S’pore Now 160th In World Press Freedom Index, Drop In Ranking Ironically Omitted By Local Mainstream Media

Singapore’s Ranking Drops To 160 On World Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has recently ranked Singapore’s press freedom 160 out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

RSF is a non-profit organisation that states their mission is to preserve the freedom of information around the world, as well as to protect journalists.

This may come as a surprise to you – or not – but the irony here is that news about our ranking was notably absent on our mainstream media.

ST published an article regarding the 2021 press freedom index, but omitted any mention of Singapore. Meanwhile, Channel NewsAsia and TODAY chose not report on the 2021 World Press Freedom ranking at all.

This censorship didn’t go unnoticed by netizens on /r/Singapore, with many in this thread calling out the biggest local publications for failing to mention Singapore’s new ranking.


Singapore ranks 160 in World Press Freedom Index 2021

According to the report, we were ranked 158 in 2020, meaning we dropped another 2 places this year.


Right at the bottom are Turkmenistan and North Korea, which feature dictatorial governments with severe crackdowns on dissent plus full control over media.

What RSF claims

In their justification for their ranking of Singapore in the “very bad” category, RSF mentions the suing of critical journalists and the pressuring of critics into being out of a job or even making them leave the country.

RSF has also said that The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has the power to censor any journalistic content as they see fit.

They claim that defamation suits are common, and those on the receiving end have taken to crowdfunding to help pay for the fees.

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Why didn’t our mainstream media cover this story?

One reason could be to avoid putting attention on media censorship in Singapore. In previous years, articles on Singapore’s placement on the RSF index have become a sore point with the public and ammunition for critics of our government.

Another reason might be because our mainstream media outlets consider this ranking not credible – or in cruder terms, “fake news”.

The rankings on the index are not determined in the most objective way – they are compiled from a survey of questions asked of media professionals, lawyers and sociologists.

And there appears to be oddities in the rankings. RSF noted that in 2021, over 24 journalists have been imprisoned in Myanmar.

And we also know in recent developments, Myanmar’s junta has shut off the internet to restrict the flow of information in the country. Yet, Myanmar is ranked at 140, twenty places ahead of Singapore – where such atrocities are inconceivable.

Malaysia, which RSF has also alleged to have similar media controls as Singapore, comes in at rank 119. Meanwhile, China has been ranked 4th from the bottom on the list, at 177.

Referring to their methodology and their ranking of other countries, Singapore’s relative placement at 160 does seem peculiar.

How accurate is the Word Press Freedom Ranking Index?

Statements RSF has made about Singapore like “The authorities have also started sending journalists emails threatening them with up to 20 years in prison if they don’t remove annoying articles and fall into line” seem “divorced from reality“.

A phrase we are borrowing, used by Minister K Shanmugam in a 2010 speech when commenting about the ranking of Singapore done by the RSF back then.

We’ll also like to state that as an alternative news publisher in Singapore with over 100 million pageviews annually, we’ve never in our history received any of this purported regulation or threats of prison time. We’ve also never received anything close to a POFMA notice.

But there isn’t any doubt that our Singapore media does censor certain stories. Recent examples would be the omission of the successful Leong Sze Hian and Roy Ngerng crowdfunding cases in our mainstream media – stories which were covered in detail by international titles like Bloomberg and SCMP.

The non-coverage stands out like a sore thumb and does make us look like we would not rank highly on the press freedom index.

There are some truths in what RSF have said. We do have POFMA, and in recent years, two of our citizens have been sued for defamation.

But much of this exaggerates the situation we’re in. While we deserve a lower ranking than some developed countries, a rank of 160 is quite a stretch and doesn’t seem to reflect reality.

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Featured image adapted from Unsplash. This article has been updated for balance.

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