Singapore Laws Make Life Tough for Journalists

By Swaffield, Bruce C. | The Quill, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Singapore Laws Make Life Tough for Journalists


Swaffield, Bruce C., The Quill


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The smallest country in Southeast Asia is creating some of the largest difficulties for journalists. Since the Republic of Singapore passed the Media Development Authority Act in 2002, the national and international media have been under intense pressure.

The spirit of the law grants freedom of the press to all individuals and agencies, but the letter of the law enforces strict guidelines for reporters. To compound matters, the act was revised and strengthened in 2003.

"The government threatens journalists, foreign media and opposition with defamation suits seeking dizzying amounts in damages," according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "The government uses around a score of draconian laws, particularly those on the granting of licences for publications, on films, religious and political Web site managers and on national security, to stifle any criticism."

Last year, for example, film producer Martyn see was threatened by the government when he attempted to distribute his documentary about a controversial figure in national politics.

"The censoring of Martyn see's documentary film 'Singapore Rebel,' dealing with Singapore's opposition leader, Ghee Soon Juan, raised major local and international criticism of the city-state's restrictive policies," a report by the International Press Institute said.

"In March (2005), the Board of Film Censors required see to pull his film from the annual Singapore Film Festival. If he failed to do so, see would face jail time and a fine of about $60,000. At the same time, the Board also warned the Festival's organizers not to show the film."

Increasingly, journalists throughout Singapore are kept from publishing controversial or critical information because of stiff penalties under the MDA Act. The government, however, states the legislation is merely "to encourage, promote and facilitate the development of the media industries in Singapore." More details on the act may be found by clicking on "Development and Policies" at the government Web site www.mda.gov.sg.

State of the media

* "Reporters Without Borders condemned an immediate ban on the distribution and sale in Singapore of the Far Eastern Economic Review, which has been imposed by the information minister under article 23 of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. The ban was imposed as a result of a lawsuit brought against the Hong Kong-based magazine by Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew." (www.rsf.org; Oct. 2, 2006)

* A foreign reporter following a trial in Singapore was detained trying to re-enter the country Sept. 24, The Epoch Times reported. "The newspaper ... said its reporter, Jaya Gibson, was to be deported Sept. …

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