Singapore boasts plenty of newspapers, TV channels and radio stations serving up lively reportage of events, sports and entertainment in the four official languages, though don’t expect to come across hard-hitting or healthily sceptical coverage of domestic politics.
The media are kept on their toes by a legal requirement that they must periodically renew their licence to publish, and most newspapers have actually been herded into a conglomerate in which the state has a major stake. Likewise radio and TV are dominated by Mediacorp, a company which is effectively stated-owned; satellite dishes are banned, and, while many international broadcasters are available on cable, the sole cable provider is a company in which Mediacorp is a major shareholder.
While a wide range of foreign newspapers and magazines are available from bookstores, there are occasional bans on editions containing pieces that displease the authorities, and Singapore’s leaders have a long history of winning defamation suits against foreign publications in the island’s courts. Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in the 2011/12 World Press Freedom Index, issued by the pressure group Reporters Without Borders, Singapore was far down the rankings at no. 135 – some way below much poorer nations not exactly noted as exemplars of free speech, such as Albania and Paraguay.
If this seems an unremittingly bleak picture, it should be said that the advent of independent news websites and blogs has been a breath of fresh air in recent years. Elsewhere in cyberspace, it’s possible to turn up various YouTube clips of discussion forums and interviews with activists, offering an alternative take on local issues.