Singapore falls to record-low place in press freedom ranking

[UPDATE 4 May, 1.10pm: Added details of Freedom House report]

Singapore fell 14 places to a record 149th position in terms of press freedom, according to an annual report by non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

Coming ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which was observed Friday, the report showed this is the city-state’s worst performance since the index was established in 2002.

On the list, Singapore is wedged in between Russia and Iraq, with Myanmar just two places behind. The former junta-led country jumped up 18 spots in this year’s ranking.

Neighbouring Malaysia dropped 23 places to 145th over repeated censorship efforts and a crackdown on the Bersih 3.0 protest in April. Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea stayed at the bottom three, while Finland stayed on top of the list followed by the Netherlands and Norway.

Mali was the biggest jumper, moving 74 spots down amid a military coup and subsequent media bias. Malawi was the biggest riser, moving 71 spots up, after an end to the Mutharika dictatorship marked by excesses and violence.

In this year's Freedom of The Press report published Wednesday by Freedom House, Singapore's press was rated "Not Free" and was ranked 153rd in the world, tied with Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar. Norway and Sweden tied for tops, while North Korea and Turkmenistan tied for the bottom two.

Both reports come amid recent events that have rocked the media industry in Singapore. Outspoken academic Cherian George, who has called for more press freedom in the city-state, was denied tenure at Nanyang Technological University, sparking outrage among academics, colleagues and students.

Last month, comics artist Leslie Chew was arrested for alleged sedition, with charges relating to two comic strips, including one that contained the words “Malay population… Deliberately suppressed by a racist government.”

Filmmaker Lynn Lee was questioned for two videos she posted in January this year of interviews with former Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) bus drivers He Jun Ling and Liu Xiang Ying. Both drivers alleged police abuse while they were held in custody.

Amid the continued rise of new media in Singapore, there have been several instances over the past year of letters of demand being sent to bloggers and online media commentators to apologise and take down remarks that allegedly defamed government officials or the courts.

Earlier this year, blogger Alex Au received a letter of demand from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyer that prompted the writer to apologise and take down an article and 21 comments regarding the sale of software by town councils to a firm owned by the ruling People’s Action Party.

The Real Singapore, a user-generated content website, was also asked twice to post an apology over comments allegedly defaming Defence Minister Ng Eng Hean.

The Attorney General's Chambers also asked the website to post an apology for comments made by users over the case of China national Yuan Zhenghua, who was sentenced to 25 months jail for stealing a taxi and killing a cleaner at Changi Airport’s Budget terminal. The site has refused to put up the apology.

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