Freedom of Speech: The constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of expression but permits official restrictions on these rights, and in practice the government significantly restricted freedom of speech and of the press with regard to criticism of the government. Government intimidation and pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among many journalists; however, there was increased debate in newspapers and on the Internet on many public issues such as the institution of a minimum wage, public transportation, immigration policy, salaries of elected officials, and the role of the president. The government-linked media extensively covered opposition parties and candidates.
Citizens do not need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside the hearing or view of nonparticipants, unless the topic refers to race or religion. During the 2011 parliamentary elections, opposition parties held rallies as often as the ruling party.
The government effectively restricted the ability to speak or demonstrate freely in public to a single location called Speakers’ Corner, which is located in a public park. Prospective speakers must be citizens and show their identification cards. Events need not be registered in advance with the police but must be preregistered online with the government. While it was not necessary to declare speech topics in advance, regulations governing the Speakers’ Corner state that “the speech should not be religious in nature and should not have the potential to cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups.” Subject to obtaining a police permit, permanent residents and foreigners may also speak or participate in or organize activities at the Speakers’ Corner.
On January 20, the High Court rejected appeals by Singapore Democratic Party Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan and party supporter Yap Keng Ho against convictions for speaking in public without a permit on four occasions. The court decided that because Chee did not apply for a license, there was no decision for the court to review. Chee was fined S$5,000 ($4,167) on each of the four charges against him, while Yap was fined S$2,000 ($1,667) on each of the four charges. Both men served jail time in default of paying their fines.
Freedom of Press: Under the ISA the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or might threaten national interests, national security, or public order. The ISA has not been invoked against political opponents of the government since 1998.
Government leaders urged that news media support the goals of the elected leadership and help maintain social and religious harmony. In addition to strict defamation and press laws, the government’s demonstrated willingness to respond vigorously to what it considered personal attacks on officials led journalists and editors to moderate or limit what was published.
The government strongly influenced both the print and electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages--English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. MediaCorp was wholly owned by a government investment company. SPH was a private holding company with close ties to the government; the government must approve (and can remove) the holders of SPH management shares who have the power to appoint or dismiss all directors or staff. As a result, while newspapers printed a large and diverse selection of articles from domestic and foreign sources, their editorials, coverage of domestic events, and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected government policies and the opinions of government leaders.
Columnists’ opinions and letters to the editor expressed a moderate range of opinions on public issues.
Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC World Service, was completely independent of the government. Some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming could be received, but satellite dishes were banned, with few exceptions. Cable subscribers had access to numerous foreign television news channels and many entertainment channels. International news channels are not censored but entertainment programs are censored to remove coarse language, representations of homosexuality, and explicit sexual content.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Media Development Authority (MDA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Arts (MICA), continued to regulate heavily broadcast and print media, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Banned publications consisted primarily of sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. Both the MDA and MICA developed censorship standards with the help of a citizen advisory panel. The ISA, the UPA, and the Films Act allow the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The MDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for broadcasting what it believes to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.
A substantial number of foreign media operations were located within the country, and a wide range of international magazines and newspapers could be purchased uncensored. However, under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), the government may limit the circulation of foreign publications that it determines interfere with domestic politics. The NPPA requires foreign publications that report on politics and current events in Southeast Asia, with circulation of 300 or more copies per issue, to register, post a S$200,000 (approximately $153,000) bond, and name a person in the country to accept legal service. The requirements for offshore newspapers apply to nine foreign newspapers, of which, three are exempted.
The government may limit (or “gazette”) the circulation of publications. The government also may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and the UPA. The Broadcasting Act empowers the minister for information, communication, and the arts to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics. Once gazetted, a broadcaster can be required to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming, and a broadcaster may be fined up to S$100,000 (approximately $76,500) for failing to comply.
Libel Laws/National Security: In past years critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism and intimidate opposition politicians and the press. Conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a prison sentence of up to two years, a fine, or both. There were no such defamation cases during the year.
The attorney general may bring charges for contempt of court, and he used this power during the year to charge at least one author who published criticisms of the judiciary.
On May 27, the Singapore Court of Appeal dismissed freelance journalist and author Alan Shadrake’s appeal against his conviction for contempt of court. The author of the antideath penalty book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock was sentenced to six weeks in jail and a fine of S$20,000 ($15,300). Shadrake was immediately deported following the completion of his jail term in July.