Singapore. 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.
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.
-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.
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