Population 5.8m
Internet penetration 84%

Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Digital news sites and social media serve as Singapore’s primary sources of news, with three-quarters of the population accessing news through smartphones. Trust in the news slightly increased compared with last year, as media and government initiatives to combat fake news dominated the headlines.

Almost half of our online sample (47%) say they trust the news in Singapore — up 5 percentage points on last year. Higher trust may partly be related to the recent announcement by the Singapore government that it was going to tackle the problem of fake news. In January 2018, the government formed a select committee to address ‘deliberate falsehoods online’, citing the rise in fake news across many countries and Singapore’s vulnerability given its high internet penetration rates and its population’s cultural and racial diversity. The committee invited the public to submit written representations and also spoke with experts during televised hearings in March 2018.

The government already has an extensive system of media regulation. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act governs the licensing of newspaper companies while the Broadcasting Act regulates the licensing of broadcasting services as well as internet content providers, including online news sites. Starting in 2013, the government introduced a new framework that required individual licensing for online news sites that publish regular articles on Singapore news and current affairs, and have large numbers of monthly visitors. Licensed sites are required to remove content that is in breach of content standards, such as pornographic, extremist, or racially insensitive content, within 24 hours and post a performance bond of SGD 50,000 (US $38,000) similar to the bond requirement for television broadcasters.1

News media organisations in Singapore have also started their own initiatives to address fake news, inviting experts to write commentaries, actively participating in conferences, and publishing opinion pieces on the issue. The Straits Times, the country’s paper of record, experienced fake news first-hand, after a photoshopped version of its Facebook post about the King of Thailand went viral in December 2016.2

The Straits Times is published by the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), one of the two main legacy media organisations in Singapore. SPH also publishes most of Singapore’s local newspapers, including Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao, Malay-language Berita Harian, and Tamil-language Tamil Murasu. The Straits Times’ average daily combined print and digital circulation decreased from 393,300 in 2016 to 383,600 in 2017 mainly due to the decrease in print circulation.3 Digital circulation actually increased from 116,200 in 2016 to 120,400 in 2017. However, SPH laid off 130 employees in October 2017. Our data show weekly print readership decreasing from 53% in 2017 to 43% in 2018 as readership shifts further online.

While Singaporeans also get their news from international news organisations, SPH and the news brands owned by MediaCorp remain the two key local players. Among traditional brands, The Straits Times is the most frequently used (51%), followed by Channel News Asia (CNA, 41%), MediaCorp’s round-the-clock news TV channel. The company also publishes Today, which started as a free paper in November 2000 but became fully digital in October 2017. During its peak, Today reached a readership of 730,000 in 2012.

Aside from Today ceasing its print publication, the local news media scene also saw the closure of The Middle Ground (TMG) in November 2017. Founded in 2015, this alternative news site provided news reports and political commentary. It heavily relied on donations and closed due to financial difficulties.

Online, CNA’s website is the most frequently used (46%) followed by The Straits Times’ website (45%). News aggregator Yahoo! News comes third (36%). Today is ranked fourth (26%) followed by the alternative site Mothership (23%). BBC News online is ranked sixth (20%) followed by STOMP (19%), a user-generated content site run by The Straits Times.

Among social media platforms, WhatsApp gained more ground, with 42% saying they use it for news, up from 38% last year. Facebook is still a dominant player, but it decreased from 55% last year to 52% this year. The use of WhatsApp, a closed social media and messaging app, is particularly noteworthy amid the discussions on fake news, as fake news being exchanged among friends is harder to track than that being posted on more public apps such as Facebook.

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Almost half of our online sample (47%) say they trust the news in Singapore, with more than half (51%) trusting the sources they use. By contrast, only a fifth (20%) say they trust the news in social media, even as its use as a news source has grown by 2 percentage points (63%).