Singapore Media

Even saying the word and some of the uninformed may still hold the belief that
it is located "somewhere in China," knowing only where it is
approximately. Yet this vibrant, newly industrialized city-state is in fact
located close to the equator and is often overlooked on the world map; not
surprising, considering it is only represented by a small dot in the South China

Sea. Today, the island of Singapore has earned high acclaim for its rapid
transformation from a humble trading post to the modern, technological
metropolis that it has proudly become. Singapore has been described by some
economists as a "modest miracle," simply because it has managed to
achieve the status of an Asian business headquarters with its only resource:
people. (Marshall, 1970) Despite it’s lacking of other resources, due to its
strategic location at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is a
thriving business hub for Southeast Asia with an excellent communications
network infrastructure. It possesses all the trappings of a successful business
center with an extremely multicultural heritage, as well as an abundance of
colorful and modern environment. History on this island began around the 15th
century, when it became a port of call for various Malay empires ruling at the
time. It was most likely favorable to them for its perfect deep-water harbor
area; it is one of the world’s largest at roughly 93 square miles, and offers
six gateways to the open seas. What the early settlers probably didn’t care
about was its rich, hilly landscape and fertile tropical forestry. The coastal
region of Singapore is very smooth and rocky, easily accessible for all types of
boats. They were more interested in the coastal possibilities, and perhaps with
the temperate, relatively uniform climate. It is a humid and rainy island, with
occasional violent winds. However, the early history wasn’t documented as much
for its accuracy as it was for its mythology. Singapore’s modern history began
with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company who
landed there in 1819 in search of establishing a trading site. It was quickly
transformed into a legitimate British colony, not recognized as property by
anyone. Singapore was declared a city by a royal British charter and it quickly
created a municipal colony. (Marshall, 1970) With this colony, Singapore was to
become a prosperous industrial trade nation. Perhaps it’s most alarming
attribute to success is the growth in population, comprising mainly Singapore
citizens and permanent residents. What I mean by citizens is the medley of races
making up Singapore’s resident base; they consist of the Chinese, Malays,

Indians, Arabs, Persians, and Europeans. The population in the early years was
probably not more than a few hundred thousand. Today, the number, and ethnicity,
of people have risen almost a ten-fold. With all of the dramatic increases in
populations of immigrants came the influx of different languages, and cultures,
too. Singapore’s officially-recognized languages are Malay, Chinese
(Mandarin), Tamil, and English; which is considered the administrative language,
the social conglomerate. Singapore’s mainstay of British authority lasted
around a hundred-fifty years before its brief accommodation with Malaysia.

Despite being a small, resource-poor island, Singapore gained its full
independence in 1965. This new Singapore, staunchly anticommunist, was finally
free to pursue capitalism with vigor and determination that set new standards
for nations of the Rim. Singapore faced a problem that was similar to other
former colonies: how to take the disparate cultures and blanket of colonial

European influences and weave them into a free, modern state. Singapore was
spared the problem of traditionally hostile indigenous cultures bound together
by unnatural modern state boundaries, with constant tribalism and distribution
of power. However, Singapore also lacked the cultural building blocks that are
obvious characteristics of a modern nation-state. So how do you turn a
multiethnic colony into a cohesive nation? Singapore’s former Prime Minister,

Lee Kuan Yew, tried to do this. His policies were attacked and ridiculed. The
included strict enforcement of codes of public behavior, use of English as the
important language, a national ideology built around cultural tolerance and
loyalty to the nation. Because of the other nations of the world in conflict for
post-colonialism, Yew believed the only alternative was to establish a strong
central government that could survive the typical splintering of states into
pieces. Opposition was minimal among Singaporeans or domestic media, which he
mainly controlled. What he basically did in the media was a symbol of the battle
between modern authoritarianism and independent journalism. (Stevenson, 1994)

Singapore also made an advance in the development of a centralized government.

Not a ruthless dictatorship, mind you, but rather an authoritarian government
based on the idea of commerce and wealth. An insidious ingredient of
authoritarian control is that it can include shady acts and threats that can
later be denied. It is basically a parliamentary system with a written
constitution, but infrequently honored. The President is largely a ceremonial
head of state, but a Prime Minister and a cabinet representing the majority of
parliament essentially run the government. There is a British-influenced
judiciary, with a Supreme Court and other sub-divided courts. Most of all
though, the foundation of authoritarianism is its domination of the media, which
we’ll get into shortly. The economy originally consisted of primarily trading
and shipping, but soon began diverse industries as well. It appears to follow
the same traditions as China and Indonesia, as far as financial restraints and
economic structure are concerned. In addition to its port activities, Singapore
has a large oil and textile industry, and thriving banking, insurance, and
communications industries. The city-state’s post-WWII economic explosion is
what would be expected of a newly industrialized country (NIC). Housing and
architecture, to touch on culture once again, is a good example of obscuring
heritage to accommodate its diversity and multiethnicity. Traditional cultural
enclaves and designs are basically being shadowed by the modern, British
colonial styles. The original culture, mainly South Asian, has transformed into
a mixed melting pot of other cultures. The culture dates back to the nineteenth
century, when Singapore began trading abroad. This enabled the importation of
cultural industry from other lands, therefore incorporating it into their own.

