28 Oct 2004

Singapore Comes 147th out of 167

There is nothing unique about Singapore and the so called necessary curtailment of freedom of speech, (out of bounds markers). It is part of a trend in the region. When you see the list in full and look at Singapore's bed-fellows you may get a sense of becoming infested with fleas.

Singapore, however, is the only economically developed nation at the bottom end of the scale. But in Singapore the counter argument will be that Singapore is unique because of its diverse ethnic and religious mix and so social unrest must not be allowed to occurr as it would undermine the economic success. But haven't the other countries in South East Asia been undermining press freedom? Why hasn't it led to economic success for the others? To simpistically link the denial of press freedom as a primary cause of economic success, and maintenance of it, is a myth.

Secondly, to announce that Singapore's ethnic diversity is unique is the argument of someone who has never managed to get beyond J.B., Sentosa, Bintan or Batam.

Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index

East Asia and Middle East have worst press freedom records


Reporters Without Borders announces its third annual worldwide index of press freedom. Such freedom is threatened most in East Asia (with North Korea at the bottom of the entire list at 167th place, followed by Burma 165th, China 162nd, Vietnam 161st and Laos 153rd) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia 159th, Iran 158th, Syria 155th, Iraq 148th).

In these countries, an independent media either does not exist or journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis. Freedom of information and the safety of journalists are not guaranteed there. Continuing war has made Iraq the most deadly place on earth for journalists in recent years, with 44 killed there since fighting began in March last year.

But there are plenty of other black spots around the world for press freedom. Cuba (in 166th place) is second only to China as the biggest prison for journalists, with 26 in jail (China has 27). Since spring last year, these 26 independent journalists have languished in prison after being given sentences of between 14 and 27 years.

No privately-owned media exist in Turkmenistan (164th) and Eritrea (163rd), whose people can only read, see or listen to government-controlled media dominated by official propaganda.

The greatest press freedom is found in northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway), which is a haven of peace for journalists. Of the top 20 countries, only three (New Zealand 9th, Trinidad and Tobago 11th and Canada 18th) are outside Europe.

Other small and often impoverished democracies appear high on the list, such as El Salvador (28th) and Costa Rica (35th) in Central America, along with Cape Verde (38th) and Namibia (42nd) in Africa and Timor-Leste (57th) in Asia.

Reporters Without Borders compiled the index by asking its partner organisations (14 freedom of expression organisations in five continents), its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer 52 questions to indicate the state of press freedom in 167 countries (others were not included for lack of information).

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 Côte 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


18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steven! Just one quote which was imprinted in my mind when I read the Singapore-Window.

"Control the Press and you Control the Minds of the Masses."

- Julian

calm one said...

So what exactly is your point? The effect of the freedom of press or the lack of it is becoming an insignificant tree in the whole freedom of speech forest, at least in Singapore, where access to alternative media (including blogs like your own) is free and easy. Only in places like Bhutan, where internet usage is rare (they don't even have TV stations) is press freedom significant.

lifeatngeeann.blogspot.com

soci said...

My point is that there is no justifiable reason for the denial of press freedom in Singapore. Yes you can access my blog, but the majority of Singaporeans will merely be fed a daily diet of the Straits Times. When was the last time you read anything in the Straits Times that was even remotely critical of the PAP?

When?

calm one said...

AFAIK, the government has loosened it's grip on the local press. The bigger problem now with the local press is leftover baggage from the more-repressive times leading to self-censorship.
And never underestimate the power of coffeeshop talk or news-on-wheels (taxis).

p.s. I'm no PAPophile, but I don't go bashing them just because it's fashionable among the intellectual elite.

lifeatngeeann.blogspot.com

soci said...

Among Singapore's intellectual elite it is VERY unfashionable. Which is a problem in terms of academic autonomy. A number of years ago a lecturer at the NUS dared to suggest that the government was to closely aligned with the judiciary in Singapore. He was sentenced to 2 years in his absence. Google search- Christopher Lingle.

