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Safety & Security

Limitations of Civil Freedoms in Singapore

Singapore unfortunately suffers from a number of constraints regarding the freedom of speech, which has an obvious direct impact on the political and civil atmosphere in the country. In this article, we take a look at the most prominent forms of constraint.

Sedition Act

The Sedition Act of the Statutes of Singapore aims to retain political stability as well as racial and ethnic harmony. Any acts, tendencies, or statements which can be construed in such way as to make them a threat to the government (inciting criticism or hatred of the government and its institutions or rioting) or an affront against the multiracial and multiethnic Singaporean population are punishable under this act. With its history of race riots and political turbulences, it is easy to see why such an act could be deemed necessary.

While it is surely not an objectionable idea to penalize racism in public, some Singaporean and foreign observers have also made negative comments on this act. Effectively, the Sedition Act bans the public discussion (the term “public” has also come to include the Internet, see below) of most matters of race, religion, or sexuality, as well as direct and vocal criticism of the government. This is seen as a restriction of free speech, and it has also come up as one of the reasons for the racial tensions the act aims to prevent. Some have remarked that without the opportunity to discuss matters of racial diversity in a civil and healthy manner, antipathy could blossom more easily.

Out of Bounds Markers

In Singapore, not every political topic is acceptable in public discourse and discussion. Some are considered to be out of the realm of the permissible, regardless whether or not they are pressing issues, the latest hot topic, or have other societal significance – those topics are not to be brought up. In the Singaporean public, the term “out of bounds marker” (or OB marker, as it is more frequently referred to) has come to signify the limits of acceptable topics.

Of course, OB markers can experience significant shifts over time. Topics which were once perfectly okay to discuss suddenly are not, and vice versa. It is hard to guess or anticipate whether or not a shift is going to take place in advance, or a topic is on the verge of becoming taboo. The problems with OB markers do not stop there: More often than not, they are not explicitly flagged or clearly defined as such. This, of course, can limit the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, but it is often the journalists themselves who choose self-censorship above run-ins with the government or law.

Control of the Media

Most, if not all, of the media outlets available in the country – this includes newspapers, radio stations, and TV broadcasters – are closely linked to the government. All eight television channels, for example, are controlled by MediaCorp, which is in turn owned by a state investment company. Satellite dishes are banned in Singapore, although broadcasts from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia are available.  While generally, news outlets from those countries are freely available to Singaporeans, access can be restricted if the government deems it necessary. This often means that coverage of the news and political issues tends to be one-sided, although critical pieces such as editorials can at times be found in local Singaporean newspapers.

Internet Censorship

The Singaporean Media Development Authority (MDA) monitors and regulates Internet use and connections which are made via the three major service providers SingNet, StarHub, and M1. A number of websites are inaccessible from within Singapore, as they are deemed “objectionable”. The undisclosed list of banned web addresses includes Malaysian news sites, homosexuality-related sites, pages with pornographic content, and a number of YouTube videos. Blog entries from Singaporean bloggers as well as comments made on popular social media pages are also subject to monitoring, having already led to a number of criminal charges and layoffs. 

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

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