More than a year after coming to power, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of the country’s strong man, Lee Kuan Yew, had not begun any liberalisation of the media. Despite statements in support of an “open” society, the ruling party still does not brook any criticism.
Questioned by the international press about Singapore’s position in the 2005 World Press Freedom Index (140th out of 167), senior minister Goh Chok Tong called it a “subjective measure computed through the prism of western liberals”. He also defended the Singapore model for controlling the media, saying that a press that was too free was “not necessarily good for the entire country”.
Relatively independent for regional and international news, when it comes to domestic politics Singapore’s press, still controlled by associates of Lee Kuan Yew, is in the grip of a rigorous self-censorship. The government threatens journalists, foreign media and opposition with defamation suits seeking dizzying amounts in damages.
The government uses around a score of draconian laws, particularly those on the granting of licences for publications, on films, religious and political website managers and on national security, to stifle any criticism.
Freelance film-maker Martyn See was accused of breaking the law on films by putting out a “partisan” documentary, “Singapore Rebel”, a portrait of an opposition figure Chee Soon Juan. In August police seized all copies of the film and the videotapes on which it was recorded. The film puts See at risk of a penalty of up to two years in prison or a fine of almost 500,000 euros.
In 2005, Hong Kong-based financial website FinanceAsia.com, apologised and agreed to pay compensation after the authorities threatened a lawsuit against it over an article it posted on a Singaporean investment company with links to the government.