The Mass Media in Singapore.

25 10 2009



In our modern day and age, I am sure many of us are extremely acquainted with the mass media, as we’re constantly surrounded by various mediums and channels, with easy immediate access.

“Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primary purposes of an elected government.”

– Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew

In Singapore, the mass media is carefully monitored and regulated, and foreigners are reminded to keep their hands off. The Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) holds all dailies (12 papers) in the city whilst the Media Corporation of Singapore (Mediacorp) dominates the broadcasting media locally (8 broadcasters). Not only does SPH manage all newspapers locally, but if one wishes to place an ad, the only place you can go to is SPH.

The dominance of SPH is an outcome of government orders rather than a natural development. In the history of the SPH, a merger into one main company was required to cut back on costs and to “to establish common ideals for newspapers in the various languages.” Moreover, under the Newspaper and the Printing Presses Act, no one may hold more than three per cent directly or indirectly in a newspaper company unless prior approval is obtained from the Ministry of Information and the Arts. Explaining the three per cent ownership cap, ex-Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo said the law is to ensure that the internal access of Singaporeans — “For domestic media principally concerned with Singaporean affairs, we must not cede control to foreigners because it may be manipulated for their own purposes without our knowing.”


Broadcasting media, like the print media, consists of both local and foreign organisations, but are subjected to strict controls by the government in terms of ownership, censorship and other regulations. All TV & radio sets must be licensed in Singapore, and satellite dish is banned. The only access to foreign broadcasting media is via the Singapore CableVision (SCV). The MCS also is solely owned by the Singapore government’s wholly owned investment arms, Temasek Holdings.

Restrictions on foreign media, however, are much tighter than the local one. No foreigners can be the director of the media and foreign journalists are annually required to renew their working permits from the Singapore government. There is no right to circulation by foreign press. Foreign media operate in Singapore under the threats of restrictions of their circulation and possible lawsuits. Publications such as Asian Wall Street Journal, Time, Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek all had its circulation cut.

As a result, the Singapore press has been cited by Western media and Malaysian media as the mouthpiece of the government.  Cherian George, a Straits Times journalist stated in his conference paper in 1998, “Here (in the US) it is all about freedom of the press; in Singapore, it is about the government’s freedom from the press.” Flying the flag of “national-building efforts,” the media in Singapore often goes along the Government’s will. In Ivan Lim’s article, “The Singapore Press and the Fourth Estate”, he stated that whilst the government PROs help provide the background to government policies; in return, they sometimes asked for press co-operation to play down or highlight stories on the government ministries concerned. He further added that on a higher level, newspaper editors also meet ministers and top bureaucrats for briefings on government policies. Government policies, whether articulated in Parliament or announced by ministers in speeches at public functions, frequently made front-page news. Newspapers generally report government policies in a favourable light as much out of necessity as of conviction.

Thus despite the fact that Singapore is a modern city whose inhabitants are increasingly becoming more educated, eradicating language barriers and possessing advancement in technology,  the restrictions imposed by the government may have decreased Singapore’s appeal to the global television export industry. Thus, this might have caused trade with many countries in Asia, like Singapore, to be limited. In our country’s scenario, due to politics and the fear of upsetting the harmonious balance in our nation, our leaders have full control over the type and amount of information that enters into our local market.


However, with the new media technologies (NCTs) such as the Internet gaining popularity fast amongst the youth of today, would it prove to be harder for the government to clamp down restrictions on the unlimited circulating information on the web?

Definitely so. With the advance of information technology, censorship has not been as effective as it probably was. As echoed by George Yeo before stepping down as information minister in a cabinet reshuffle, he agreed that “Censorship is becoming more and more difficult to impose.”


Although the Internet has brought about more methods of interaction between the mass media and citizens, such as the creation of websites like, The Straits’ Times Interactive and, owned by SPH, it has also brought in its fair share of new players. Websites such as Sintercom, formed by a group of Singaporeans abroad, provide an alternative voice. In its online daily, SG Daily, topics ranging from good news regarding Singapore, to taboo issues, are being covered. Apart from SG Daily, Sintercom launched a “NOT the Straits Times Forum” on the net and publishes letters rejected or edited versions by Straits Times Forum. Although Sintercom and SG Daily are critical of the Singapore government, they seem to fare well since its launch.

Certainly, the introduction of the Internet has proven to be able to overcome barriers of time, space and limited resources. It provides an outlet for people who are dissatisfied with the traditional media. Will the Internet bring greater freedom of speech to Singapore? It does seem to be an effective way, if not the only way, to get around the ownership rules imposed by the Singapore government on the mass media.

However, I feel that for the Internet to be successful in Singapore, it requires one more factor – the support and desire of the Singaporeans themselves. The question remains: Are Singaporeans ready for it?


