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Freedom from the Press

Journalism and State Power in Singapore

Cherian George

Publication Year: 2012

The city-state of Singapore has, for decades, been an international anomaly, combining an advanced and open economy with reduced civil liberties and press freedom. This book analyses the country's media system, showing how ithas been structured -- like the rest of the political framework -- to provide maximum freedom of manoeuvre for the People's Action Party (PAP) government. Going beyond critique, the author explains how the PAP's "freedom form the press" model has achieved its extraordinary resilience and stability. One key factor was the PAP's early recognition that capitalism and the profit motive could be harnessed as a way to tame journalism. Second, the PAP exercised strategic self-restraint in the use of force, progressively turning to subtler means of control that are less prone to backfire on the state. Third, unlike many authoritarian regimes, the PAP remained open to ideas and change, even as it insulated itself from political competition. These strategies, while subject to strain and failure, have helped the PAP consolidate its authoritarian form of electoral democracy. Freedom form the Press is essential reading for those who are interested in Singapore's media and political system. Singapore's unique place on the world map of press freedom and democracy makes the book an important contribution to the comparative study of journalism and politics.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half title, full title, copyright, dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Many of the arguments and concepts in this book were developed from ideas piloted at various workshops, conferences and other collaborative projects. I thank the fellow scholars whose invitations provided such opportunities. My interest in Asian journalism’s radical...

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Singapore Politics and Media: A Primer

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pp. xi-xvi

The Republic of Singapore is a city-state of 5 million people, 3.2 million of whom are citizens.1 It is located at the Southeastern tip of the Asian landmass, on the main maritime route between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Its closest neighbours are Malaysia and...

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Chapter 1. Introduction: Beyond the Singapore Paradox

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pp. 1-22

The Newseum in the heart of Washington, D.C. is an inspiring tribute to journalism. Situated on historic Pennsylvania Avenue, close to Capitol Hill, the museum celebrates the role of a free press in building democracy. Its exhibits include a graffi ti-strewn section of the...

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Chapter 2. Journalism Tamed: The Mechanics of Media Control

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pp. 23-45

The People’s Action Party government of Singapore has never been bashful about its determination to discipline the press. It believes that media freedom cannot be allowed to obstruct the government in its mission to secure better lives for Singaporeans. However, while...

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Chapter 3. Inside the Press: Routines, Values and "OB" Markers

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pp. 46-70

In 2009, The Straits Times broke the story that Singapore’s main feminist organisation had been taken over by a group of conservative Christians. Initially coy about their identity and intent, the insurgent faction eventually let it be known that they were opposed to AWARE’s...

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Chapter 4. Government Unlimited: The Ideology of State Primacy

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pp. 71-92

For the People’s Action Party, winning the battle for power has never been enough. It has needed to believe that it has won the intellectual argument as well. Th e result is a paradox. On the one hand, the state routinely forecloses debate on a wide range of issues...

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Chapter 5. Calibrated Coercion: The State Strategy of Self-Restraint

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pp. 93-116

China’s crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests is such a taboo topic that the merest hint of a mention online is sufficient to trigger the country’s famed internet firewall. However, as a statesman who has been in the game longer than most — indeed, longer...

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Chapter 6. The Harmony Myth: Asian Media's Radical Past

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pp. 117-136

When I was working at The Straits Times (ST), it was not uncommon to hear scorn being expressed in the newsroom for the country’s Chinese newspapers. In covering government news, Lianhe Zaobao was even more likely than ST to choose angles that served the...

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Chapter 7. Freedom of the Press: A Cause Without Rebels

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pp. 137-157

In Singapore’s debates over censorship, the press is strangely silent about its own plight. One has to turn the clock back decades to find instances of professional journalists protesting collectively and publicly against their political restraints. The 1970s saw a “Save...

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Chapter 8. Alternative Online Media: Challenging the Gatekeepers

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pp. 158-192

While the People’s Action Party government was able to secure its freedom from the check and balance of an adversarial press, it found it much harder to shield itself from watchdogs in cyberspace. Th e growth of the internet since the mid-1990s created spaces with...

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Chapter 9. Rise of the Unruly: Media Activism and Civil Disobedience

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pp. 183-199

In 2008, a dissident lawyer by the name of Gopalan Nair let fly an online tirade against Singapore leaders Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong, accusing them of being, among other things, “nothing more than tin pot tyrants who remain in power by abusing the courts...

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Chapter 10. Networked Hegemony: Consolidating the Political System

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pp. 200-225

Dictatorships don’t last. In the long run, the divergence of interests between leaders and led rips regimes apart. Of course, history tells us that the long term can be extremely long: civilisations have lasted millennia without conceding anything to democracy. Today...


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pp. 226-255


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pp. 256-267


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pp. 268-272

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696054
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695941

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: New