The Life of Media in an Empowered Singapore

While Singaporean politics is dominating by the governing People’s Action Party (PAP). The country is undergoing a complex, if partial, the transition towards greater democratisation. Singapore appears well served by a large number of newspapers and broadcast television channels. There are at least 21 local newspapers, including titles such as the Straits Times (English), BeritaHarian (Malay), LianheZaobao (Chinese), and Tamil Murasu (Tamil). In addition, there are ten broadcast television channels. However, the government exercises far-reaching control of the media. Following a series of mergers and closures from the 1980s onwards. All major newspapers in Singapore are owned by Media Corporation of Singapore (MediaCorp). Is an organisation own by the government investment company, and by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which has close government ties.

Media Market

The same applies to broadcast, although cable television provides some foreign news channels. Media content tends to be government-focus with little attention giving to political opponents (Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) 2000). In 2000, the media market underwent slight deregulation in an attempt to introduce limited forms of competition. For example, SPH is granting a license for two television stations and set up SPH Media Works, and MediaCorp Press Pty Ltd is granting a license for a newspaper to compete with SPH and begin publishing the free afternoon tabloid Today.

Media Monopoly

However, more recent developments suggest a shift back towards an enforced media monopoly. For example, the introduction of controlled competition resulted in financial losses for both SPH and MediaCorp, and SPH signed an agreement with MediaCorp to merge their TV and free newspaper operations in an attempt to avoid losses and increase shareholder value. Government influence over media appears to be relating to three critical dimensions, namely, legal regulation, the close relationship between the government, media ownership and management, and the threat of legal action. A striking feature of the government’s approach is that the media is considering to be an aid to the government in the process of nation-building. Rather than freedom of the press for the government, the approach in Singapore is ‘freedom of government from the presses.

PAP won

The expectation is for the media to conform to an agenda determined by the government. Meaning much of the mainstream media uncritically informs the public of government messages. Davies (in the year of 1999) argues the government’s desire to control the media can trace to 1959. When the PAP won the Singapore elections after a campaign in which it spent considerable energy criticising the media. Particularly the Straits Times—for maligning their party. The government justifies its approach to the media as being a product of the historical transition from British rule to independence. Repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to restrict media that it considers has crossed the line in reporting on ‘sensitive’ issues.


This approach to the media has resulted in significant political consequences, including ‘creating a culture of self-censorship among media practitioners who, in their role as gatekeepers of information to the public, manage and control the coverage opposition parties receives’ (claimed Lee &Willnat in 2006). There is extensive legislation regulating the media in Singapore, including the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act 2002 Rev (NPPA). A range of other media-related legislation, common law, and internal security legislation. Such legislation includes the Undesirable Publications Act 1998 Rev, the Societies Act 1985 Rev, and the Sedition Act 1985 Rev. Crucially, the government has been preparing to use the law to challenge the media. Government use of legislation such as the Official Secrets Act 1985 Rev to restrict information flows. And the Internal Security Act 1985 Rev to detain critics has combined to restrict media speech.

Chilling Effect

The threat of both civil and criminal defamation litigation appears to be a major cause of concern for journalists and commentators in Singapore. Raising the possibility of self-censorship through a chilling effect. The term ‘chilling effect’ is used in legal and media sociology literature to capture the process through which media does not publish stories about certain organisations or individuals for fear of being sued, resulting in damage to the quality of public debate about political and public interest issues (Dent & Kenyon 2004; Kenyon 2006).

As in Malaysia, it is not only through overt use of legislation that the government seeks to influence media. In the context of print media, control of the press is base crucially on processes of ‘political co-optation’ and ‘auto-regulation’. Political cooptation ‘aims to win over formidable and outspoken critics by roping them into the “inner circle” of political management’, while auto-regulation ‘seeks to regulate and police criticisms by ensuring that they are articulated via government mediated channels or are pre-emptively quashed even before they are raised’ (Lee &Willnat, 2006). Moving from domestic to foreign media, there is substantial access to foreign media in Singapore, including Dow Jones and Reuters.

Civil Society

Nevertheless, foreign media outlets and foreign journalists are closely regulating in Singapore. All foreign news publications which report political matters in the region must register with the Singapore government and are require lodging a bond. The government may and does limit the circulation of foreign print publications. While foreign broadcasters may be ‘gazette’ (or restrict) if they comment on domestic matters. In addition, foreign publications critical of the Singapore government are often threatening with defamation suits.

In turning to civil society organisations in Singapore. It is notable that ‘Malaysia has an appreciably broader political society and thicker civil society than Singapore’ (George, 2005). There are no equivalents to Aliran in Singapore, while prior to the emergence of the internet, there were almost no independent political publications. As a result, the pre-internet media market in Singapore was influenced by civil society organisations to a much lesser extent than in Malaysia central to these transformations, in both Singapore and Malaysia. Is the emergence of digital media technologies, and it is to new media that we now turn.

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