Religion and family values are also diverse, mainly consisting of Islam,

Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. This provides for other cultural influences
to disrupt ancient traditions. Education, however, has seemed to retain its
values, managing to stay rich in Asian culture and traditions, despite being

British-inspired. They are educated for contribution to the rise in
technological development, which obviously denotes a high priority in the

English language. The Western influence is really only on telecommunications and
technology, as well as other vocational skills. The schools and universities,
almost entirely funded by the state, encourage the development of intellect and
society. In essence, the education system was described in the context of
resource development, since Singapore’s only resource is people. The schools
are culturally enclosed and very technologically biased. (Hachten, 1993) All
this means is that the country instills their traditional Asian heritage into
everyday life, but uses the universal English language in almost all
technological applications. As Singapore began its ascent into a major
industrial advancement in the seventies, there was an insatiable emphasis among
policy makers on escalating the level of technology in order to complete the
process. The principal instrument in this strategy was information technology. A
key to the strategy was the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (Telecoms),
because it had an important role in the progress of every industry in Singapore.

Aside from its usual media operations, the Singaporean government, which had
inherited an extremely good telecommunications system from the British upon its
independence, assigned telecommunications a high priority in economic planning.

By the late 1980s, Singapore had one of the world's most advanced
telecommunications infrastructures and, as mentioned before, was developed under
the guidance of Telecoms and the government. Its mission was to provide high
quality communications for domestic and international requirements, and to serve
the business community as well as the public. Oh, and to do whatever the
government tells them, of course. Telecoms offered a large and growing number of
services, including radio paging, cellular phones, facsimile, internet,
electronic mail, and telepac, a system for linking computers locally and
internationally. By 1987, Singapore's domestic telephone network was completely
touch-tone, and all twenty-six telephone exchanges were linked by an optical
fiber network. There were 48.5 telephones for every 100 Singaporeans, providing
virtually 100 percent coverage in homes and offices. (Birch, 1993) A second key
was computers and related electronics which, in the late 1980s, constituted

Singapore's largest industry, measured both in numbers of jobs and in value
added by manufacturing. Throughout the eighties, electronics workers comprised
about 28 percent of the labor force and gross production of electronics was at
about 31 percent of the total manufacturing output. By 1989, Singapore had
become the world's largest producer of computer disk drives and disk drive parts
and other related hardware. (Birch, 1993) The electronics industry began a
transition away from labor ...-intensive products toward higher technological
content and worker-skilled products. Potential investors were encouraged to look
elsewhere for low-wage, unskilled labor. Aside from producing high value-added
exports, the computer and electronics industries played a critical role in the
increase of manpower productivity in other technology-intensive industries. The

National Computer Board was formed in 1981 to establish Singapore as an
international center for computer services; this was mainly to reduce the
shortage of skilled computer professionals and to assure high standards of
international caliber. (Sim, 1986) By the mid-1980s, the small but growing
printing and publishing industry had entered the high-technology world with its
computerized typesetting, color separation, and book binding. Its high-quality
printing facilities and sophisticated satellite telecommunications network made

Singapore a regional publishing and distribution center, as well as an advanced
advertising system. Singapore has fifteen newspapers: five in English, three in

Chinese, two in Malay, and one in Tamil. They are all published by Singapore

Press Holdings Ltd., a group that is comprised of the Singapore News and

Publications Ltd., the Straits Times Press Ltd., and the Times Publishing

Company. Usually there was not open censorship but rather a combination of lack
of access to information, an absence of legal remedies, and stiff sanctions for
violations. Under the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act of 1974, the
government could restrict the circulation of any publication sold in the
country, including foreign periodicals, that it deemed guilty of distorted
reporting. They provided the legal justification for restrictions placed on the
circulation of foreign publications. The broadcasting industry also began to
flourish in the eighties. The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation operated five
radio stations and three television stations. Established in 1980, the SBC
provided programming for all of Singapore’s official languages, and was
supported by revenue from radio and television licensing fees and commercial
advertising. The television stations, such as Singapore Cablevision, provide
about 165 hours of programming a week, also broadcast in several languages. (Hachten,

