Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Press freedom: Singapore vs Cambodia

Just on the subject of press freedom. RSF or Reporters without Borders publishes an annual ranking of countries on the basis of press freedon. Here is 2008's list. European countries dominate the top ranks, and of 173 countries, the US is 36th (domestically) and 119 (internationally). Cambodia is 126 and Singapore, 144.

Cambodian readers may be surprised to learn that yes, your country has more open press than Singapore--why? Because your newspapers are not all owned by a couple of companies, and government- linked ones at that:
Like all newspaper companies in Singapore, SPH is regulated by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974, and issues both management and ordinary shares. As specified by the act, all issues and transfers of management shares have to be approved by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, and in "any resolution relating to the appointment or dismissal of a director or any member of the staff" the vote of one management share is equivalent to 200 ordinary shares.

There are close ties between the directors of SPH and the Singapore Government. S R Nathan, Director of the Security and Intelligence Division and later President of Singapore, served as SPH's Executive Chairman from 1982 to 1988, and the first President (1995–2002) of SPH was Tjong Yik Min, former chief of the Internal Security Department. The present Chairman of SPH, Tony Tan, was Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1995 to 2005.

SPH publishes 17 newspapers and MediaCorp publishes one free sheet, called Today. MediaCorp co-owns Today with the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit and Singapore Telecommunications, all government linked companies. Businessweek has a great article on the Singapore government's attempt at "dismantling the communications monopolies but doing it in a controlled way".

MediaCorp is Singapore's first local broadcaster, which became once again the monopoly in the free-to-air terrestrial channels broadcasting market after three years after a merger with SPH Mediaworks at the end of 2004.

It wasn't easy finding out who owns MediaCorp. Wikipedia's entry on Mediacorp says it is 100% owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government's wholly owned investment arm, but I could not verify this on MediaCorp's website. In fact it wasn't easy trying to find out who owns MediaCorp. But I did find this Asia Times article on Temasek's telecoms tangles in Indonesia and Thailand (I wonder what its plans are for Cambodia?) which also claims Temasek owns 100% of MediaCorp.

In contrast, the Cambodian government has provided licenses to 122 national newspapers, 19 bulletins and 41 magazines, plus 45 licenses to 45 foreign NGO newspapers, magazines and bulletins. There is one local news agency and 14 foreign news agencies. There is print media in English, French and Chinese (also now - Korean and Japanese). There are only two publicly owned and 13 private radio stations.

Of course, people will point out journalists get murdered in Cambodia, where they do not in Singapore--just last year journalist Khim Sambo was murdered in broad daylight. But that is not the only measure of press freedom; there are many ways to suppress the media and murder is but one way. It is bad PR (public relations) and developed countries have learned to move away from murder to more subtle forms of repression, where the repression is systemic and institutionalised. In Singapore's case, it is the threat of lawsuits and the loss of huge amounts of money that has kept the foreign press and local citizens mute.

Of course, I am under no illusions about the state of press freedom in Cambodia, as reported by human rights group Licadho. Cambodia has a long way to go in this regard--as does Singapore.

One thing that gives me hope is the Internet. The quality of writing and discussion on Singapore-based blogs and other sites is impressive and exciting. I like

For Cambodian news, I read which has less discussion and is more of a news portal. Still, it is a good read. Most such sites are still anonymous in Cambodia, which is understandable, but which hopefully will change as people become more educated and confident of their rights, just as they have in Singapore.


Ron said...

Diana, I'm a firm beleiver in having a mixture of public media and private media. It scares me to see how some of the most developed countries run their own media outlets--which basically means that the government controls the media. Monopolies are another thing that frightens me. It limits freedom of expression and takes all objectivity out of journalism. It becomes propoganda! Great post!

Anonymous said...

lee kuan yew's junta


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