Singapore Politics and Media: A Primer
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Singapore Politics and Media: A Primer Names and other terms feature prominently in this book are highlighted in bold. 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 Indonesia. Controlled by the British Empire from 1918, it was occupied from 1942–5 by the Empire of Japan. It was granted internal self-government by the British in 1959 and chose to join the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. The merger failed: Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent republic in 1965.2 In most respects , it is a First World city; it has one of the world’s busiest ports and financial markets. Singapore has been governed by the People’s Action Party (PAP) continuously since 1959.3 General Elections decide seats in Singapore’s unicameral Parliament, which has a maximum term of five years.4 The Westminster-style first-past-the-post system means that the margin of victory in each constituency has no bearing on the allocation of seats. As a result, although the PAP’s share of the popular vote ranged from 60 to 75 per cent in GEs since the 1990s, its share of seats has always exceeded 90 per cent, giving it virtually unchecked law-making power. In the 2011 general election, the PAP won 81 out of 87 seats. Lee Hsien Loong has been prime minister since 2004. He was preceded by Goh Chok Tong and, before that, Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Lee Kuan Yew, the father of the current prime minister, dominated Singapore politics and shaped media policy for half a century, only retiring from Cabinet in 2011. xi FM-Freedom from the Press xi FM-Freedom from the Press xi 4/2/12 2:56:19 PM 4/2/12 2:56:19 PM Singapore is a culturally diverse immigrant society. The majority is Chinese (74 per cent) and the main minority groups are Malays (13 per cent) and Indians (9 per cent).5 There is no dominant religious group. Most Chinese are Buddhists and Taoists; almost all Malays and some Indians are Muslims. There is a growing population of Christians. Singapore has four official languages: English (the main working language and the medium of instruction in schools); Malay (designated as the “national language”); Chinese (with official promotion of Mandarin over dialects); and Tamil (the language of the majority of Indian Singaporeans). The media market is similarly divided on linguistic lines. Singapore’s news industry is dominated by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), a corporation created in 1984 by the merger of two newspaper groups. While not government-owned, it is closely supervised by the political leadership. Its flagship title and de facto national paper is the English-language Straits Times, founded in 1845. In 2010, it had an average daily circulation of around 350,000 copies. Its Sunday edition is the Sunday Times. SPH’s other English-language dailies are The New Paper, a downmarket tabloid, and the Business Times. The largest Chinese-language daily is SPH’s Lianhe Zaobao, which had a weekday circulation of around 160,000 in 2010. It has two downmarket sister papers, Shin Min Daily News and Lianhe Wanbao. SPH’s Chinese papers are descended from Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh. SPH publishes the country’s only dailies in Malay (Berita Harian, which has a weekday circulation of around 60,000) and Tamil (Tamil Murasu, around 15,000).6 SPH also publishes a bilingual free-sheet, My Paper, in English and Chinese. As in other mature markets, newspaper circulations in Singapore are in decline. However, the industry remains financially robust. Broadcasting is dominated by MediaCorp, the sole provider of free-to-air television channels, including Channel NewsAsia, and the main radio station operator. Descended from the government’s propaganda department and corporatised in stages, MediaCorp is government-owned but also highly commercial in orientation. Much of its factual programming depends on government grants and subsidies . MediaCorp publishes the only non-SPH Singaporean daily newspaper , Today. The free-sheet claims an average distribution of 300,000 copies on weekdays, 200,000 on Saturdays and 100,000 on Sundays.7 In return for retreating from its short-lived foray into television, SPH was given a 20...