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Media governance in Singapore – efficacy and challenges

Lee, Howard Kwai Hou (2021) Media governance in Singapore – efficacy and challenges. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Singapore is one of the most digitally connected nations in the world, but it is notorious for punitive media laws that restrict what journalists can and cannot publish. In addition, the government takes firm and astute control of media financing, reducing any ability of the mass media to operate independently, or as a Fourth Estate. Such an understanding of Singapore rarely interrogates nor traverses the boundaries of legal tools and political economy, particularly those that coerce journalists who operate in mainstream and online media to bend to the will of the state.

This thesis revisits and critiques some of the established positions about Singapore's model of media governance. It begins with a theoretical and historical overview of media governance to locate Singapore's current model. It will emphasise that the government's preferred mantra of a 'social responsibility' media model is not universally congruent with similar models used in other societies. It then re-situates Singapore's media governance model by examining the development of this ‘social responsibility’ mindset, drawing on perspectives gathered via in-depth interviews with various stakeholders, including former and current journalists, activists, media academics and legal professionals.

The thesis moves on to retrace Singapore's history of media governance based on a key theme that has emerged from the stakeholder interviews: that media governance goes beyond legal and economic control, but involves relationship-building between the government and media practitioners. This theme leads to an examination of how Singapore’s media practitioners willingly subscribe to the values of nation-building and social responsibility. These values are often painstakingly justified by the government through the use of what the thesis refers to as ‘disciplining narratives’, a form of public discourse that defines the norms and permissibility used to structure relations of social power between the government and the media.

The thesis rounds up the analysis of Singapore’s media environment with a case study of the country's anti ‘fake news’ legislation, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Act that was passed in 2019. It charts the legislation’s genealogical progress through public narratives that emerged as part of the public consultation process for the law.

In its totality, this thesis proposes that Singapore’s media environment embodies a system of governance that depends less on tight legal strictures than it does social norms and expectations about the role of the media, as represented by Foucault’s concept of governmentality. It concludes by espousing a renewed focus on ‘disciplining narratives’ that function efficaciously and concurrently as indicators and determinants of state-media relationships.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): IT, Media and Communications
Supervisor(s): Lee, Terence and Lim, Tania
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