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Government tightens control over foreign publications

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Singapore appears to be tightening control mechanisms over foreign publications operating in the city-state, ahead of an upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank (WB) meeting in September 2006.

The "Far Eastern Economic Review" (FEER) and four other foreign newspapers and magazines - the "International Herald Tribune", the "Financial Times", "TIME Magazine", and "Newsweek" - have been advised that they will soon need to post bonds of S$200,000 (approx. US$127,200) each, and appoint legal representatives in Singapore, for the privilege of continuing their operations in the country.

The four foreign papers had been previously exempted from Section 23 (3) of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act which stipulated such conditions for offshore newspapers in Singapore. However, following a review of the application of the law, the government said the foreign newspapers need to be subjected to the same conditions applying to publications such as the "Wall Street Journal Asia", once their current permits expire.

Though the government said such conditions "are nothing new", the fact is they act as a tether on foreign newspapers, ultimately applying to the possibility of publishing and/or distribution licenses being revoked.

Observers in Singapore noted that the action against FEER may have been instigated by a recent article that had the paper profiling Dr. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Others, however, are suggesting that the city-state, notorious for its uncompromising and intolerant anti-speech policies, appears to be tightening its hold on the space for discussions ahead of the annual meetings of the Board of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank.

Singapore has already warned international NGOs and activists that no protests will be tolerated during the IMF-WB meeting, and authorities also appear to be keeping a close eye on a growing community of independent bloggers, warning them against "persistently political" postings.

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