Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 23
Political Environment: 24
Economic Environment: 19
Total Score: 66
Media freedom in Singapore is constrained to such a degree that the vast majority of journalists practice self-censorship rather than risk being charged with defamation or breaking the country’s criminal laws on permissible speech. The constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 14 but permits restrictions on these rights. Legal constraints include strict censorship laws; the Newspaper and PrintingPresses Act, which allows authorities to restrict the circulation of any foreign periodical for publishing news that interferes in domestic politics; and the Internal Security Act (ISA). Although not implemented in recent years, the ISA gives government powers to restrict publications that incite violence, arouse racial or religious tension, or threaten national interest, national security, or public order. Given the government’s record of successfully suing critics under harsh criminal defamation laws, journalists most often refrain from publishing critical stories about corruption or nepotism. The Economist agreed to pay a fine of more than US $200,000 in September in order to avoid a lawsuit over an article it had published that charged a government-linked investment company with lacking transparency.
The government has mastered the art of “calibrated coercion,” in the words of a veteran Singapore journalist. The vast majority of print and broadcast media outlets, as well as Internet service providers and cable television services, are either owned or controlled by the state or by companies with close ties to the ruling party. Moreover, annual licensing requirements cause media outlets to limit or moderate their criticism of the government. The primary development on the media scene in 2004 was the mega merger between two giants—Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes 14 paid newspapers and one free paper in four official languages, including the flagship Straits Times, and Media Corp TV Holdings, which operates five television stations, one free newspaper, and Media Corp Studios. The merger was agreed upon to stop four years of cutthroat competition, ending any semblance of competition and diversity in the Singapore mass media, which virtually without exception supports the government line. International newspapers and magazines are available, although authorities have at times banned or censored foreign publications that carry articles the government found offensive. The circulations of some Western-owned publications are “gazetted,” or limited.
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The criteria: This study is based on universal criteria. The starting point is the smallest, most universal unit of concern: the individual. We recognize cultural differences, diverse national interests, and varying levels of economic development. Yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights instructs: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers (Article 19). The operative word for this survey is everyone. All states, from the most democratic to the most authoritarian, are committed to this doctrine through the United Nations system. To deny that doctrine is to deny the universality of information freedom—a basic human right. We recognize that cultural distinctions or economic underdevelopment may limit the volume of news flows within a country, but these and other arguments are not acceptable explanations for outright centralized control of the content of news and information. Some poor countries allow for the exchange of diverse views, while some developed countries restrict content diversity. We seek to recognize press freedom wherever it exists, in poor and rich countries, as well as in countries of various ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
This survey does not assess the degree to which the press in any country serves responsibly, reflecting a high ethical standard. The issue of “press responsibility” is often raised to defend governmental control of the press. Indeed, a truly irresponsible press does a disserviceto its public and diminishes its own credibility. A governmental effort to rein in the press on the pretext of making the press “responsible” has far worse results, in most cases. This issue is reflected in the degree of freedom in the flow of information as assessed in the survey.
Our sources: Our data come from correspondents overseas, staff travel, international visitors, the findings of human rights and press freedom organizations, specialists in geographic and geopolitical areas, the reports of governments and multilateral bodies, and a variety of domestic and international news media.
Full article on Methodology available here.