Slice of 70s history – Mass media consumption patterns in Singapore – other media and conclusion

14 May

According to this AMIC publication/study, the newspapers were generally trusted in 1976. It is perhaps not surprising given that the newspapers were less regulated than it has been since. In this Singapore Democratic Party page on the Singapore media , most of the government crackdown have occurred over an extended period of time. For instance, the two most popular Chinese newspapers, Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Jit Poh were forced to merge in 1982. In their place was Lianhe Zaobao (United Morning News) and the Lianhe Wanbao (united Evening News) operated under one roof. The Eastern Sun was accused of being pro-communist in 1971. In the same year, the Singapore Monitor was also forced to close down after the government revoked their permit.

The demise of the paper, New Nation, was also mentioned by Francis Seow in The Media Enthralled (p. 118). The afternoon paper, launched in January 1971 was initially co-owned (50%) by both the Straits Times group and Australia’s largest newspaper group and publisher of the Melbourne Herald, Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. However, amendments to Singapore’s newspaper legislations meant  the Australian company had to reduce its shares to 3%. Sir Keith Macpherson, chairman of the Australian shareholder, was also forced to resign as board of director of New Nation. Later, according to Seow, Macpherson wrote to the Singapore Prime Minister and expressed his disappointment. He said that  appointing a government representative as executive chairman of the newspaper group was “incompatible with press freedom”. As a result, “it is not possible for us to continue an association with a newspaper which is now clearly government- dominated”.

There are also other interesting aspects of  the study. For instance, it  appeared to imply that people are generally reticent about political debates. This could be seen by the finding that they least spoke about such issues when it came to seeking information from others.

Also to note, the authors claimed that the newspapers (at that stage) were not owned by the government while the radio stations were.

Mass media and communication patterns in Singapore
Peter S.J. Chen & Eddie C.Y. Kuo
AMIC Publication

p 12 – Radio

Two types of radio broadcast services are available in Singapore. Radio Singapore and Redifussion. The former is operated by Radio Television Singapore (RTS), which is a government-operated organisation under the Ministry of Culture. The latter is run on a commercial basis.

The programmes of Radio Singapore reflect the multi-ethnic and multilingual composition of the Republic. Radio Singapore operates on four separate language channels – in Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English, – the four official languages of Singapore. Each channel is allocated a medium-wave transmission facility and goes on the air for about 16 to 19 hours daily between 5 a.m. and midnight. Transmission hours of the four channels total 525 a week. There is in addition a separate FM stereo service which broadcasts 56 hours a week.

Redifussion provides a different type of broadcast service. It transmit over wire broadcasting and caters to a predominately Chinese audience for a monthly rental of S$6.50 (US$2.80). Programmes in the Redifussion service are broadcast in two channels channels, one exclusively for programmes in the Chinese language and dialects (Mandarin and several other Chinese dialects), the other for combination of both Chinese and English programmes. The daily transmission hours for the two channels total 36 hours, of which approximately 70% are in Chinese and the rest in English.

Just as with television, a licence is required to operate one or more radio sets at any premise or in any motor vehicle. In 1976, the government issued a total of 369,424 radio licences, with an average of 161 radio licences per 1,000 population. There were 86,672 subscribers to Redifussion in 1976.

As a government, RTS is entrusted “with the responsibility of interpreting the long-term objectives and policies of the Government, and particularly in maintaining a sense of national identity.” Therefore, radio broadcasting in Singapore emphasises greatly on development conscious and government messages as well as information and educational programmes. As Redifussion is a commercial enterprise, its broadcasting programmes, are therefore, mainly entertaining in nature.

p 14 – Views on Radio programme

The four most popular radio programmes are pop and light music (44.7%), news and current affairs (21.9%), drama and short stories (15.6%), and sports (6.4%). Similar to TV programmes, radio programmes on youth and children (0.9%), science (1.1%) and women (2.3%) are not popular.

p 16 – Newspaper and Magazine

Daily newspapers in Singapore

Of the three most important and most popular mass media, the newspaper is the only one which is not under the control of the Government. Although as pointed out by George G. Thomson, “Our mass media have not generally been prime political initiating agents themselves, as were newspapers in other countries,” the press in Singapore, relative to TV and radio, have played a more active role in reporting and expressing varied views and opinion toward policies and development issues in Singapore.

