MEDIA, TV SHOWS AND CENSORSHIP IN SINGAPORE

MEDIA IN SINGAPORE

Singapore is an important communications center. It is very well-connected to the outside world via telecommunications and has a good information technology infrastructure.

Broadcast media: state controls broadcast media; 8 domestic TV stations operated by MediaCorp which is wholly owned by a state investment company; broadcasts from Malaysian and Indonesian stations available; satellite dishes banned; multi-channel cable TV service available; a total of 18 domestic radio stations broadcasting with MediaCorp operating more than a dozen and another 4 stations are closely linked to the ruling party or controlled by the Singapore Armed Forces Reservists Association; many Malaysian and Indonesian radio stations are available. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Telecommunications policy, regulation, and promotion are the responsibility of a government agency, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. Postal and telecommunications services are provided by Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), which is 68 percent owned by Temasek Holdings, a government holding company that is 32 percent privately owned. Seventeen FM stations and two shortwave stations broadcast to some 2.6 million radios as of 2003. Seven television broadcast stations also were in operation in 2003, and more than 1.3 million televisions were in use. Singapore had 1.85 million landline telephones and 4.2 million cellular phones (equivalent to some 978 subscribers per 1,000 population) in use in 2005. The highly touted telephone system uses submarine cables to Malaysia (both Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah), Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as two earth satellite stations relaying to Intelsat satellites (one each) positioned over the Indian and Pacific oceans. Singapore had 2.4 million Internet users and some 440 Internet subscribers per 1,000 population in 2005.

Freedom of the Press in Singapore

The local media rarely deviates from the government line. Private newspapers are banned in Singapore. The major English-language newspaper in Singapore is the government-sponsored Strait Times. Singaporean journalists have been described as "boot lickers." Paris based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore at 146 out of 168 nations, lower than Zimbabwe at 140, on a global index of press freedom in 2007. In 2013, Singapore ranked 149th, down 14 places from 2012 and below many of its neighbors.

The government did not normally censor the press, but it owned the radio and television stations and closely supervised the newspapers. Under the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), passed in 1974 and amended in 1986, the government could restrict-- without actually banning--the circulation of any publication sold in the country, including foreign periodicals, that it deemed guilty of distorted reporting. These laws provided the legal justification for restrictions placed on the circulation of such foreign publications as the Asian Wall Street Journal and Time magazine's Asian edition in 1987. The government also restricted the circulation of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek in 1987 for "engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore."

In the 1990s, a new generation of leaders would take over, and the debate over the need to change the political system that had been so successful in the past would grow. Some elements of an increasingly prosperous and well-educated population, who took Singapore's national viability and survival for granted, questioned the elderly leaders' assertions that a host of pressing dangers justified their authoritarian and paternalistic style of governance. To the leaders, however, the country's prosperity and their continued electoral victories demonstrated the correctness of their policies and methods of rule. They envisioned a new generation of leaders who would continue the proven practices established by the country's founding fathers. The inherent tensions between generations and between the advocates of change and those of continuity were likely to mark the politics of the 1990s. *

Libel Suits Used as a Weapon Against the Media in Singapore

Papers that accused Lee Kuan Yew of being a strongman have faced libel suits of tens of thousands of dollars. When New York Times columnist William Safire asked a Singapore official what would happened if he wrote while in Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew's 'despo-nepotism was protected by a battery of power-corrupted judges." The official said, "You'd probably go to jail."

Bloomberg news service paid Lee Kuan Yew, his son Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong $336,067 and said one of its articles was “false and completely without foundation.” The article in question was published on Bloomberg’s website in August 2002. It was about the hiring of then deputy prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife to the position of executive director of Temasek Holding, the investment arm of the Singapore government, and implied nepotism.

In 1995, an American scholar and the International Herald Tribune—a newspaper then owned by the Washington Post and the New York Times—was found guilty of contempt of court and fined for publishing an opinion article which didn’t mention Singapore by name but accused an unnamed Asian government of having "intolerant regimes" and "a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians." Earlier the International Herald Tribune was fined for libel because an article by Philip Bowring refereed to "dynastic politics" in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, who has made no secret who wants his son to succeed him, pursued the cases against the newspaper even though the Herald Tribune published two apologies.