1. Lee Kuan Yew: The Man Behind his Ideas, Singapore Press Holdings & Times editions.

2. SG Daily:

3. From Press Laws and System in ASEAN States, 1985




8 responses

25 10 2009

the emergence of new media such as the internet do allow more freedom of expression from the citizens. however, with this tool in hand citizens too have to take responsibility over what they say especially in singapore where eyes and ears are lurking around ever corner. on our part, we have to recognise that opinions being aired over the internet can influence others and if not expressed responsibly could result in outrage. this is perhaps what the Singapore government is trying to control and maintain stability and harmony.

25 10 2009

The way the media behaves has to do with our culture. In a relatively high context culture like Singapore, speaking your mind may be a very difficult task. Asians are relatively conservative, even with globalisation and westernisation taking effect simultaneously.

Even if Singaporeans are willing to step out of their comfort zone to support freedom and new media, how much is Singapore government willing to limit it? Or rather, will the government even be allowing it to happen? The very fact that even speaking at the Public Speaking Corner needs the consent of the local police already shows how much “freedom” and say we have in our own country. Then again, there is no such thing as “total freedom”. Freedom is determined by a set of rules and regulation. I feel that there should be room for Singaporeans to criticise their own government, not in the sense of putting them down, but rather to allow them to improve.

1 11 2009
Ho Q

Singapore has long been a democratic society since independence. However, when we compare ourselves with the western countries, say America, we are often seen marginalised in terms of press freedom. In others words, our society is that of a social democratic than a liberal one.

The emergence of the new media, namely the Internet, has brought about the influx of information across all platforms, countries and cultures. It serves to bring information to the masses more effectively as compared to traditional means like print media. However, that being said, it might be more of a bane than a boon if the Internet is misused as a platform to disseminate inaccurate or opinions that are biased, or worse that causes tension amongst various groups.

Now then, are Singaporeans ready to embrace the emergence of the Internet? Certainly we do. In terms of technological advances, the government already has various policies in place to equip Singaporeans with the equipment, services and knowledge to employ the use of Internet. They include free computers for school kids with low household income, wireless hotspots all over the nation to provide free Internet, and upgrading courses for working adults to impart them with skills to employ the use of Internet. The Infocomm Development Authority also shows that the percentage of the population employing the use of the Internet is at a sky-high of 86% in 2007. Now that Singaporeans have the instruments to use Internet, are we indeed ready for it? Maybe yes, maybe not. History has shown that while the Internet is truly a platform for all to voice of their comments, it does not rule out the fact the individuals might disseminate opinions that are inaccurate and biased. Individuals in Singapore have been charged for posting comments online that are racist or tarnishes the reputation of the Government.

Now then, while Singaporeans do have the resources and know-how in the use of the Internet, it would be more desirable if individuals, while expressing their opinions online, be more sensitive and tact so that any comments would not spark off any form of misunderstandings, tension or hostilities between the different groups, races cultures, religions, and countries.

8 11 2009
ChianLeet Sern Jeremy

Hey, I think that the media has rapidly grew since a few years ago,

so as you said yeah its pretty hard to control what is circulated and all.
and i feel that it is good in a way for the past how many years where the government controls the media.

i mean to think about it, the media in singapore is growing right.not that it is stagnant.however, i mean people should have little power to criticize the government.

and im not singaporean so im not going to answer your question.hahaha!

8 11 2009

It is evident that Singaporeans are getting more IT-savvy. With regards to whether or not we are ready to give our support and show our desire towards the new media, I am confident that the citizens of Singapore are ready and willing to embrace it.

In recent years we have also seen many citizens coming out of their comfort zones to express of their opinions regarding various issues as disseminated by traditional media. Now that the new media like the Internet allows faster and better dissemination of information to the mass, it would be necessary for netizens to be tact in expressing their comments, so as to not initiate any forms of displeasure among certain groups of people.

8 11 2009

Of course we are ready for it! Now that there’s the Internet we can keep abreast of current affairs while on the go with our mobile phones and laptops. :D

8 11 2009

I’m not sure if Singaporeans are ready for this. I mean, the Internet is a platform that’s hard to monitor and be censored for. That being said, even as we have the technological advance to make use of the Internet, we ought to be mature and sensitive while posting comments online. yup.

8 11 2009

I feel that the government should start having a more open mindset towards the Internet and local netizens’ usage of it. It is getting increasingly tougher to regulate comments and whitewash the entire virtual landscape, and ultimately, I believe it is the people that make the nation. The people’s opinions, reactions and thoughts regarding our country should be permitted to be expressed, and restraining it will merely serve to complicate situations further in the near future. With the global new media and mass media, it is extremely easy to be able to gain access to information and broader perspectives from abroad. Perhaps we should look towards the root cause of situations and attempt to tackle them head on, allow the public to discern for themselves, instead of resortting to ways and means to restrict the influx of radical perceptions

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