A few years ago Singapore surpassed even Russia on the world press freedom index, and is now closer than ever to countries like North Korea and China when it comes to freedom for the press.
As many of the readers of this blog might not know, then freedom for the press is usually only something that is mentioned as a joke in Singapore, or at least followed by several question marks. So yes, Singapore is notorious when it comes to giving the press and journalists proper working conditions. It is so bad that it is has been many years since the established press had a proper piece in their publications that needed investigating journalism.
Singapore does not in its many universities offer journalism as a degree, so when you are looking at the staff on the major locally and governed owned (they all are) news organizations in Singapore, then more than 97% of the staff does not have a classical journalistic education. They haven’t been taught basic skills on how to write journalistic pieces and ask the hard questions when conducting an interview – something that might be good for them, because Singapore is notorious for making use of deformation suits when news and magazines write something that individuals in power don’t like.
In all of Singapore, there are currently, including myself, only 4 (possibly 5 now) who have both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Journalism or broadcast journalism.
From the Singaporean governments point of view, then investigating journalism and trained reporters are very bad for the country.
Yes, you read it right. Investigating journalism hurt the Singaporean economy and should by all and any means be stopped! This does also mean that any foreign journalist who operate on Singaporean soils are investigated and monitored. This also include any foreigner who disclose that they have a degree in journalism when they apply for a job in Singapore, or declare that they are a journalist when they enter Singapore.
Media companies who operate in Singapore is also monitored, and this include BBC, Reuters and many other established organizations that you normally would see as having a high ethical standard and practice when it comes to journalism – well Reuters…. are there for making money not reporting or making critical journalism. Anyway, I mentioned Reuters for a reason, but more about them in a while.
But what does it mean for a country like Singapore when there aren’t a critical media, or a country where journalists can’t work if they are too critical and don’t follow the party (PAP) line?
First of all it means that individuals are generally reluctant to talk to journalists who ask sensitive questions, that is not really unusual, but it is unusual that individuals are outright scared about what it will mean to them and their families if they speak out on matters that the Singaporean government might find “sensitive” or bring the “Singaporean name” into a bad light.
Companies in Singapore can do whatever they want to do and often do illegal, or highly questionable ethical things without getting in trouble about it because they know that the only who will be able to bring it to light are reporters who investigate it, and they can’t operate properly on Singapore grounds. This also mean that more and more western (and other Asian) countries have moved their shady deals to Singapore, or placed them in a Singaporean shell company. Latest that have been seen with the Panama papers – where the government said they would “look into it”, but we all know what that really means…
One of the world’s largest oil scandals have ties to Singapore and a Singaporean owned oil trading company, but because the owner have very close ties to members of the Singaporean parliament, then the company have been able to continue to operate (and still does) and scam in the oil trading business.
More recently Singapore have an Olympic scandal that at least are on levels with the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding event, that have everything that a Olympic sports drama can have, tree party intrigues, violence and intense jealousy on a very public level, but nothing that local news dared to pick up on and follow.
Singapore decided to order the closure of the online news website The Real Singapore (TRS) because of content regarded as overly critical towards the Singaporean government and two of its alleged contributors were accused of “sedition,” that could lead to 21 years of prison. Bloggers have been hunted down and some have been prosecuted for what they said and wrote online, when they were critical of the so-called government. Something that I have felt on myself, when the Singaporean version of the 50-cent party (locally called the 5 cent army) attacked me for some of my earlier blog posts, that ended with that some of my nearest family feared that it would hurt them and their children. This also included that I got my phone hacked several times, and had when it lasted had several hacking attempts on my private and company email accounts and online social profiles. All something that is completely unacceptable when it comes to governments and how they deal with their own citizens.
The 5 cent army is a number of about 30 people employed by the Singaporean government to monitor blogs, social medias and online posts, and attack those who are critical against Singaporeans “interests”.
Since many news organizations are working out of Singapore, then they have been forced to limit themselves on what they are writing about Singapore. This could be seen when I a few years ago fell over a story about how IKEA censored an article about gay couples in their own magazine.
When the story broke, then Reuters initially released a briefing that countries like Russia, Singapore and Malaysia among other censored and removed a story about a gay couple in their IKEA Family magazine. But about 2-3 hours later that briefing were edited so any references to Singapore were removed.
I were lucky enough to actually get to see the initial briefing, and still had the window open on the news desk with the old briefing when the edited and redacted version were released, so I had a side by side comparison to them, that then lead me to find out that IKEA in South Asia actively work against gay rights and still in does in 2016, that ended with me writing the blog post about IKEA Singapore in 2013, among other.
At that time I had a friend working for Reuters in Singapore, and called her to ask why they removed IKEA Singapore from the news, and she could tell me that her boss had received a call from “someone” in the government about the brief and were flatly ordered to remove any references to Singapore or that there would be consequences.
The only local news organization who wrote about the story after I tipped them about it, were the now shut down The Real Singapore. The other and more established organizations in Singapore did not mention the IKEA story at all.
Very few news internatonal organizations wrote about the story with the first version and the international news ended up writing solely about IKEA Russia because they never got to see and know that IKEA Singapore had done the same, and those who knew. Like BBC Asia, simply ended up not mentioning it.
So this means in reality that when news organizations like Reuters and BBC among other work out of Singapore, then they are also forced to not only limit themselves, but they are also applying Singaporean censorship onto news around the world and making journalism in your country less open because they need to operate under the good will of the Singaporean government.
Is that something that you can live with and can accept?
See the full 2016 World Press Freedom List here
Details about Singapore on the World Press Freedo List here