The Singapore judge said hat the scholar—Christopher Lingle—had "no doubt" he was referring to Singapore. Lingle was fined about US$6,800 and the newspaper, which has an edition published in Singapore, was fined US$7,410. Lingle editor was fined US$3,450, the Paris-based publisher, US$1,750 and even the Singapore distributor and printer was fined US$1,035. Lingle and the newspaper were also ordered to pay court cost which was estimated at around $10,000. Lingle told the New York Times, "The impression left in many people's minds from the Michael Fay case was wrong—that Singapore is not a place where swift justice strikes fear into the hearts of criminals...Singapore is a place that politicizes crime and criminalizes politics." Singapore he said "was a republic of fear."

AFP reported: “Singapore leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as a result of defamation suits against critics and foreign publications, which they say is necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks. International rights groups, however, argue the use of lawsuits is intended to suppress freedom of expression and silence opposition parties. Roby Alampay, executive director of the Bangkok-based media freedom watchdog Southeast Asian Press Alliance, said "Singapore has always been notorious if not in fact quite proud of its tradition of stifling foreign media," Alampay said. "This new chapter of reasserting their control on the foreign press however really makes an abhorrent situation all the more troubling." Lee Kuan Yew said he would not allow foreign journalists to tell his country what to do on domestic issues. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 28, 2006]

Censorship in Singapore

Pornography is strictly banned in Singapore, and the government blocks many Web sites deemed obscene. Home satellite TV antennae are outlawed. Imported videos are carefully screened and edited by government censors. Bookstores are prohibited from selling books on communism, pornography and religious cults. Censors with the Ministry of Information Communications and Arts say they act on two main objectives: “to protect certain core values” and not inflame “peculiar sensitivities within our society, a reference to maintaining racial harmony. Just the threat of censorship is enough to instill fear and cause self-censorship.

Cosmopolitan and Playboy were banned as threats to common decency. In 2003, the ban on Cosmopolitan was lifted but the one on Playboy remained in place. In the 1990s, the government of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong tried to get the restrictions on Playboy lifted but canned the decision after it was found that three quarters of Singaporeans opposed the move.

An episode of Ally McBeal which showed women kissing was banned. The scene showed main character Ally, played by Calista Flockhart, and her co-worker Ling, played by Lucy Liu, kissing each other on the lips. In 2003, a censored and cut version Sex and the City was allowed to be broadcast late at night on cable. MTV was allowed to be aired if it dropped Beavis and Butthead because they were regarded as bad role models.

Under the Official Secrets Act, the government can classify any documents its wants on the grounds of national security. In the early 1990s five people were found guilty of breaking the term of the act by publishing "flash estimates" of economic growth. Under an amendment to the Films Act in 1998 the use of political films or videos is banned. Anyone who makes, imports, reproduces or distributes a film, “made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore” can be fined or jailed up to two years.

One artist told the Independent, “We’re always trying to see how far you can go. We don’t really know what the ground rules are any more but we soon find out if we’ve gone too far.”

Singapore Bans the Far Eastern Economic Review

In 2006, AFP reported: “Singapore has banned the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine after it failed to comply with regulations on foreign publications sold in the city-state, the government said. It said the monthly magazine's sale and distribution rights had been revoked immediately for failing to abide by an earlier deadline to appoint someone authorized to accept any legal notices on the magazine's behalf. In its press release, the government added that it was now also an offense to import or possess copies of the Hong Kong-based magazine, known by its initials FEER, for sale or distribution in the city-state. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 28, 2006 /*/]

“The government said it took the action after the magazine failed to comply with conditions under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. On August 3 the ministry had announced it was re-instating conditions imposed on the Review and some other foreign publications. It notified the Review that, effective September 11, it would have to appoint a person "within Singapore authorized to accept service of any notice or legal process on behalf of the publication." It was also required to submit a security deposit of S$200,000 (US$125,000). "FEER had not complied by the 11 September 2006 deadline, nor has it complied till today, despite a reminder sent to FEER on 14 September 2006," the government said. /*/

