A Critical Evaluation of the Future Direction of Press Control in Singapore

A Critical Evaluation of the Future Direction of Press Control in Singapore

Compiled By: Ivan, John, Daniel, Monica, Carla

For: Dr. Sunny Goh (SIM / RMIT)
COMM 1187 News Studies
Topic 17 The Future Direction of Press Control in Singapore
Assignment 01

Presented: 16-May-2012
We received a perfect score for our presentation!

With thanks to Dr. Catherine Lim for granting us an interview. http://catherinelim.sg/


1. Singapore Government & The Media

To Yiu Ming, 27-May-2004
What Kind of Development? Whose Asian Values? A Critique of Two Theories of Press Censorship in Singapore” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, New Orleans Sheraton, New Orleans, LA Online. http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/1/2/8/0/pages112806/p112806-1.php

“Singapore has been well-known for its strict censorship against the press since the 1970s. It is done out of the authoritarian belief that the government knows better than anyone how ‘to advance the economic, social and cultural well-being of their peoples.’”

“…The Press is not constructed as a function of liberty but an instrument of the state in promoting national development.”

“High on the agenda of the government is not freedom of the press, but the maintenance of social harmony… in the process of economic development.”

“In other words, the press should be subordinated to the interests of Singapore, and the best way to ensure it is to put itself under the control of its government.”

2. Out-Of-Bounds Markers

Interview with Dr. Catherine Lim, 05-May-2012

The Singapore Government's Level of Tolerance towards Discussion of Issues: 

Not Tolerable: 
Issues of Race and Religion. People are not allowed to criticise or speak against any race or religion in Singapore. 

Also, Issues of Government Morality and Policy. People cannot accuse the Singapore Government of Corruption or Neopotism lightly / without hard evidence, or they might face a legal action. 

The Singapore Government has an unwritten contract with Singaporeans - namely, that it will be: 
1. Competent
2. Hardworking
3. Disciplined
4. Incorruptible
5. Will help Singaporeans attain prosperity, material wealth and a comfortable life 

In return, Singaporeans are to support their Government - With Votes. 

This has in turn created a Singapore where some Singaporeans don't feel a core national identity, and some whose loyalty is to prosperity, material wealth and a comfortable life, rather than having loyalty to Singapore (Country), or its Government. 

Issues of Government Style. How they carry out activities or implement policies. 

Previously a non-tolerable area, the rise of new media and the events of GE 2011 have seen the government relax press control somewhat in this area.

Non-Political, Moral Issues. These include Homosexuality, Prostitution, Gambling, etc. 

Discussion on Issues of Bread-And-Butter are encouraged by the Singapore Government. These include Housing, Transportation, etc. 

With the level of openess on Non-Political, Moral Issues, and Issues of Bread-And-Butter, the general public may be led to believe that there is now greater press freedom in Singapore. However, they may fail to see that with regards to Political Content, there is still tight regulations in place, and that Press Censorship in Singapore is still strong. 

3. Defamation Statistics In Singapore

Since 1987 till 2012, there have been 20 cases of Defamation Suits in Singapore. 

12 involved monetary compensation of amounting to more than $100,000 each. 

8 had to publish apologies. 

Involved Journalists, Opposition Politicians, Bloggers, Film-Makers. 



4. Then... Till Now + Reactions to the Internet Code Of Conduct

James Gomez & Debra Long. Freedom of Expression and the Media in Singapore, ISBN 1-902598-82-2, December 2005. Page 10, Paragraph 3. http://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/publications/singapore-baseline-study.pdf

"While there have been no reports of any abuse of the above laws, they have raised fears amongst some that they could be misused to ‘invade the privacy of citizens’, and ‘as an instrument of oppression by the government’. It has been reported that many people feel that the new law is unclear, and are fearful that the authorities may use it to crack down on its critics." 

"Even government lawmakers have expressed concerns that the law could be misused because of its vagueness and the absence of measures to ensure the government's accountability."

“If the government is serious about encouraging bloggers to write constructively and maturely, they must take the first step by loosening up the political climate, and not wield the threat of lawsuits at the slightest provocation.”
– Ng E-Jay, What is the point of an Internet “Code of Conduct”?, SGPolitics.net, 28-Apr-2012

“Many feel that the government’s constant harping on this issue betrays a desire to control Singaporeans’ freedom of expression online just as they do offline.”
– Kristen Han, Singapore Netizens Reject Proposed Code of Conduct, GlobalVoicesOnline.org, 01-May-2012

“… Various actions have been taken against socio-political blogs in the past 18 months, such that bloggers’ trust in the government is lower now than before.”
– Tessa Wong, Online code of conduct? No Thanks, Straits Times, 28-Apr-2012

5. New Media & The Climate Of Fear

Interview with Dr. Catherine Lim, 05-May-2012

  • Defamation Suit – Against The Online Citizen 
  • A signal to the online community 
  • That being anonymous online does not mean you can slander anyone
  • The online community gave in to the threats - They cannot afford to be sued

  • Richard Wan – 1 of the 5 Editors of Temasek Review Emeritus (TRE) 
  • Identified himself publicly – Due to Journalistic passion 
  • Within a week, served 2 lawyer letters over comments by members of the public on the site 
  • “To be frank, If I had known what’s coming, I would have hesitated coming out.” 
  • In future, TRE will remove any offensive comments by members of the public

6. Implications For Stakeholders

Interview with Dr. Catherine Lim, 05-May-2012

Local Media Owners 
  • Closely linked to the Singapore Government - MediaCorp, SPH
  • But still wants pride on the world stage – As an Independent Body 
  • Will try to distance themselves from the Government
  • Will allow criticism on ‘trappings’, but not outright opposition 
  • Slow incremental change, if any 
  • Concerned with making $$$, will cater to the lowest common denominator - The 3s' of Sleaze, Sex, Scandal

Average Singaporeans
  • More vocal about Bread-And-Butter Issues – Especially Online
  • But will not question Ideological Issues
  • Will be lulled into a false sense of complacency – Through the appearance of change in the Singapore Government
  • Blinded by the promise of a ‘Good Life’

7. Thesis Statement

The future model of Singapore governance will develop the climate of fear into a distinct strategy of media control.

“While there has always been a climate of fear under PAP rule, the new model seems to have developed it into a distinct strategy of control …” 
- Catherine Lim, Open Letter to the Prime Minister, November 2007, Paragraph 8

8. Could Press Control In Singapore Change?

Interview with Dr. Catherine Lim, 05-May-2012

“But if we have a change of government, everything will be changed. Everything will be changed meaning, everything that has been made so closely to the image of (the) PAP will change."

"You never know, the new party may be even more controlling of the press. It could be that. But what I suspect that any new government will do at the beginning, for the first few years, will be to show Singaporeans, ‘We are different from PAP’. And one of the ways to be different is, ‘Hey! The press is free.’"