MARUAH statement: World Press Freedom Day

Dear Members, Volunteers and Friends,

Today is World Press Freedom Day. It is important that we acknowledge this date to

  1. celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  2. assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  3. defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  4. pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

As a human rights advocacy group, MARUAH has reported on limited media freedom in Singapore at the Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process last year.

MARUAH calls upon the Singapore government to also observe this day and in doing so, consider review of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) to give freedom to the media.The government enacted the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act in 1974, implementing a regime whereby all printing presses had to be licensed and all newspapers had to apply for an annual permit, all subject to the Minister’s discretion1. The stated aim of the law was to prevent newspapers from being funded by foreign sources with hidden agendas. The effect was to essentially throttle the previously lively media scene.

In 1984, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH) was established through the merger of three newspaper publishers. The Government has the power to control the appointment of the SPH management, by way of special management shares with enhanced voting powers. SPH became and remains the dominant newspaper publisher in Singapore; it was also the sole newspaper publisher after the Singapore Monitor closed in 1985, until MediaCorp Pte Ltd began publishing the TODAY newspaper (which SPH currently owns 40% of) in 2000.

The Act was further amended in 1986, to empower the Minister to gazette any foreign newspaper as “a newspaper engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore” and thereafter restrict the sale and distribution of such newspapers.2

The right to information is a fundamental human right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is immediately apparent that the Act has seriously constrained the press in Singapore, with a corresponding restriction on individuals’ right to information. With Malaysia moving to repeal its own version of the Act, the time has come for Singapore to also review and modernise its own press laws.

MARUAH also urges the Government to unequivocally state that it does not intend to tighten regulation of the Internet, and accordingly to acknowledge that a new code of conduct for online behaviour is not necessary. Contrary to Government assertions, the online community has been able to self-regulate, as shown by, for instance, the very vocal condemnations of racist comments in Singapore. More regulation is not necessary, and will likely lead to some chilling of free speech in Singapore.

In commemorating this day, MARUAH would also like to raise concern over a grave reality in our region. The Philippines has the highest number of journalists killed within the ASEAN community and possibly globally. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s annual Impunity Index3, which identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes, Philippines is ranked third globally with 56 unresolved murders.

MARUAH emphasises that journalists and their work must be protected as World Press Freedom Day is a reminder on the sacred values of a free press to nurture the mind and spirit of the people. Unpunished violence also often results in vast self-censorship, which is also undesirable.

This year’s observance theme is New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies. More information is available on this UN website.

1. Section 3(1) of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act
2. Sections 21 and 22 of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. To read the rest of COSINGO’s UPR report, please click here.
3. Impunity is a key indicator in assessing levels of press freedom and free expression in nations worldwide.

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