8 Aug 2006

Singapore Criticised for Changing Regulations on Foreign News Media

From the Voice of America
By Barry Newhouse
07 August 2006

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Media rights advocates are criticizing the Singapore government's recent decision to close what it described as a loophole in its restrictive media laws. Several foreign news organizations now face more stringent controls.

Singapore officials say five publications, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, Newsweek and Time magazines, must follow the same rules as other foreign publications, if they want to continue publishing in the country by appointing a legal representative in Singapore, and paying a deposit of about $126,000.

In a statement e-mailed to VOA, the press secretary to Singapore's minister for information, communications and the arts said officials revoked the five publications' exemptions to the rule as part of a policy review.

Foreign publications in Singapore are subject to the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. The press secretary wrote that the law reinforces the government's position that it is "a privilege, not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore."

The media group Reporters Without Borders has ranked Singapore a low 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 worldwide press freedom index. It said the loophole closure follows the Far Eastern Economic Review's recent interview with government critic and opposition leader Chee Soon Juan.

Senior editor at the Thai daily newspaper The Nation, Kavi Chongkittavorn, agrees that the closure is meant to send a message to the media.

"I think the Singaporean government wants to send a strong message that when a foreign publication wants to write about Singapore, and [is] on sale in Singapore, it's the Singapore government that makes the rules, not the foreign publication," said Kavi.

Roby Alampay of the Southeast Asia Press Alliance says Singapore is also signaling that it will not tolerate protests or reports on protests during the forthcoming summit of the International Monetary Fund, to be held in Singapore in September.

Cherian George, a professor of communication at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, says the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act gives the government broad powers, although it has used those powers selectively.

"The law is written in rather sweeping terms, so a newspaper can be deemed to be interfering in domestic politics," he said. "In practice, though, the government has used this legislation in cases where publications have not given it the unedited right of reply."

News organizations that criticize Singapore's government have faced tough penalties. The government is renowned for initiating lawsuits and blocking advertising or circulation to control coverage of the city-state. In recent years, the International Herald Tribune and Far Eastern Economic Review have had their circulation cut, or paid steep fines after losing lawsuits in Singapore.


ycbi said...

Do you know something that Crikey's readers should know? You can provide information anonymously here or email us at offtherecord@crikey.com.au

Dear Squatters,

There are few more important issues in a democracy than media ownership, especially when a government decides to hand even more of it to a tiny cabal of powerful moguls. But don't expect a full and open debate about the issue in the media – too many journalists are cowed by their owners to stand up and be counted in public.

Yesterday in Crikey we reported on a Morgan Poll of 374 journalists which reveals that more than 80% believe the federal government's proposed new media laws will have a negative impact on the integrity of reporting and 85% say the reforms will reduce diversity. Just as alarmingly:

53% of the journalists surveyed say they are unable to be critical of the media organisation they work for.

38% say they have been instructed to comply with the commercial position of their owner.

32% say they feel obliged to take into account the political views of their proprietor when writing stories.

63% say Australian media companies have "too much influence" in deciding how Australians vote.

71% say media owners have too much influence in determining the political agenda.

These are deeply worrying – and demonstrably important – findings. Yet today they were almost totally ignored by the Australian media machine (unless you count two snippets in the Hobart Mercury and the Townsville Bulletin as comprehensive coverage). For apposite comments, here are the (anonymous) views of some of the respondents to the Morgan journalists poll:

“Fourteen years with News Ltd proved constantly that there is a regime of fear. For survival you simply don't write anything critical of News Ltd's interests.”

“Fairfax are paranoid about their own reporters writing about them. There are always complaints from management if they see some even slightly negative coverage of Fairfax.”

“As I'm in a junior journalist role I can't really be critical of anything which goes on in the workplace. Some of my producers prefer a slant on stories which involve American leaders.”

As the debate about increasing Australia's concentration of media ownership reaches it crescendo, the conspiracy of silence is deafening.

To subscribe, click here.

--- The Crikey Team

Matilah_Singapura said...

I'm so pleased the media ownership laws are changing in Australia.

Anything which increases private ownership in Oz is a good thing. Anything to get the bludgers back to work is a bloody good thing.

We pay far too much in taxes only to see it wasted by the collectivist and statist wankers.

Anonymous said...

The timing of the move to tighten controls on foreign media is canny. It is clearly a pre-emptive step to limit the independence of reporting on the authoritarian handling of the upcoming World Bank/IMF meeting. The authorities are anticipating severe fallout from the event.

Anonymous said...

no the bank delegates are not stupid singapore bum boys. they will spot all the blind idiotic bull shit.