Trust in the news media in Singapore has increased significantly in a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, a historical election that saw the political opposition make unprecedented gains, as well as layoffs in one of the two media conglomerates in the country. The pandemic and the elections also saw the government invoke the country’s ‘fake news law’ several times, sparking criticisms.
Mainstream news media brands remain the most trusted news sources, with MediaCorp’s round-the-clock news network Channel News Asia (CNA) being the most trusted (79%) followed by the newspaper The Straits Times (77%) published by the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). SPH publishes most of Singapore’s local newspapers, including Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao, Malay-language Berita Harian, and Tamil-language Tamil Murasu. Mediacorp operates all the local television stations and most radio stations in Singapore.
Initially praised internationally for its handling of the COVID-19 virus, Singapore went through pockets of panic buying as the number of positive cases exponentially rose in dorms occupied by migrant workers in March 2020 – leading to nearly two months of lockdown.
Singapore held its general elections in July 2020, where the ruling party won the majority of the seats, as expected, but its share of total votes shrank as the political opposition gained ground. A combination of the elections and the pandemic may help explain the increase in news media trust – which is up by nine percentage points – as residents found themselves relying on the news media for important and accurate information, amid the flurry of fake news online.1
Last year, the Singapore government issued several correction orders under its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), a law passed in May 2019 that empowers ministers to issue corrections or take down orders against online falsehoods.
Some of the orders targeted posts by opposition parties during the campaign,2 while others targeted COVID-19 related claims, such as one posted by the States Times Review (STR) on Facebook claiming that COVID-19 spread in schools in May 2020.3
Operated outside the country, the STR is a website critical of the administration that has been called out for publishing sensationalised and inaccurate accounts, and it is also used weekly by 7% of our survey respondents. While the website had been banned in Singapore since 2018, followers could still access its Facebook page until the government ordered local access to be blocked in February 2021. While Facebook complied with the government order, it expressed concern ‘about the precedent this sets for stifling freedom of expression in Singapore’.4 The government justified its move by saying swift actions were needed against COVID-19-related falsehoods that can trigger public panic.
Mediacorp’s CNA remains the most popular traditional news brand, used weekly by 39%, followed by SPH’s The Straits Times (38%) and Mediacorp’s Channel 5 (27%) and Channel 8 (25%) newscasts. CNA's website was also the most used digital brand (48%), followed by the online-only Mothership.sg (42%) which is now just ahead of the website of The Straits Times. While it has climbed over the years to be the second most used news website in Singapore, it ranks significantly lower in brand trust. Founded in 2014, Mothership.sg is known for its bite-sized articles, many of which are sourced from viral social media posts. It has since amassed a large following and been recognised as a registered news media outlet in Singapore.
Offline and online news platforms in Singapore are covered by an extensive regulatory system. 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. In 2013, the government also required individual licensing for online news sites that publish regular articles on Singapore news and current affairs and have large numbers of monthly visitors.5
In terms of specific social media platforms, WhatsApp and Facebook both saw significantly lower usage for news this year, though Telegram, another messaging app, is up three percentage points to 14% for news. WhatsApp remains the most popular social app overall, however, and the Singapore government has made full use of this platform, sending daily WhatsApp updates on COVID-19 to subscribers.
In September 2020, SPH announced the layoff of 140 of its employees from its media sales and magazines operations, citing the impact of COVID-19 on advertising. In May 2021 it announced it would be transferring its media business to a not-for-profit company to focus on new funding streams to support quality journalism.6
Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Online news remains the primary way of getting news, though the use of social media for news has declined slightly compared with last year. Singaporeans turned more to TV during the COVID crisis but print use has fallen further – halving in just five years.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
Trust in the news increased to 45%, with respondents also trusting more the news that they use. Trust in news obtained in search engines and social media remained at similar levels to last year.