.

More damaging for the FT, if it fought back then Singapore would probably ban it outright, just as it has banned the FEER. (At one point, Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon even barred the FEER’s lawyer.)

As a Singaporean commenter noted on my last post on the subject, Singapore is an important market to FT, which is why they capitulated so quickly. I personally felt that FT has done a disservice to itself and to the forward/right thinking population of Singapore.

Interestingly, Reporters Without Borders has just released its latest Press Freedom Index. Singapore is in 141st place, just below Sudan. That said, it does better than Russia (144th), Saudi Arabia (148th), Iraq (157th), or China (163rd).

As these and other authoritarian countries become increasingly important to a global audience, news organizations are going to have to start making it very clear where they stand on questions of press freedom and censorship. While a local circulation can be valuable, a first-rate global reputation is always much more so.