CPJ alarmed by move to restrict foreign broadcasters

New York, April 19, 2001 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the Singapore Parliament’s passage today of a bill designed to curb foreign broadcasters’ coverage of local issues.

The new law, which gives the government broad power to restrict or suspend broadcasters for “engaging in domestic politics,” is expected to take effect soon.

“This legislation appears timed to limit political debate in a year when general elections are expected,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Free and fair elections cannot take place when the media are hamstrung by restrictions on their reporting.”

With Singapore’s local media overwhelmingly controlled by the ruling People’s Action Party, foreign media have been a crucial source of independent news in the country. The legislation, an amendment to the Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act, would affect the operations of the BBC, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Television Network , and Star TV.

The legislation “makes it clear to foreign broadcasters that whilst they can sell their services to Singaporeans, they should not interfere with our domestic politics,” said Information Minister Lee Yock Suan, according to Agence France-Presse. “Foreign broadcasters are outsiders and not participants on our political scene.”

Foreign print media are already subject to similar legislation.

In a related development, the government recently imposed new restrictions on the Open Singapore Centre and the Think Centre, two Singapore-based groups that advocate press freedom and other political reforms. Beginning April 1, both groups were licensed as “political associations,” making it illegal for them to receive foreign funding.

The reclassification was designed to “safeguard the integrity of the political process in Singapore,” said Political Donations Registrar Lu Cheng Yang.