Monday, 16th January '06
No Climate of Fear
Far be it from me to run any potentially law-career-in-the-public-sector-killing experiments - yes, I do want to be a Legal Aid lawyer at some point - but I just had to blog a bit on this. Maybe it's a bit late a response, seeing as the article came up ages ago, but in light of the mutual eyebrow-raising moment Lingwei and I had in the Internet & Media Law class last week...
For the good of my health and that of my family, potential children etc etc, I'll state upfront that I have very little political opinion on this. Perhaps I'll formulate one in time, but for now it's just all just "hurhurhur" amusing.
Singapore says no climate of fear in city-state
May 27, 2005
SINGAPORE defended its media laws on Friday, May 27, and balked at the suggestion that its citizens live in a climate of fear.
Singapore's home affairs minister Wong Kan Seng said in a newspaper interview that citizens in the city-state have spoken up at public forums without reprisals and commentaries critical of government policies have also appeared in newspapers.
"What is the consequence of saying something that is challenged? Is the consequence being locked up in jail, disappearing in the middle of the night and you don't come back?" Wong was quoted as saying in Singapore's Straits Times.
-- I swear this is exactly what I was told would happen if I ever said anything against the PAP. My source is a bit paranoid, lah, but still, Mr Wong picked up on exactly the sentiment floating around these days.
"Get real. Come on, we live in the real world in Singapore."
In an annual report released on Wednesday, rights group Amnesty International slammed Singapore's human rights record, saying that control on political expression in the wealthy Southeast Asian city-state remained tight despite Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's repeated calls for more openness.
The US State Department, in its 2004 report on Singapore, sharply criticised the country for using libel suits to intimidate opposition politicians, saying the threat of libel has stifled political opinion and disadvantaged opposition.
-- Two remarks on this: first, that's the kind of impression one gets from studying Public Law in NUS, really. But on the other hand, the US has no right to open it's mouth. They should go sort out all their own Patriot Act mess before getting on our case.
Early this month, a 23-year-old Singapore student in the United States shut down his personal Web site after a government agency threatened a libel suit for comments he made on the blog.
Wong, who will assume the post of deputy prime minister later this year, also defended a law which bans political videos, saying that the law is applied in an even-handed manner and not designed to stifle political debate.
"Political videos, by their very nature, will be political, will be biased and, therefore, will not be able to allow the listener or the viewer to see a whole range of arguments," Wong said, adding that proposals for films about the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) were also shot down.
-- I don't know lah, I actually thing it would be a better strategic move for the PAP to let us see some real stuff. I subscribe to the idea of the jun-zi Gahmen, for now at least, and trust me, with the Public Law prof that I had, I've seen some pretty radical conspiracy theories.
Under provisions introduced to the Films Act in 1998, anyone involved in the production or distribution of "party political films" -- defined as films containing partisan references or commentaries on government policies -- can be punished with fines of up to S$100,000 (US$60,860) or a maximum jail term of 2 years.
The law came under fire this month after local filmmaker Martyn See was summoned for police questioning over a documentary he made featuring prominent opposition leader Chee Soon Juan.
Wong was also asked about whether the law applied to TV stations airing programmes about PAP ministers, following a recent series of one-hour programmes on state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that featured government ministers.
"That is not a political video. That's a broadcaster and a content provider doing a job. It is done in other places. The minister is explaining himself, his policies and how he wants Singapore to move ahead," Wong said.
International free-press advocates have repeatedly criticised Singapore for its tight media control.
The government bans non-commercial private ownership of satellite dishes, and publications need permits to circulate. Films and TV shows are routinely censored for sex and violence.
-- All I can say is... we have Shared Values. I'll come back to this after I learn more Entertainment Law and Media Law.
The government says a high degree of control over public debate and the media is needed to maintain law and order.
"Someone once said, 'My right to swing my arm must end where your nose begins'. That is the limit of free action; that is the boundary," Wong said.
-- Somehow I have this image of Mr Wong swinging his arms in a mad frenzy within a hair's breadth of the good citizens' noses.
Singapore has been ruled by the People's Action Party since independence in 1965. Its 84-member Parliament has only two opposition members.
I don't know about you, but I love the way they tagged that last paragraph on at the end. In the immortal words of Babs: THAT WAS A CHEAP SHOT. Seriously. I've been at the receiving end of too many Singapore-related cheap shots lately. But one needs to be able to laugh at the inequities of one's own country, really.
And the best response to this article has to be Mr Brown's:
"That now I know why I say "Gahmen also I not scared". Because Gahmen say I not scared."
Unfortunately for me, Gahman I kinda scared.
At the back of my mind I keep doing these Canadian comparisons, somehow. Our I&M prof, right at the outset of the first lecture, mentioned that the freedom of expression in Canada has had a pretty poor history. At first it wasn't even a written right, since Canada inherited the UK's unwritten constitution. And the Charter of Rights and Freedoms wasn't set down in stone till 1982, where it now states:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms...
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication
1982! That's late. Even Singapore had our Consitutional right to freedom of speech set down in 1963. And we ain't even that old a country:
Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) —
(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression
Needless to say subsections (2) and (3) are a bunch of public interest exceptions etc. So of course, the true nature of that right has been hotly debated - therefore giving rise to mine and Lingwei's eyebrow-raises.
Ahhaha. I just love my quirky little country and our democratic authoritarianism.
[well, the pictures aren't going to take themselves!]