To mark World Press Freedom Day 2008, a group of Singaporean independent activists held a demonstration outside the Singapore Press Holdings’ News Centre building on May 3.

Below is the group’s message explaining the purpose of their demonstration.

Today is World Press Freedom Day: an opportunity to reflect upon the principles of press freedom. Press freedom must be championed and protected as it comprises the fundamental Freedom of Expression (Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). UNESCO’s 2008 themes for this day are Access to Information and Empowerment.

In resonance with this, we as independent activists marked World Press Freedom Day 2008 this morning, with a series of messages to share our thoughts on the state of press freedom in Singapore.

It’s no big secret that Singapore, though proudly claiming to be a ‘First-World’ country, is ranked 141 out of 167 in 2007’s World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders). 142 is Afghanistan. For the same year, Singapore is ranked 157 out of 195 countries in the Freedom of the Press World Ranking (Freedom House). 158 is Iraq.

Freedom House clearly establishes Singapore’s status as “Not free”. Not free. Shackled. Clipped. Censored? A common criterion to these indices is an evaluation of the level of censorship. Though news in Singapore may not be overtly censored, the problem is self-censorship.

A freer press empowers people as it gives them pluralism in sources of information as well as access to diverse points of view. All of us have the right to form and express our opinions and respect should be accorded to this right through freedom to access information.

The Newspapers and Printing Presses Act was introduced in 1975. In effect, the Act enables the State to impose such restrictions as:

• Permits (to be renewed every year) granted on a discretionary basis for locally published newspapers. In addition, these permits may be granted with conditions such as the State’s specification on the language in which the newspaper may be published.

• Permits required for the sale and distribution of foreign newspapers. In addition, individuals will need to comply with this permissibility for any papers brought in which may be for personal consumption. Complementary provision for powers of examination of packages and articles is included.

Other incidents of repressive media management include lawsuits against foreign newspapers such as the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), a publication currently banned in Singapore. Yet let us not forget one of the most glaring examples: persecution of journalists. Most notable was the 17-year detention under the Internal Security Act of Said Zahari, editor of then-locally published Utusan Melayu.

Today, the press in Singapore is monopolised by the Singapore Press Holdings. It publishes all but one of the dailies (the exception is TODAY published by Mediacorp) – a far cry from a lively press and publishing history in Singapore (pre-1975). There were several papers published in Malay, Indian and Chinese languages as compared to just these main non-English newspapers: Berita Harian, Tamil Murasu, Lianhe Zaobao (& Wanbao) and Shin Min Daily respectively.

Though press freedom in the professional arena should be safeguarded, individuals can overcome a restrictive and biased press through citizen journalism. Through the new medium of the Internet, citizen journalism, which increases participation in the exchange of news and information, is on the rise. Alternative sources are available on the internet on web portals and blogs that allow individuals to express themselves and engage with others in open discussion.

Open discussions and dialogue on all human issues are vital for us to engage with each other in an environment of respect and dignity. The role of a free and pluralistic press as such a forum enshrines the fundamental freedom of expression for everyone.

To continue this dialogue on press freedom and efforts to promote it in Singapore, email Noora at [email protected]

An effort by Singapore activists,
Chong Kai Xiong
Ho Choon Hiong
Noora Zul
Seelan Palay

For more pictures of the event, click here.


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