“The provisions, re-implemented because of what the information and communication ministry said was a changing media landscape, had also applied to Newsweek, Time, the Financial Times, and the International Herald Tribune. They took effect after FEER, a Dow Jones publication, ran an interview with local pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan, who is secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. The article entitled Singapore's 'Martyr,' Chee Soon Juan, describes Chee's battle against the ruling People's Action Party and its leaders. It also touched on Singapore officials' success in libel suits against critics. /*/

“Singapore court officials and the magazine's editor revealed that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, had filed defamation suits against FEER over the Chee article. The Lees filed the lawsuits in August against editor Hugo Restall and Hong Kong-based Review Publishing, alleging they were defamed. The Lees alleged in the writ seen by AFP that the article "contained sensational remarks and/or allegations" which had "gravely injured" their characters and reputations. The FEER magazine has had skirmishes with Singapore's ruling party since 1987 when it was gazetted as a foreign newspaper, thereby restricting its circulation, after the government deemed an article as interfering in domestic politics.

Singapore Gets the International Herald Tribune to Kowtow

Clark Hoyt wrote in the New York Times, In March 2010, “on the same day the New York Times praised Google for standing up to censorship in China, a sister newspaper, the International Herald Tribune, apologized to Singapore’s rulers and agreed to pay damages because it broke a 1994 legal agreement and referred to them in a way they did not like. The rulers had sued for defamation 16 years ago, saying a Herald Tribune Op-Ed column had implied that they got their jobs through nepotism. The paper wound up paying $678,000 and promising not to do it again. But in February, it named Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister, and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister now, in an Op-Ed article about Asian political dynasties. [Source: Clark Hoyt, New York Times, April 3, 2010 ||||]

“After the Lees objected, the paper said its language “may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended.” The Herald Tribune, wholly owned by the New York Times Company, apologized for “any distress or embarrassment” suffered by the Lees. The statement was published in the paper and on the Web site it shares with the Times. ||||

“Some readers were astonished that a news organization with a long history of standing up for First Amendment values would appear to bow obsequiously to an authoritarian regime that makes no secret of its determination to cow critics, including Western news organizations, through aggressive libel actions. Singapore’s leaders use a local court system in which, according to Stuart Karle, a former general counsel of the Wall Street Journal, they have never lost a libel suit. The notion that it could be defamatory to call a political family a dynasty seems ludicrous in the United States, where the Times has routinely applied the label to the Kennedys, the Bushes and the Clintons. But Singapore is a different story. ||||

“Lee Kuan Yew once testified, according to The Times, that he designed the draconian press laws to make sure that “journalists will not appear to be all-wise, all-powerful, omnipotent figures.” Four years ago, the Times quoted his son as saying, “If you don’t have the law of defamation, you would be like America, where people say terrible things about the president and it can’t be proved.” ||||

“Steven Brostoff of Arlington, Va., wondered whether the Times had other agreements like the one with the Lees, and asked, “What conclusions should we draw about how news coverage from these countries is slanted?” Zeb Raft of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, asked if the Times was admitting that certain world leaders “deserve to be treated with deference. This is the implication of the apology.” George Freeman, a Times Company lawyer, said the 1994 agreement was the only one he knew about and that it applied only to the Herald Tribune. Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said, “Nobody in this company has ever told me what our reporters can write — or not write — about Singapore.” He said the Times newsroom has no agreements with any government about what can be reported. “We don’t work that way.” ||||

“Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page, said, “If we have something that needs to be said on the editorial or Op-Ed pages, on any subject, we will say it, clearly and honestly.” That is what the late William Safire did on the Op-Ed page in 2002, when he criticized Bloomberg News for “kowtowing to the Lee family” by apologizing for an article about the elevation of the younger Lee’s wife to run a state-owned investment company. Bloomberg, he said, had “just demeaned itself and undermined the cause of a free online press.” Safire wrote that he took “loud exception” in 1994 when the Herald Tribune, then owned jointly by the Times Company and the Washington Post Company, “cravenly caved” over an article by Philip Bowring — the same Hong Kong-based columnist who sparked last month’s dust-up. “I doubt such a sellout of principle will happen again.”||||