Argueing for human rights in Singapore is a world away from the latest Gucci handbag.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Lingle appears to be the preferred tool of choice to berate Singapore for its lack of human rights, partisan judiciary, lack of press freedom, authoritarianism, rising obesity and myopia problems and all other national ills.

How many times has the academic been mentioned in cliched criticisms of the small city-state?

Of course when that doesn't work there are always the few opposition politicians critics can count on- never mind their self-created fiascos like submitting wrong figures to the parliament, going on hunger strikes, or admonishing the Prime Minister for billion-dollar loans that were never made.

It's good for cyber-hits and newspaper circulation figures- these self-righteous and pompous harangues.

By the way, how come no one mentioned Dr. Lingle was allowed out of the country on humanitarian grounds (he had a gravely-ill father to visit in the US but promised to return)?

Foreigners should be fed a constant diet of Singaporean stereotypes- to reinforce their impressions of robotic, unfeeling and ignorant Singaporeans. Even good things should be cast in damaging aspersions- the 'clinical efficiency' of Singapore, its 'fanatic obsession with cleanliness, and the 'timid and subservient citizen'. It is only in Singapore that efficiency, hygiene and being law-abiding are 'bad' traits (never mind the Swiss or Japanese).

People who reside outside Singapore must NOT learn that more than 5000 foreign publications - are also available besides the 10 local dallies. It must NOT be pointed out to them that free-to-air channels compete with international news channels, many of which have their regional headquarters and bureaus here- CNN, BBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Reuters. Let's not forget the foreign non-English language channels which provide news too- Phoenix TV, Star, TVBS etc.

And certainly foreigners must not find out bilingual Singaporeans from this affluent country are well-travelled, educated and plugged into the rest of the world with one of the world's highest internet penetration rates.

No one in their right minds- not even the average Singaporean will claim that Singapore is an island utopia. They know how their country compares with the rest of the world (best port, airport, airline 2nd competitive global economy, best global business city, least corrupt government in Asia (and ranked 5th least corrupt in the world), one of the least corrupt judiciary in the world (a point critics conveniently ignore)etc etc.

But they are also aware of the the less than savoury rankings in press freedom, per capita death penalty executions, Freedom House rankings of political and civil freedoms etc. In fact many have expressed dismay and unhappiness with government policies and have taken these to the press- procreation and babies, casinos, rising living expenses, ministerial salaries, demands for greater liberalization and participation etc etc. These are common topics on SGForums, Singapore Review as well.

The ST may be pro-government and sees itself in a nation-building role(as it publicly admits) but to deny that it never criticizes the government is plainly false. Mr. McDermott may want to do an online search on Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow, a retired permanent secretary, and his series of articles critical of the Singapore government published in the ST for eg.

Why people insist on painting an exaggerated picture of oppression and Third-World ills online and in the media is anyone's guess. (or perhaps I already answered this question earlier?)

Of course, deeds speak louder than words. The irony is that despite these self-righteous denouncements, foreigners continue to flow into Singapore unabated. Social tensions have risen over these 'foreign talent', "lost jobs", assimilation, and PR/citizenship issues. Indeed, for every Singaporean who leaves Singapore, there are 7-8 foreigners waiting for that immigration stamp to settle/work here. But like it or not, it IS for the good of this country and its economy.

However, it does no harm to continue to intensify the myth that the majority of Singaporeans are all up in arms against the government, all packed and ready to migrate. Educated and mobile professionals seeking "greener pastures" and a change of environment is NOT solely a Singaporean phenomenon. (In fact the Singaporean government is having trouble encouraging even MORE Singaporean entrepreneurs and professionals to venture abroad- out of the comfort of home.)

Many expatriates have chosen to work abroad (like Mr. McDermott himself. In fact, more than 1 million Australian professionals have done this. Cliched as it may sound, with globalization, open borders, rising education and affluence, migration and mobility will increase.

