Singapore—Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its Press Freedom Index for 2020. In the report, 180 countries and regions are ranked based on how much freedom journalists are given.
This year, Singapore ranks 158th, going down seven spots from last year. Its global score of 55.23 is 3.82 points higher than it was in 2019.
At the top of the list is Norway, with 7.84 points, and ranked 180th is North Korea, with 85.82 points.
Singapore now ranks below every other country in the Southeast Asian region, except for communist Laos and Vietnam.
One big reason for Singapore’s low ranking this year is POFMA, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act which was passed last May and implemented in October. RSF called POFMA “an ‘anti-fake news’ law with Orwellian provisions that allows the government to act as a combination of Ministry of Truth and censorship office for the social media era, ordering both media outlets and digital platforms to post ‘corrections’ to any content deemed ‘incorrect.’”
On RSF’s press freedom map, the colour for Singapore has been changed to black, the report adds. This means that press freedom is classified in the country as “very bad,” and it lists the reasons why.
“Despite the ‘Switzerland of the East’ label often used in Singapore government propaganda, the city-state does not fall far short of China when it comes to suppressing media freedom. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government is always quick to sue critical journalists, or apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country.”
Furthermore, the report mentions that the Media Development Authority is authorized to censor “all forms of journalistic content.” It is not unusual to file defamation charges on Singapore, sometimes even accompanied by seditions charges, which could put someone in jail for up to 21 years.
Even the alternative independent media are encouraged to self-censor through both financial and judicial pressure. RSF adds that some journalists have begun receiving emails from the authorities with threats to imprison them for as long as two decades should the journalists refuse to remove articles considered offensive.
The so-called OB (out of bound) markers imposed by authorities now “apply to an ever-wider range of issues and public figures.”
Wake-up Singapore pointed out that in contrast, Malaysia’s growth in terms of press freedom has been notable. In 2019, Malaysia ranked 123rd, and this year it has jumped 22 places, ranking 101st.
RSF’s Malaysia report reads, “Press freedom is receiving a breath of fresh air in Malaysia after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition suffered a surprising defeat in the May 2019 general elections, its first defeat in modern Malaysian history. Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted, such as the cartoonist Zunar and the Sarawak Report investigative news website, have been able to resume working without fear of harassment. The general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints, including support for the new ruling coalition, and support for the old ruling coalition, now in opposition.”
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