“Richard Simmons was the president of the Herald Tribune in 1994 and authorized the agreement that was broken in March 2010 — an “undertaking” by the company’s lawyers to prevent a repetition of the language that offended the Lees. “We had, in my view, no choice,” he said. “What the American media absolutely refuse to recognize is Singapore operates on a different set of legal rules than does the United States.” He said Western news organizations can accept the legal system there or leave. ||||

“For the Herald Tribune and all the other news organizations that have paid damages to Singapore’s rulers (the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg) or had their circulation limited there (Time, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Economist), the choice has been to stay. Singapore is tiny, with a population of around five million, but it has outsized economic power as a financial hub, making it an important source of news. For the Herald Tribune, the economic stakes are large: more than 10 percent of its Asian circulation is in Singapore. It prints papers there that are distributed throughout the region. It sells advertising to companies throughout Asia that want to reach readers in Singapore. “If you want to be a global paper, it has lots of banks, lots of commerce, a highly educated, English-speaking population,” said Karle. “It’s hard to turn your back on that.” ||||

“Faced with this predicament when the Lees objected to the article last month, the Herald Tribune apologized and paid up — $114,000 — before it was even sued. Karle said the paper could have spent a million dollars for a worse result in court: forced to pay higher damages and make a more humiliating apology. But settling the way it did has its own price. Roby Alampay, the executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, told Agence France-Presse, “This continuing line of major media organizations too quick to offer contrition and money is a sad sight and a persisting insult on legitimate journalism, fair commentary, free speech and the rights that Singaporeans deserve.” ||||

“Safire told The American Journalism Review in 1995 that the world’s free press should unite and pull out of Singapore in the face of any new libel action. I think that is what should happen too, but it never has. That leaves the Times Company with its own choice if another challenge arises. “Singapore is an important market for the International Herald Tribune,” the company told me in a statement. “There are more than 12,000 I.H.T. readers who shouldn’t be deprived of the right to read the paper in print or online. In addition, getting kicked out of Singapore would also make it more difficult for others in the region to get the I.H.T. since we print in Singapore for distribution there and in the neighboring areas.”“ ||||

Efforts to Loosen Up Censorship in Singapore

There have been calls for less censorship in Singapore. A proposal by artists to designate areas where plays and movies could shown regardless of their content was turned down. In 1997, the government legalized street performances but artist were required to audition and donate any money they earned to charity.

Singaporeans themselves are not anxious to rock the boat too much. One survey found in the late 1990s that 70 percent of Singaporeans were satisfied with the censorship standards and felt their was no reason to change them.

In the early 1990s, the censors tried to ease up a bit on censorship by not cutting out sex scenes and allowing those 18 years old or older rather than that those over 21 year old attend these movies. In the election after these changes were made the ruling party PAP didn’t less well than expected and some blamed the government’s easing on censorship restriction for the relative poor showing. Afterwards the age limit for sex films was raised to 21 and films that would have been allowed before were banned.

Television in Singapore

According to focussingapore.com: “Most Singaporeans are TV addicts. You’ll find the average Singaporean preparing to watch one of the Popular TV shows in Singapore after a hard day at work. Nobody will discount the fact that watching Television is a very popular pastime in Singapore as you’d find people of all age groups and from diverse backgrounds huddling before the TV set to watch their favorite show. Most of the TV programmes and shows aired on the numerous channels happen to be serials and are aired on particular times of the day or night. Hence, someone who prefers to watch detective serials or movies would know when ‘Dexter or ‘Castle’ is aired. The same holds true for the kids who are aware when ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘SpongeBob’ will be shown. [Source: focussingapore.com]

The media industry is regulated by the government’s Media Development Authority. Most broadcasting is produced by radio and television companies owned by the Media Corporation of Singapore and Radio Corporation of Singapore. Cable, satellite, and traditional television broadcasters include CNBC (formerly stood for Consumer News Business Channel) Asia Pacific, Singapore CableVision, Singapore Television 12; SPH (Singapore Press Holdings) MediaWorks, and Television Corporation of Singapore. Broadcasts are in Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil, but primarily in Chinese and English. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) operated five radio channels and three television channels. Established in 1980, it provided programming in Singapore's four official languages-- Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English--and was supported by revenue from radio and television licensing fees and commercial advertising. The television stations, which provided a total of about 163 hours of programming a week, broadcast in separate languages. Channel Five's programming was in Malay and English, Channel Eight's in Mandarin and Tamil, and Channel Twelve's in English. In many cases, programs also were subtitled in several languages. *

Three main broadcasters are Singapore Press Holdings, Media of Singapore and StarHub. The government has traditionally controlled the only network. Cable is common (the government can control what flows through it). Owning a private satellite dish without a license is illegal. Offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and be imprisoned for up to three yars.

