Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Singapore
As of December 31, 1998

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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.

| Attacks on the Press in 1998 |