Singapore’s government has issued strict regulations on high-profile foreign publications seeking distribution in the city state. Having its local press on a tight rein and having threatened local netizens, the People’s Action Party is attempting to ensure that major overseas media do not print anything that goes against their ‘enlightened’ rule.
RSF has issued a condemnation:
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.
Mr Wang, a Singapore lawyer, notes the legal implications for FEER and the other publications for having ‘a legal representative‘:
The interesting bit is the MICA requirement that FEER “must have a legal representative in the country”. This probably means that FEER is required to appoint what lawyers call a “process agent” in Singapore.
What’s the significance of having a process agent in Singapore? Well, it’s one of those rather technical legal/ procedural matters. The basic idea is that it enables the Singapore government to sue FEER …. in the Singapore courts….
…The foreign newspaper has to consider whether the Singapore courts would regard the article as “defamatory” of the Singapore government.
Not what you or me or the man in the street would regard as “defamatory” … not what a Hong Kong judge or an English judge or a Thai judge would regard as “defamatory” …. but what the Singapore courts would regard as “defamatory” of the Singapore government. There are some potentially scary implications here, because we can expect the chilling effect to kick in once again.
AsiaPundit has grown slightly tired of commenting on the slow erosion on liberty in Singapore under Lee Hsien Loong. On this occasion, he will leave the commentary to Imagethief.:
We, the audience, are left to wonder if the tightened regulations are really due to a “changing media landscape” or to a combination of a relatively poor election showing (by Singapore standards) for the PAP, anxiety about the ability of the somewhat charisma-challenged Lee Hsien Loong to carry his father’s mantle, and a feeling that people are beginning to sense the shadow of mortality hovering over the revered and still politically active elder Lee and wondering over the inevitable consequences.
Image stolen from Sei-ji Rakugaki’s sketchbook, the only regularly updated site for Singapore political cartooning (full size here).
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August 9th, 2006 at 7:52 am
[…] Now things are getting ridiculous: Singapore now wants foreign press to adopt a self-censoring gag order when it comes to matters of Singaporean political interests. (More links and bits at AsiaPundit) […]