Television Programs in Singapore

Singapore introduced the world’s first 24 hour Karaoke channel. For a while All McBeal was very popular.

In the mid 2000s, the Singapore government rapped local television for its lowbrow humor and poor English. Associated Press reported: “Singapore's monopoly broadcaster has been criticised for substandard levels of programming and widespread use of a mutated form of English, known locally as "Singlish." The Programmes Advisory Committee, or PACE, urged Mediacorp, the country's only free-to-air broadcaster, to improve the quality and content of its programming. "Proper standards of English should be maintained. Singlish should be avoided in broadcast programmes," PACE said in a statement. [Source: Associated Press, July 26, 2005]

“The call comes just over two months after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, also urged Singaporeans to reduce the use of Singlish, a widely used mishmashed version of English. PACE also said the standards of local sitcoms such as the hugely popular "Phua Chu Kang" had fallen, with "substandard story lines as well as lowbrow humour." "Local dramas could take a cue from good foreign dramas and strive for more complex and sophisticated story lines and wittier dialogue rather than straightforward entertainment," the committee said. Phua Chu Kang first came under attack in 2000, when the administration launched its war on Singlish and blamed the programme's main character for a rise in bad grammar among citizens.” [Ibid]

An episode of Ally McBeal which showed women kissing was banned. The scene showed main character Ally, played by Calista Flockhart, and her co-worker Ling, played by Lucy Liu, kissing each other on the lips. In 2003, a censored and cut version Sex and the City was allowed to be broadcast late at night on cable. MTV was allowed to be aired if it dropped Beavis and Butthead because they were regarded as bad role models.

Popular TV shows in Singapore

According to focussingapore.com: “Some of the TV shows that enjoy high popularity in Singapore are ‘The Unforgettable Memory’ which has been aired since long and is also the longest running series in Taiwan; ‘Grey’s Anatomy’-a series on the Grace Hospital; the ‘Friday Nights Light’-a show on a rural town in Texas; ‘The Amazing Race 14’-one of the most popular TV shows in Singapore; ‘Entertainment Tonight’ is a popular news program that has been running for the longest period of time. ‘Madame White Snake’ is another highly admired TV show that enjoys very high viewership ratings and the storyline revolves around a woman whose spirit is trapped inside the body of a snake and her lover who’s a human being. ‘Good Morning Singapore’ provides the perfect excuse for getting out of bed early and beginning your day in high spirits. ‘The Walking Dead’ is another televised series that can be rated as one of the best TV shows in Singapore that has been aired since 2010 and Rick Grimes is the central character who sets out an mission to save the earth from zombies. [Source: focussingapore.com />/]

“Rating the best TV shows of Singapore can be a tall order and indeed an uphill task as it is a very subjective matter. What is good in someone’s opinion may not be good according to others. Therefore, one cannot draw up a list and declare that all the programs listed on that list are the most watched TV Shows in Singapore. So if someone finds ‘How I met your mother’ to be hilarious and fun to watch, others might label it as downright puerile. But there are, of course, some shows that are watched avidly by almost all Singaporeans. Some of these programs are ‘The Big Bang Theory’, ‘Homeland’, ‘Breaking Bad’ ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Modern Family’, ‘Revenge’, and ‘Fringe’. There are many others highly watched TV programs. Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are many other TV shows of Singapore that have been successful in retaining viewer interest. Some of these are ‘Sherlock’-the world famous sleuth and Dr. Watson coming together to solve crime mysteries in present day London-‘Bones’, ‘Criminal Minds’, ‘The Mentalist’, ‘Person of Interest’ and so on. />/

