Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Singapore government for putting pressure on on the Far Eastern Economic Review and four other foreign publications to censor themselves.
“The authorities are looking for effective ways, including fear of prosecution and heavy fines, to intimidate these publications into censoring themselves,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “This is the latest threat against the foreign media, which are the only means of reporting independently on political and economic events in the country since the local press is controlled by the government.”
The information, communications and arts ministry gave the monthly Far Eastern Economic Review until 11 September to comply with section 23 of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. The magazine has been registered as a foreign publication since it criticised the government’s domestic policy in 1987 but had an exemption from some legal requirements which has now been cancelled. It must have a legal representative in the country by the ministry’s deadline and pay a deposit of 200,000 Singapore dollars (100,000 euros). For other foreign publications, the International Herald Tribune, Time magazine, the Financial Times and Newsweek, have been ordered to do the same when their licences come up for renewal.
This crackdown follows an interview in the Far Eastern Economic Review with opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who the magazine called a national “martyr” because of the many lawsuits against him.
The ministry said the press law “serves to reinforce the government’s consistent position that it is a privilege, and not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore” and that foreign media should simply “observe the local scene and not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore.”
The Far Eastern Economic Review, the International Herald Tribune, the Asian Wall Street Journal and The Economist were heavily fined in 2004 after they ran articles considered “hostile” or “libellous” by the government. As well as paying a fine of 200,000 euros, The Economist had to apologise for an article criticising the appointment of the prime minister’s wife as head of a large financial institution.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 worldwide press freedom index.