An alternative way to curtail press freedom
Singapore has been coloured black on the World Press Freedom Index map since 2020, meaning the situation there is now is classified as “very bad”. Despite the “Switzerland of the East” label often used in government propaganda, the city-state does not fall far short of China when it comes to suppressing media freedom. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government is always quick to sue critical journalists, apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country. The Media Development Authority has the power to censor all forms of journalistic content. Defamation suits are common and may sometimes be accompanied by a sedition charge that is punishable by up to 21 years in prison. The political control is coupled with an economic straitjacket. Two business groups control all of Singapore’s print and broadcast media. One, MediaCorp, is owned by a state investment company. The other, Singapore Press Holdings, is supposedly privately-owned but the government appoints those who run it. As a result, self-censorship is widespread, including within the alternative independent media, which are intimidated by the judicial and economic pressure. The red lines imposed by the authorities, known by Singapore’s journalists as “OB markers” (for out-of-bounds markers), apply to an ever-wider range of issues and public figures. The authorities have also started sending journalists emails threatening them with up to 20 years in prison if they don’t remove annoying articles and fall into line. Finally, the Orwellian provisions of the “anti-fake news” law adopted in 2019 forces all media outlets and digital platforms to post “corrections” to any content that the government may arbitrarily deem to be “incorrect”. This censorship bureau 2.0 has enabled the government to impose its own version on a range of subjects including the death penalty, the salary paid to the prime minister’s wife, and its handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
158 in 2020
55.23 in 2020