1 Sep 2006

Singapore's media controls clash with regional aims

Fri Sep 1, 2006
(Page 1 of 3)

By Sara Webb
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A month before Singapore goes under the international spotlight as the venue of a major International Monetary Fund conference, the government flexed its muscles to remind the media of its controls on the press.

On August 3, it ordered five foreign publications -- the Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, Newsweek, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune (IHT) -- to post bonds of S$200,000 and appoint representatives in Singapore.

It was a sharp reminder of hefty damages paid in the past by media groups such as the Economist, IHT and Bloomberg to Singapore's leaders. The bonds would serve as security in any future government lawsuit for alleged defamation.

The moves highlighted the contradiction between Singapore's desire to become Asia's leading business center and its determination to maintain the tight controls that have given the country decades of stability in a turbulent region.

But such steps -- which press freedom groups see as intimidation -- did not go unnoticed in the business world, where investors depend on warts-and-all coverage of economics, politics and business in the countries in which they invest.

Mark Mobius, a fund manager at Templeton, declined to comment specifically on Singapore, where his firm has an office. But he said the general rule of thumb is that investors value a free press in countries where they put their money.

"In general, if there is a climate of fear or intimidation, it's a drag on investments," said Mobius, who oversees about $20 billion invested in various emerging economies.

Many analysts say they prefer not to comment directly on Singaporean issues because of the risk of legal action, given that government leaders have successfully sued opposition politicians and the foreign media in Singapore's courts.


Singapore is seeking to shift from manufacturing to services such as higher education, the media and finance to boost its international profile as it competes with Hong Kong as a base for foreign investment in the region.

Analysts say strict media laws might hamper this effort.
Continued ...


Anonymous said...

you can have a free flow of apolitical commercial information, domestic and international, while information affecting partisan politics and government control is carefully managed; the two seldom clash

soci said...

With Temasek and other GLCs so closely affiliated with the PAP where can you draw the line between apolitical commercial info. and political/government control?

Anonymous said...

take an example, is news about Singtel/Lee Hsien Yang apolitical commercial information? when Singtel does a share buyback/gives dividend, does PAP get more votes?

so far, I think the line can be drawn most of the time; however, statements like "ho ching got her job because of nepotism" would do doubt be a different kettle of fish, and that's how Bloomberg got into trouble

Matilah_Singapura said...

The (free) market punishes irrationality and "wrong choices". The signal it sends is a loss in the value of an investment.

"Capital has no country", this is especially true these days. Investors have a huge choice where to put their funds, and they tend to get jittery when freedom of infomation is limited.

For e.g. if a country does not have a free press, the govt (and its business mates) could "cover up" issues in the media, or LIE, thereby giving itself and its connected buisness pals an "advantage" over foreign investors.

I'll say it again: the foreign — especially the US press — have grounds to take the S'pore govt to task over blatant PROTECTIONISM. By imposing a bond, the sg.gov has created a barrier to entry which favours SPH — a GLC.