December 11th, 2007
A BBC poll across 14 developed and developing countries has placed Singapore near the bottom in public desire for press freedom. While 56% of the 11,000-plus respondents worldwide believed that freedom of the press was very important to ensure a free society, only 43% of Singaporeans surveyed held this view.
According to the BBC report, almost half of Singaporeans – compared with 40% globally – believe that stability and peace are more important, so press controls are sometimes needed.
Indians and Russians surveyed were similarly unconvinced about the merits of press freedom, with 41% and 39% respectively agreeing that press freedom was very important.
Indians could be fed up with the excesses of a free press: 72% rated their press as “free” (compared with just 53% in the US and 56% in Britain). The same cannot be said of Singaporeans: only 36% believe that their press is free – the lowest figure among the 14 countries polled.
Thus, Singapore is in the unique position of having a majority who don’t believe they have a free press – and are not bothered by it.
Since Singapore has never experienced press freedom, during or before PAP rule, it is possible that citizens’ negative views about the concept are based largely on received wisdom. Decades of indoctrination by the PAP appears to have persuaded the majority that the grass is not in fact greener in places where free media flower.
Another explanation for Singaporeans’ satisfaction with the lack of press freedom is that their news sources are nonetheless generally reliable. Indeed, more Singaporeans than either Americans or Brits say that their news organisations are “good” in reporting the news accurately. At the other end of the scale, only 6% of Singaporeans give their news media a “poor” rating in accuracy of news, whereas one-quarter to one-third of Americans and Brits hold this negative view of their media.
Thus, it appears that the Singapore news media have managed to build a reputation for reliability despite their patent lack of freedom.
The poll is likely to be welcomed by the PAP Government as supporting what it has said for decades: that Singaporeans care more about peace and stability than press freedom, and that its press system gives enough room for the media to fulfill its basic responsibility of keeping Singaporeans informed.