Singapore not ashamed of low rank for press freedom

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore should not be embarrassed
by its lowly ranking on the international press freedom index
because it has achieved top ratings for economic freedom and
prosperity, its senior minister said.

Defending the city-state’s model of press control, former
prime minister Goh Chok Tong said the country should not
subscribe to the Western model of a free press that favors
criticism and opposition.

Instead, Singapore should develop a non-adversarial press
that reported accurately and objectively.

“I do not favor a subservient press. An unthinking press is
not good for Singapore. But press freedom must be practised
with a larger sense of responsibility and the ability to
understand what is in, or not in, our national interests,” Goh
said late on Monday, at the anniversary dinner of the Today
newspaper.

Goh’s comments come a week after an annual index produced
by Reporters Sans Frontieres, a Paris-based media monitoring
group, ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries — up four
notches from last year but still faring worse than tightly
governed states such as Russia and Yemen.

In a report accompanying the publication of the latest
index, Reporters San Frontieres (RSF) said Singapore’s low
ranking was due to the complete absence of independent media,
the application of prison sentences for press offences, media
self-censorship and the opposition’s lack of access to state
media.

The report also cited instances where the government used
heavy fines or distribution bans on international newspapers
such as the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Economist and the
International Herald Tribune to “silence Singaporeans or
foreign journalists” who wrote articles that embarrassed the
political elite.

Goh said the RSF report was a “subjective measure computed
through the prism of Western liberals.”

He cited other surveys such as the Transparency
International Index and the US-Based Heritage Foundation’s
Economic Freedom Index, in which Singapore received top
ratings.

“My simple point is this: it has not been proven that
having more press freedom would result in a clean and efficient
government or economic freedom and prosperity,” Goh said.

Singapore is known for heavy-handed censorship in the media
and arts, largely enforced through a system of issuing
publication and performance licenses.

Run by the People’s Action Party for 40 years, Singapore
often gets top marks for its sound economic policies but lags
other Asian countries when it comes to freedom of expression.

Last month, outgoing U.S. ambassador Franklin L. Lavin
slammed the city-state’s curbs on freedom of speech. In the
same month, Britain’s Warwick University dropped plans to set
up a campus in Singapore because of concerns about academic
freedom.

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