1993) The same can be said of radio broadcasting, which closely resembles the

British broadcasting networks. The advent of the television and then the

Internet have cast a shadow over the radio, much as it has done in almost every
developed nation. In 1988, Singapore installed the region's first dedicated
digital data network, providing up to two mega bits per second high-speed data
transmission and voice communications. This was set up by satellite links with
the world and also made Singapore a hot place for technological crimes. It was
now possible for Singapore to efficiently sit down and construct logical rules
for use with the Internet, as well as all media for that matter. Copyright and
"intellectual property" issues served as an obstruction to computer
and other industrial development in the early 1980s, when Singapore, as well as
other Asian countries, was known for producing pirated versions of everything
from computers and computer software to designer clothing. Of course, this is
always a concern for just about every developed nation. Following threats by
major Western trading partners to impose trade sanctions, and by international
computer and software companies breaking off business relations, Singapore
passed its first copyright law in 1986. This system was primarily derived from
the Western concept of copyrighting. There was some rigorous enforcement of the
copyright laws in areas where Western pressure was applied, mostly computer
software, films, and cassette tapes, and nearly full compliance in the book
trade, which had not been as serious a problem. The entire Asian "copyright
revolution" was significant as an acknowledgement by those countries that
they had joined the international information network not only as producers, but
also as consumers. (Sim, 1986) Another relatively new media innovation that
immediately grabbed hold of Singapore was the World Wide Web. The Internet has
single-handedly plugged it right in to the global media universe. Singapore
delivers the latest interactive multimedia applications and services to homes,
businesses, and schools. Singapore One is the largest network service provider
for Southeast Asia and has a master plan for the millennium, which is "to
transfer Singapore into an intelligent island where information technology is
exploited to the fullest and enhances the quality of life."(Sim, 1986)

There are many servers and many web sites dedicated to keeping Singapore online
and up to date with today’s information age. However, much like everywhere
else, the web has brought our Western culture into every Singaporean’s
computer, adding to the shadowing of their traditional heritage. For more than
three decades, Singapore’s motivated leadership has guided an extraordinarily
successful program of economic development and technological restructuring. By
the last decade of the twentieth century, the former colonial port of Singapore
had become a global financial, trading, and industrial center that continues to
live by its wits in the world of international trade, just as it had done in the
nineteenth century. Singapore's leadership and its people have always managed to
adapt to the changing demands of the world economy, on which so much of their
livelihood depended. In the coming decade, however, a new generation of leaders
will take full control of the nation's government and economy. Before them lies
the task of reconciling the need to steer a steady course in the nation's
continuing development with the people's growing aspirations for an increased
share in political and economic decision making. In retrospect, what I have
covered in this report of Singapore’s profiled history and media structure has
been somewhat chronological. It went from a trading post, to industrialization,
and now its departure from technological doldrums. Think about it, how did

America conduct their development and how quick did it happen? With exception to

Singapore’s governmental composition, the rapid transformation from a modest
colony to an industrialized metropolis is amazingly similar. The United States
had gained its independence through struggle and innovation, so did Singapore.

The fact that they are controlled by an authoritarian entity is the only
discrepancy. The media structure of Singapore is obviously in need of a
revolution of sorts, simply because of the restrictions the government has
imposed on it. Such is the desired future of Singapore and its citizens. I
learned a lot on this quest through Singapore. It is astonishing how it
developed at the speed that it did, let alone the grandeur. Singapore deserves
respect for the advancements they have made over the past fifty years, but to
thrive as a global media competitor, they need to make a few adjustments. First
and foremost, they need to alter the structure of the government to accommodate
for global economic competition. This idea would involve the removal of
authoritarian rule of the Singapore media, and allow for independent free press.

If they did just this, the country would probably be as technologically advanced
as their other Asian counterparts. They could increase trade and commerce, and
even incorporate Internet culture into their own, thus freeing society to expand
their overall global awareness. Another way that Singapore can improve their
media system is to consider improving their relationships with foreign
publications. This could allow for more advertising and, therefore, revenue.

This can only be possible if the Singapore government would not worry so much
about national security and feed the press valued information about their
operations. Thus, again, this would suggest reform of the authoritarian rule. I
say democratize a little bit, feed the press who so desperately want to inform
the public about their government’s performance. Thus, on the whole, Singapore
has come a long way from Third-World status, despite their flaws; and quite
reasonable shortcomings, not to put too fine a point on it. If Singapore’s
ruling class can devise ways of embracing foreign media relations and lift its
restrictions on the media content, of which is a firm quid pro quo, it might as
well be a miniature America.


Birch, David Ian. Singapore Media: communication strategies and practices,

1st Edition. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1993. Hachten, William A. The Growth
of Media in the Third World: African Failures, Asian Successes. 1st Edition.

Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993. Stevenson, Robert L. Global

Communication in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Longman Publishing Group,

1994, 224-226. periodicals Marshall, David. "Singapore’s Struggle for

Nationhood, 1945-1959." Journal of Asian Studies, [Singapore] Vol. 1, No.

2. Sept. 1970, 99-104. Sim, Terence. "Computer Power for Manpower."

Pioneer. No. 107. Singapore: Sept. 1986, 16. web resources
-using the keyword: singapore, many helpful resources could be found. This site
gives you the typical encyclopedia profile, as well as various articles and
editorials that are relevant to the subject matter in this report. -a search engine site, documenting
information that tourism takes advantage of. It includes the media and a bit
about its structure. -a downloadable-file search site strictly
for information involving Singapore. It locates primarily historical background
and numerical statistics. -Asia One is the Telecommunications
company that holds the homepage for Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). It has links
to all the major newspapers and some broadcasting stations in Singapore.