Out of Bounds: Freedom of Expression in Singapore Revisited

Singapore’s troubled relationship with freedom of speech and lack of a credible free press is no secret. William Gibson’s infamous treatise on Singapore, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”, labelled the city-state’s newspapers as “essentially organs of the state”.[1] Academics have analysed the mechanics of the state’s media interventionism in detail. James Gomez writes that the prevalence of a “censorial culture”, particularly “self-censorship, [is] how the PAP (People’s Action Party)[2] administrative state has, over the decades, been able to effectively expand its control over the hearts and minds of its citizens”.[3]

International observers have confirmed the academics’ findings. In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 151 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index, lower than Indonesia (124), the Philippines (133), Thailand (140), and Malaysia (145). Under the heading “Intolerant government, self-censorship”, the report notes that:

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government reacts quickly to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue them, apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country […] As a result of judicial and financial pressure from the authorities, self-censorship is widespread, including within the alternative independent media. The red lines imposed by the authorities, known by journalists as ‘OB markers’ (for out-of-bounds markers), apply to an ever-wider range of issues and public figures.[4]

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