Internet services provided by the three major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are subject to regulation by the Media Development Authority (MDA), which blocks a "symbolic" number of websites containing "mass impact objectionable" material, including Playboy and YouPorn. In addition, the Ministry of Education, Singapore blocks access to pornographic and similar objectionable Internet sites on its proxy servers.
In 2005, the MDA banned a gay website and fined another website following complaints that the sites contained offensive content. The banned website is said to have promoted promiscuous sexual behaviour and recruited underage boys for sex and nude photography.
Government agencies have been known to use or threaten to use litigation against bloggers and other Internet content providers. The first instance of such activity was against Sintercom in July 2001 when the founder, Dr Tan Chong Kee was asked to register the website under the nascent Singapore Broadcast Authority Act (now Media Development Authority). Dr Tan chose to shutdown Sintercom due to concerns over the ambiguity of the Act. In April 2005, a blogger, Chen Jiahao, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was made to apologise and shut down his blog containing criticisms on government agency A*STAR, after its Chairman Philip Yeo threatened to sue for defamation. In September 2005, 3 people were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments on the Internet. Two were sentenced to imprisonment. Later, the Teachers' Union announced that it is offering legal assistance to teachers who want to take legal action against students who defame them on their blogs, after five students from Saint Andrew's Junior College were suspended for three days for allegedly "flaming" two teachers and a vice-principal on their blogs.
In the last few years, the government has taken a much tougher stand on Internet-related matters, including censorship. Proposed amendments to the Penal Code intend to hold Internet users liable for "causing public mischief", and give the authorities broader powers in curtailing freedom of speech.
The state-owned MediaCorp controls all free-to-air terrestrial local TV channels licensed to broadcast in Singapore, as well as 14 radio channels. Pay TV channels are available on cable TV, but many programs were banned. For example, the popular HBO series Sex and the City was not permitted to be shown in Singapore until 2004, after its original run had ended. Private ownership of satellite dishes is illegal, though international TV broadcasts (such as CNN, BBC, etc.) are available on StarHub's cable TV.
The Media Development Authority, through its Programme Advisory Committees for each of the four official languages, constantly monitors and provides feedback on broadcast content. Permissible content on Singaporean TV is minutely regulated by the MDA's Free-to-Air Television Programme Code.
Part 5 of the Code states that TV programs "should not in any way promote, justify or glamorise" homosexuality in any form. MediaCorp has been fined repeatedly for violations of this, most recently in April 2008 for showing an episode of Home and Design that depicted a gay couple. Consequently, MediaCorp has censored any content that could be interpreted as pro-gay, including Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech at the 2008 Academy Awards.
Part 7 of the Code states that "Gratuitous and graphic portrayals of violence, such as cutting up body parts and spurting of blood, should be avoided.", and that programs "should not glamorise or in any way promote persons ... who engage in any criminal activity". Local productions thus typically avoid depicting the local police or military personal as victims of violence, resulting in predictable storylines considered "ethically correct". The police, for example, are increasingly shown to rarely succumb to graphic violence or other unfortunate events, and even if they do, are typically shown to prevail ultimately, as depicted in police dramas Triple Nine and Heartlanders.
Foreign publications that carry articles the government considers slanderous, including The Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), have been subjected to defamation suits and/or had their circulations "gazetted" (restricted). The sale of Malaysian newspapers in Singapore is prohibited; a similar ban on the sale of newspapers from Singapore applies in Malaysia.
In August 2006, the government announced a tightening of rules on foreign publications previously exempt from the media code. Newsweek, Time, the Financial Times, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the International Herald Tribune will be required to appoint a publisher's representative in Singapore who could be sued, and to pay a security deposit of S$200,000. The move comes after FEER published an interview with Singaporean opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who claimed that leading members of the Singaporean government had "skeletons in their closets". On 28 September 2006, FEER was banned for failing to comply with conditions imposed under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.
Pornography is strictly prohibited in Singapore; this encompasses magazines such as Playboy or Penthouse. However, magazines which are deemed to contain "mature content" such as Cosmopolitan Magazine are free to be distributed at all stores with a "Parental Warning/not suitable for the young" label on its cover.
In December 2008, a Singaporean couple was charged with sedition for distributing the Chick tracts The Little Bride and Who Is Allah?, said to "to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Christians and Muslims in Singapore".
The Singapore Government always takes into account the concerns and values of the majority of Singaporeans. We understand that some Singaporeans frown upon the media censorship implemented by the Singapore Government, however, we have to realize that Singapore is a relatively conservative nation. While most of our younger generations of Singaporeans are exposed to Western culture which tend to be more liberal towards media censorship, we cannot forget the family values that bind our nation together. Ever since Singapore became independent in 1965, respecting family values has been the foundation for our growth. When the rating system for movies was first introduced in 1991 with the R(A) rating to allow those aged 18 years and above to watch more adult-type films, there was a wave of objection among the general population who are family-oriented. Hence, the rating system was revised and the age limit was lifted from 18 to 21 years old.
In regulating media censorship, the Government has to balance between providing greater space for free expression and the values upheld by the majority. Over the years, media censorship has been relaxed to provide greater freedom for the younger generations of Singaporeans to express their views on issues that concern them. For example, The Straits Times started a column 'YOUthink' in 2005 for youths to express their views on issues of their concern. Channels such as the Speakers' Corner have been in place for our citizens to voice out their concerns regarding the well-being of Singapore. A five-minute registration is all it takes for anyone above the age of 21 to contribute at the Speakers' Corner.
Having said that, the Government has to maintain control over the freedom of media in Singapore. Since the media is the window of the public to the world, it is important for the Government to filter out the dust in the air so that our people can grow up in a healthy environment. The cleanliness of our room will directly and indirectly affect the prosperity of our nation. Keeping out "inappropriate" information has always been the stand of the Government. We want our people to remain united as one in times of crisis. While the Government does not doubt the media maturity of our people, we have to ensure that there is no one being left out in our pursuit for public morality. A black sheep could essentially destroy a whole group of people.
We believe that Singaporeans are mature enough to make the right choice. However that does not necessarily mean that they are rational all the time. People do stray from their values sometimes, whether out of curiosity, pressure or just for fun. The younger generations may be curious about the content of a R21 film compared to, say a M18 or NC16 film. Some teenagers believe that they are mature enough to be exposed to adult content without being influenced. Is this belief mature? This of course does not apply only to films. It extends to video games, articles, advertisements and speech.
As can be seen, media is all-encompassing and has a role in every aspect of our lives. Media is also a major source of influence and could affect important matters such as internal security and public morality. As such, there is need on the Government's part to ensure that content damaging towards society or having negative influences does not harm the people of this country. Hence, although the people keen on Western ideologies might criticise that the Singapore Government does not allow freedom of media, we believe that this is a necessary evil to protect our country.