At present, there are altogether eleven daily newspapers in Singapore – three in English, four in Chinese, one in Malay, two in Tamil and one in Malayam. In 1976, the daily circulation for Chinese newspapers was 235,000 , for English newspapers, 206,000, for the Malay newspapers, 27,000, for Tamil newspapers, 7,100, and for the Malayli newspapers 800. The total daily newspaper circulation was therefore 477,000 in 1976. This gives a circulation rate of 209 papers per 1,000 population, making Singapore the country with the highest rate in Southeast Asia.

p 17 – The changing newspaper readership

Up to 1977, Chinese newspapers have been the most widely circulated among all newspapers. This pattern has, however, changed recently, with a decline in the circulation of Chines newspapers and an increase in that of the English newspapers…

p 19 – Newspaper Subscription and Reading Habits

… In terms of newspaper subscription at home, the four largest newspapers are Straits Times (60.4%), Sin Chew Jit Poh (26.6%), Nanyang Siang Pau (18.7%) and New Nation (11.8%). But, the order of the positions change in the case of readership. In terms of readership, Straits Times is still the largest (68.5%). New Nation, however, emerges to be the second largest (47.3%). Sin Chew Jit Poh (30.0%) and Nanyang Siang Pau (26.3%) drop to the third and fourth positions respectively. Therefpre, although New Nation has the smallest home circulation among the four major newspapers, it attracts a large readership.

p 20 – Views on various sections in the newspaper

People usually read the international news section first (44.5%), followed by national and local news sections (28.1%), sports (11.1%), and crime and sensational news (10.2%)…

p 21 – … The five most popular sections are, in order of preference, national and local news, international news, sports, and letters to the editor. The five less popular sections are business, religious reports, serialised stories, women section, and editorial.

p 27 – The usefulness and reliability of the mass media

Respondents were asked to evaluate the usefulness and reliability of the mass media for the following types of information: government policies and public affairs, international and current events, health and nutrition, sports, education, entertainment, and business and job. Generally, newspapers are rated by the majority of the respondents (51.1%) as the most useful source for various types of information. This is followed by television (22.9%), personal source (9.2%), magazine (7.9%) and movie (3.1%).

p 29 – For information on government policies and public affairs, 67.8% of the respondents consider newspapers as the most useful source…. Newspapers are regarded as the most reliable of all the mass media.

p 30 – Opinion Leadership Pattern

Personal source is not an effective channel for information in Singapore. Only 9.2% of the respondents consider personal source as the most useful source for various types of information, and 8.9% of the respondents consider personal sources as the most reliable…

… Among various ethnic groups, more Malays than any other ethnic group seek advice or information from others. The younger population and the higher income groups have larger proportions seeking opinion from others…

People usually seek opinion or information from their peer groups.

When people seek opinion or information from others, they

p 31 – usually ask about occupation, work, educational matters, personal and family disputes. They seldom seek opinion or information about political matters, family planning, business and investment, problems of children, and community matters.

p 31 – Concluding remarks

… we find that the Singaporeans are generally highly exposed

p 32 – to mass media. Newspapers, television, and to a lesser extent, radio remain important sources of information for the population, and television and movies have become probably the most popular forms of entertainment in the island-republic…

… On the whole, Singapore has a very effective and dynamic mass media system, which has played an essential part in integrating the various ethnic communities, and in educating and motivating the people to participate in nation-building and to adapt themselves to the rapidly urbanising and industrialising society.


Read Part I of the blog post, Slice of 70s history – mass media consumption patterns in Singapore – Summary and Television.


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