|Singapore's leaders are caught on the horns of a dilemma. They have
acknowledged that the city-state's pliant, if prosperous, population needs
to become more creative in order to cope with changes brought about by
Singapore's declining manufacturing base. With the economy shrinking for
the first time since 1985, the need for innovation is greater than ever.
But harsh libel laws, official secrecy, de-facto censorship of the press,
and decades of virtual one-party rule have made obedience, not creativity,
the norm and authoritarianism a tough habit to break.
Singapore's leaders want their tiny nation to become the Silicon Valley of
Southeast Asia. But they must first reconcile this desire with a staid and
repressive media climate. The press remains among the most timid in Asia,
especially in its coverage of domestic political affairs. Singapore has only
three Internet services and one cable television service, all linked to the
government. Singapore Press Holdings, a state-run company, controls all the
newspapers. Singapore International Media PTE Ltd., another government-linked
entity, holds a virtual monopoly on broadcasting.
In February, the government announced that its various censorship offices
would be centralized in a new Films and Publications Department (FPD) under
the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA). The new office was promoted
as an efficient "one-stop center" for importers of everything from foreign
newspapers and magazines to video tapes, films and computer graphics. The
parliament also approved legislation this year amending censorship regulations
to ban political parties from making videos or television advertisements
and to expand censorship provisions to include new technologies such as compact
discs, digital video discs, and electronic mail. Information Minister George
Yeo offered cold comfort when he said it was not his intention to snoop into
the private lives of people through their e-mail. "It is not our objective
to increase the level of censorship in Singapore. Just maintaining the existing
level of censorship is difficult enough," he said.