“Grey 's Anatomy is one of the most popular TV shows in Singapore. This series has won many hearts in Singapore. Just experience a new crisis through this television show. The Grace Hospital is amidst one of the worst problems and see how the staff and patients get out of it. Lost is also a very famous TV show aired in Singapore. You can also watch out the TV shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty in Singapore. Madame White Snake is one of the most cherished TV shows of Singapore. This serial is a legendary folk tale which involves a spirit of a snake and her male lover who is human. This TV series has attained very high ratings of viewership in Singapore. “The Unforgettable Memory is the longest primetime series in the history of Taiwan . It has completed 526 episodes and has great viewership ratings. It also received remarkable critical response in other destinations . />/

“Good Morning Singapore is one of the TV shows that makes your day just perfect . It is aired at 7 am and is the best tool to get out of bed and have the best breakfast company . Friday Night Lights is a popular TV show aired in Singapore. It is about a rural town of Texas where the rings of football championship are considered as the highest regard. Pangako sa 'Yo is a prime time TV series in Singapore. It stars Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa as the main characters. The show is about the love affair between Eduarado and Amor bur Benita , Eduarado 's mother is opposing the love relationship as Amor is a maid. The show is full of twists of turns. So simply check out this popular Singapore TV series. The Amazing Race 14 is one of the most watched TV shows in Singapore. Entertainment Tonight is also a very popular TV show of Singapore. It claims to be the 'most watched entertainment news magazine in the world ' and is also the longest running news program.” />/

Singapore’s Reality Show on Procreation

In 2004, Associated Press reported: “The prize: $100,000 - and a baby. Ten couples from around the world could compete in a reality TV show in Singapore to see who can procreate first, the city-state's self-styled sex guru said last week. "We've not started the recruitment, but people have heard about it," said Wei Siang Yu. "The main prize is the baby, of course." Wei said he hopes the show, "Dr Love's Super Baby Making Show," will be beamed across the world and shown locally by MediaCorp, the government-owned national broadcaster, later this year. [Source: Associated Press, May 24, 2004 ^^]

“Keith Cheong, an executive with the marketing and distribution department of MediaCorp Studios, confirmed that the company is discussing producing the reality show with Wei. But details of the deal are yet to be finalized, he said. "I don't think there will be anything pornographic," Wei said when asked about screening in notoriously censor-happy Singapore, where the government constantly urges citizens to start families to reverse an aging population trend. ^^

“Nine foreign couples and a Singaporean couple will take part, he said. They will lead their normal daily lives of work and play, but will have their movements closely monitored. The winning couple will be the first to test positive with a pregnancy test kit, Wei said. "It's about conception, not about birth," he added. Singapore has made baby-making a top national priority after it recorded its lowest-ever birth rate last year since independence in 1965. Only 37,633 babies were born in 2003 - way below the 50,000 it requires for defense and economic purposes.

Simulated Sex and Radio in Singapore

The media industry is regulated by the government’s Media Development Authority. Most broadcasting is produced by radio and television companies owned by the Media Corporation of Singapore and Radio Corporation of Singapore. Other radio stations include Radio Heart, Rediffusion, and SAFRA (Singapore Armed Forces Reservists’ Association) Radio. The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) operated five radio channels and three television channels. Established in 1980, it provided programming in Singapore's four official languages-- Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English--and was supported by revenue from radio and television licensing fees and commercial advertising. Each of four of the five radio stations broadcast in one of the four official languages, while the fifth alternated between English and Mandarin.[Source: Library of Congress *]

In 2003 a Singaporean radio station was fined for airing simulated sex on a morning show. Afp reported: “A radio station that broadcast a simulated orgasm and masturbation from female callers on its morning show has been fined S$15,000 (US$8670), the media regulator said Friday, Sept 26. The Media Development Authority (MDA) said a broadcast on radio station WKRZ 91.3 FM's The Morning Show on July 27 had been "obscene." It said the disc jockey on duty had invited female listeners to call in and talk about how they liked to experience orgasm and describe details of their sexual experiences on air. "One caller was asked to simulate orgasm while another was asked to masturbate herself," the MDA said in a statement monitored on its website. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 26, 2003]

"Following the broadcast, the MDA also received complaints from members of the public that the segment was distasteful and offensive." The regulator said it reviewed the programme and found the radio station's broadcast of the conversations "to be obscene and in bad taste". It ruled the broadcast to be a major breach of the MDA's radio programme standards and censorship code. Taking into account the severity of the breach, MDA said in decided to fine the radio station's owner UnionWorks Pte. Ltd. S$15,000, it said. [Ibid]