Singaporeans have their usual complaints and grumbles like any other nationality- but I am sure no one will see things in black and white, right and wrong-shades of grey always exist. Unless one has a clear intention to mislead, doing so will do no one any favours.

And that's my mild rant for the day. Lunch hour is almost up. *hehe*

calm one said...

Uhh... I'm not the long anonymous commenter, just in case anyone is wondering, although I mostly agree with it. Mostly.

Anyway, it would arrogant to assume that the intellectual elite is monopolised or concentrated in academia, at least for sg.

As for poor Lingle, how is he relevant? That is so 1990s. Refer back to my last comment: "the government has loosened it's grip on the local press". We're talking 21st century now.

lifeatngeeann.blogspot.com

calm one said...

Mc Dermott, you're on the Straits Times! (But I guess you know that already.)

More 'nameless' bloggers airing political views (registration required). I didn't realise you're no more in sg.

Here's the bit devoted to you:

==
Most bloggers who talk about Singapore politics hide behind the cloak of anonymity, like 'Xeno Boy' who does not list an e-mail address.

One who revealed his identity recently was Irishman Steven McDermott, 33, who is behind 'Singabloodypore'.

'There is a perception that getting involved in politics will get you into trouble,' he said, adding that he revealed himself only after he left Singapore last month.
==

But I'm surprised they even mentioned Xeno Boy. The blog is so sad I don't know to laugh or cry.

Anonymous said...

While i agree with the unsigned posting, i must also say i concur with you on certains points like the like of freedom of speech, in both theory and reality.

Apart from that i must add that the name of your very blog implies a certain distaste for singapore, if it is so, i hope to enlighten you to the fact that Singapore and the Gov is very distinct. While they are every much 1 and the same in the minds of many, people fail to realise that Singapore belong not to PAP but to its people.

Secondly i'd like to clarify that i strongly feel that singapore's cultural mix is unique, and it is not only the mix but also the level of assimilation. The only cities that i can say boast of a better level or comparable level of enthic and religious diversity is london, new york ( i can't comment on los angeles as i've never been there). In the Uk and Europe where i've primary based my travels, i find the level of exposure to the outside world and ethinic diversity fearfully low and in a good many places in the UK, to the point surpassing xenophobic.

While i do agree that freedom of speech leaves much to be desired in Singapore, i'm deeply disappointed that a vistor of 3 years would leave Singapore expousing the same arguments that the western media have been parroting time after time. I'd wish you could stay a few more years, so as to better present a better balanced critique on Singapore. (perhaps it the effect of media on the human sub-concious?)

I'm not about to ramble further in fear of bursting your bubble of a world.
Ivan - ivanandxia.com

soci said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
soci said...

Hello Ivan

thanks for the comment.

I was in Singapore for almost 6 years. Now you can say that that isn't long enough either.

And you are entitled to your opinion like everyone else. However the main point of my arguement is that I can find no justification for the continued suppression of freedom of speech in Singapore. I also feel that there is no need for such suppression as Singapore offers a lot for its people. So why the low score from Reporters Without Borders?

And the name Singabloodypore comes from a movie entitled "Wish You Were Here". It was the first time in my life that I had ever heard of Singapore.

I always get fellow netizens taking offence at the name of the blog but the death penalty, lack of free speech, media control, high earnings of MPs , banning of trade unions, Internal Security Act, imprisonment without trial, claims of nepotism, 5 and half day week, artifically inflated HDB prices, gerrymandering, hidden poverty, homelessness, lack of sex discrimination laws, Economic considerations versus human rights, never seem to raise an eyelid. Why is that?

I lived in Singapore, and i immensely enjoyed my time there. I was however BORED by the lack of interest in politics and democracy, that is why I started this blog, for my own amusement.

