Singapore has become a regional base for many media and technology companies due its political stability, educated workforce, and good communications. TikTok has even based one of its two global headquarters in the city state, and with a charismatic local CEO, the app is growing in popularity with young Singaporeans.
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew underwent four and a half hours of often hostile questioning before a US congressional committee. He defended the app from accusations that it was a tool of global influence for China, that it collected user data, and from calls that it should be banned. When asked if his own children used the app, he said they did not, adding that TikTok’s version for children younger than 13 is not available in Singapore.
Born in Singapore to Chinese parents, Chew studied in London and at Harvard, did an internship at Facebook, and worked as an investment banker before he joined TikTok’s parent company ByteDance as chief financial officer. He became CEO in 2021. In preparation for the hearings, he posted a video on TikTok of himself addressing the US public, pointing out that more than half of the US population uses the app and that 7,000 Americans are employed by it.
The app is growing in popularity in Singapore as elsewhere – it reaches 49% of 18–24s every week, and 22% for news according to our survey – but it is not without controversy. Public officials have been reminded they are not permitted to install the app on official devices, and it has been added to the list of social media companies that are required to have formal processes and systems for dealing with misinformation, under the country’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).1 This includes transparency over political advertising.
The Act is among the latest additions to Singapore’s extensive regulations for offline and online news platforms. 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. Since 2013, the government has 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.
That definitely describes the digital-native Mothership, an alternative news site which converts viral social media posts into short-form articles and videos. It has become the most used online news source for the first time (used weekly by 48%). Launched in 2014, it has now surpassed the news sites of mainstream competitors such as Mediacorp’s Channel NewsAsia (46%) and SMT’s The Straits Times (42%).
In December 2021, Singapore Press Holdings, publisher of most of Singapore’s printed newspapers, carved out its media interests into a new non-profit entity, SPH Media Trust (SMT). It is now the parent company for the Straits Times (English-language), Lianhe Zaobao (Chinese), Berita Harian (Malay), and Tamil Murasu (Tamil). In 2023, it said some employees left or were asked to leave after an internal audit found that the organisation had inflated its circulation rates by about 10 to 12% between 2020 and 2022.2 The government had previously made a commitment of S$900 million (US$681m) to support SMT’s digital transition, to be paid over five years; it later confirmed the funding would not be affected by the circulation scandal. TV and radio operator Mediacorp, owned by the government through investment company Temasek, saw falls in usage in our data as audiences’ preferences move towards online media.
Facebook continues to face a decline (36%), while YouTube (30%), Instagram (19%), and TikTok (12%) were able to grow as platforms for news. WhatsApp remains the most used social app for news (38%).
In September 2022, news site The Online Citizen went back online, a year after taking down of its website and social media pages after the government suspended its licence for refusing to declare its funding sources. Its editor relocated and now supposedly publishes the website from Taiwan.3 The government insisted that the site was still subject to the POFMA regulations, and the following month issued a correction notice to the site, asking it to correct an article it published about Singapore housing board’s supposed budget deficits. The site’s readership remains low, with 11% saying they access it weekly. Trust in the brand (38%) also remains lower than that of mainstream news outlets.
Edson Tandoc Jr. and Matthew Chew
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Online and social media remain the most common ways of accessing news in Singapore, while both TV and print have declined significantly over the last few years. Most survey participants do not pay for news, with only 15% saying they do so.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Mainstream outlets remain as the most trusted news brands, and overall trust remains stable at 45%. Mediacorp’s Channel NewsAsia (75%) and Channel 5 (73%) and SMT’s The Straits Times (73%) remain the most trusted brands, all gaining 3pp from 2022. Despite its popularity, Mothership still lags, seeing a slight decrease in its brand trust (52%).