Newspapers and Magazines in Singapore

The government controls the only newspaper publishing house. The media industry is regulated by the government’s Media Development Authority. All newspapers in Singapore are required by law to be public companies and are regulated by the government. Major daily newspapers are published in various languages. English-language publications include the venerable Straits Times, founded in 1845; Business Times; and three tabloids, The New Paper, Streats, and Today. Today is a news and business magazine. Chinese-language newspapers include Lianhe Wanbao, Lianhe Zaobao, Shin Min Daily News, and Toh Lam Hhat. Two other dailies are the Malay Berita Harian and Tamil Tamil Murasu. Weekly newspapers are offered in English and Malay, and most newspapers can be accessed on the Internet. There also is a lively magazine circulation with 17 domestic English, one Malay, and nine Chinese titles.

Singapore had seven daily newspapers at the end of 1987: two in English, The Straits Times and The Business Times; three in Chinese, Lianhe Wanbao, Shin Min Daily News, and Lianhe Zaobao; one in Malay, Berita Harian; and one in Tamil, Tamil Murasu. With the exception of the Tamil Murasu, all were published by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd, a group that comprised Singapore News and Publications Ltd, the Straits Times Press Ltd, and the Times Publishing Company. Daily newspaper circulation in 1988 totaled 743,334 copies, with Chinese language newspapers accounting for the highest number (354,840), followed by English (340,401) and Malay (42,458) newspapers. *

Singapore's The Strait Times along with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Thailand's Bangkok Post, and the Japan Times have been described as the best English-language newspapers in Asia. The Straits Times is sponsored by the government. It has a reputation of printed government press releases, not matter how unnewsworthy. Even though the Straits Times is under government control its editors like to test the limit of what they can get away with. Occasionally they go too far in the eyes of the government. Once the interior minister criticized it for for “unbalanced reporting of crime stories.”

Cosmopolitan and Playboy were banned as threats to common decency. In 2003, the ban on Cosmopolitan was lifted but the one on Playboy remained in place. In the 1990s, the government of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong tried to get the restrictions on Playboy lifted but canned the decision after it was found that three quarters of Singaporeans opposed the move. See Below

Cosmopolitan Allowed in 2003 after 20 Years, But Playboy Still Banned

In September 2003, the popular US women's magazine Cosmopolitan was made available on news stands in Singapore after being banned for more than 20 years while Playboy remained blacklisted. AFP reported: “Lee Boon Yang, the island's minister for information, communications and the arts, said the change in policy came after consultations with the Censorship Review Committee (CRC), made up of a cross-section of society. "The Censorship Review Committee has recommended that we allow Cosmopolitan and we agree with them to allow Cosmopolitan to be put on sale, subject to some constraint," Lee said. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 8, 2003 <+>]

“The magazine was banned in 1982 for allegedly promoting promiscuous values among women. "The constraint will be simply that it has to be shrink-wrapped to prevent casual browsing by younger Singaporeans and just put it in approprate shelves in an appropriate location," he said. But authorities "will not be going that far as to allow magazines such as Playboy to be on sale," he said. Lee was speaking at a news conference to announce that the government "agrees with the main thrust of the CRC's censorship recommendations. Even as we strive to become a more creative and entrepreneurial society, we still have to safeguard core community values such as the sanctity of the family unit, social and religious harmony and moral integrity," Lee said.<+>

“The CRC recommendations include a refinement of movie and video classification ratings, and it said more mature programming should be allowed after 10:00 pm on television and cable TV, with "appropriate consumer advice." For theater, vetting of scripts ahead of performances should be waived if the content is not on race, religion or "does not undermine the national stability or core values" of Singapore, said the CRC, a purely advisory body. Cosmopolitan, which now has franchises across Asia, was banned by Singapore in 1982 for "purveying promiscuous values," a spokeswoman for the CRC told AFP last week. But she acknowledged that the market is now crowded with magazines which deal with sexual issues. Bikini magazines like FHM and Maxim which cater to young male readers are freely available in Singapore.” <+>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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