My bubble was burst long ago. As Hannah Arendt commented, in order to dominate a group or society, it is necessary that the leaders maintai a dominant world idea. With the dawn of the internet, and various other technologies entiring the living room, that dominant world view can no longer be maintained. When those of us who once felt secure in the world see other perspectives, it can result in ontological insecurity and have the individual fleeing back into their bird cage, even though the door remains open.

Some prefer to remain (economically)comfortably numb.

Maybe Singapore is merely in the middle of political apathy like many other counrties. Political parties no longer look to a glorious future of happiness and security. The ideologies are no longer believable, never where, and yet Singapore is still unique, different and built on Asian confucian principles.

Anonymous said...

no worries. You list far to many 'wrongs' of Sg for me to rebut, and yeah i do agree that that they do or in some cases do seem to exist. I used to argue vehemently against all that you have listed, but as i mixed around with an international group, i've found many supporters of the policies that Sg adopt and of course there were many detractors of the policies as well. Whilst perhaps (to me) certain policies are justified or excusable, what worries me is not individual elements of the list you laid out. What i feel should be a great cause of concern is the image that the entire list generates as a whole. There is no quick-fix solution, no co-relation to political apathy, what we need in Sg is a mature society. We don't need people rising up asking for the government to be toppled, or just mere criticisms. We need people who want and will make change. Till perhaps i (or the general public) see so, i'm in favor of restricting the citizens. Too often you see a singaporean gripe and moan the whole day, and not offer a solution, or an alternative view point. That is being a kid, and no kid deserves to be able to demand change.
I'm aware that that perhaps those that want to make a difference are unable to do so due to restrictions. But why not join the ruling party. Make a difference from within. It's the same thing in the US, where aspiring politicians are 'forced' to jon 1 of the 2 dominant party and try to realise their visions via the party dominance.
I'm not pro PAP, nor am i anti-gov. My stand is that for a better singapore, we as its citizens need to grow up and offer solutions instead of gripes.
-ivan

soci said...

Hi Ivan
surely having the option of alternative parties is a choice. The individual does have a limited choice, but not as limited as an individual in Singapore. There are many other parties in America, although their influence is a lot less than the big two.

In Singapore the idea of joining the PAP to change it from within, is a good idea, and I feel that they are more open to criticism than a decade ago.

As for not criticising, merely giving solutions, its nice in principle, but if we all sit around the table agreeing with each other, who will point to a problem?

I feel that criticism is good even it you don't offer a solution and the PAP seem to be slowly embracing freedom of speech and quiet dissent. When you have a highly educated population, they like to feel that their opinions are at least being listened to. Not that you need to be 'educated' to have an a valid opinion.

Anonymous said...

Oh puh lease. I completely agree with McDermott. These apologists for the perceived ills of Singapore simply don't know what they're missing. It's all well and good when they're fed a daily diet of ST editorials with the subtext "let's be thankful for the good in Singapore and not be to hung up about the bad" but really, it blunts your critical faculties to such an extent that you're not even aware of it. Or if you are, you probably think it's no big deal. But it is a big deal. Because the lack of criticism and a critical attitude is so ingrained in the societal fabric - the societal zeitgeist (as it were)- as to be difficult for people to even be alive to its invidious consequences. It is one of the reasons why Singapore always seems so cultureless and derivative - plastic; a vaguely dull patina of malaise despite the surface dynamism.

He who is a frog in the well remains content: for what he is unaware of cannot challenge him. This insularity can only be bad. Singapore prides itself on being a globalized city; but really, how globalized is it? The mindset of most people remains parochial, insular. The (self) muzzling of the press stifles, in almost imperceptible ways, the flow of information. Which in turns shapes climates, cultures and mindsets.

I'm lucky to be living overseas, and I ought to say that you don't know what freedom is till you know it. The ersatz 'press freedom' in Singapore is an unacknowledged travesty only because one hasn't experienced better.

And no, I'm not criticizing because it's faux-intellectual "hip", or "progressive", or contrarian to do so. So the smart alecks can save it.

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