Friday, February 09, 2007

Post No. 102: “Freedom of Speech: How Far Can You Go?” -- Afterthoughts

Last Saturday morning (3/2/2007), I attended this seminar organised by the NUS Democratic Socialist Club (NUSDSC). Well, in view of the fact that I have already written a brief write-up about the seminar for NUS Politeia, I am not inclined to repeat again the details of this seminar (those interested in the details can find them through the links provided earlier on in this paragraph).

Okay now, before I move on to write about some of the points of information that were raised and discussed during the seminar, I would first like to share with you all some general observations related to the seminar.

Firstly, like Mr. Gabriel Seah, I was also pleasantly surprised to find a significant number of JC students (and perhaps a few secondary school students also) in uniform as I made my way from Bouna Vista MRT station to the seminar venue. I thought that they were coming to attend the seminar also, but alas, my hope (of there being such a strong interest in the topic of freedom of speech by local students) was somewhat dashed when, like Mr. Seah, I saw this sign plastered on a wall outside one of the LTs: “SRP Aptitude Test”. It turns out that these students were not around in NUS on an early Saturday morning to attend a seminar on the freedom of speech but to attend some sort of aptitude test. Guess I was assuming too much.

Secondly, by my “guestimation”, there were about 40 plus to 50 plus people attending the seminar. Well, while it was not a full house event, I think it is already quite an encouraging sign that this number of people was interested enough in the seminar topic to make their way to an out-of-the-way place like the CRC Auditorium on an early Saturday morning (when, I suppose, most people would rather prefer to sleep in).

Thirdly, I don’t know about you all but it struck me as a case of double standards that while the NUSDSC disallowed those in the audience to take photographs and/or video recordings of the event, they themselves had a guy (who is a NUSDSC member) going around taking photographs of the event and another guy manning what seems to be a large video camera (on a tripod) at the centre back of the auditorium. Hmm… “只许官兵放火,不许百姓点灯”? (translation: “Allowing soldiers to set fires but disallowing the people to light lights?”)

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it came to my notice that several local bloggers have already blogged about this event on their blogs. This includes bloggers who attended the seminar (e.g. Aaron Ng, Gabriel Seah and Charissa Lim) and even also those who did not attend it but was aware of it. In fact, Mr. Seah even posted a detailed, though not in verbatim, transcript of the proceedings of the seminar on his blog (to my knowledge, he did so at the very seminar itself; kudos to him). Even the latest issue of NUS Hooked, which is usually “insensitive” to this sort of stuff, has a feature on this event. Yet, strangely, in contrast with the amount of reporting and discussion about this seminar in the local blogging community, as of this point in time (i.e. 6/2/2007), there seems to be a dearth of news about this seminar about this seminar in the local mainstream media. Nothing at all. Not a single word. Hmm… I wonder why is this so? Could it be that members of the local mainstream media were not informed about or invited to this seminar? Or were they actually aware of it but somehow did not find it newsworthy enough?

Moving on, I would now discuss some of the key points, besides those included in the abovementioned brief write-up, that were raised and discussed during the entire course of the seminar.

If there are no mistakes in my notes, it was Mr. Tan Tarn How, who was one of the invited speakers for the seminar, that suggested the idea that there is perhaps an important need for Singaporeans to improve their critical media literacy. This is to enable them to be able recognise the subtle (and perhaps not-so-subtle) agendas behind news reports found in the media (mainstream or otherwise) and to be able to differentiate between the truth and “propaganda” in these reports. We need to understand why certain words are employed instead of other words and why certain issues or parties are given greater emphasis. We need to recognise that news reports are not the Gospel truth. In other words, to borrow a metaphor used by Mr. Tan in his speech, even if we really are caged birds, we should be caged birds that know where the cage bars are.

Also, continuing from the point above, it is my opinion that, besides a need to improve our critical media literacy, there is perhaps a strong need for us Singaporeans to increase our political literacy. For, considering that politics impacts upon all our lives in one way or another and that active citizen participation in politics is perhaps necessary for healthy political development, we need to increase our knowledge & awareness of local political processes, institutions, policies, actors and issues. In other words, we need to overcome this mentality of “Leave politics to the politicians (and political scientists)! Just let me get on with my life!” in Singaporeans. There is no use in us encouraging active citizen participation if we do not have the necessary level of political literacy to engage in substantive discussion about politics.

Another interesting point, raised by both Mr. Tan Tarn How and Dr. Cherian George, was that most Singaporeans tend to have the fallacious idea that to disagree with the Government in a certain area equates one to be anti-Government. Even more dangerous and fallacious, in my opinion, is the idea that by being against the Government, one is anti-Singapore. Surely, to borrow and rephrase the words of Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow, Singapore is bigger than the PAP Government?

Also, as noted by Mr. Tan, it is a false dichotomy to assume that a person must either be pro-establishment or anti-establishment. This is considering that it is entirely possible for a person to have a range of different opinions on different issues. I mean, for example I may perhaps have disagreed with the Government’s policy of streaming but that does not exclude me from being a supporter of the Edusave scheme, does it? It is unfair and unrealistic for people to expect that a person, once having expressed some views that are in disagreement of the Government and/or its policies in certain aspects, should be 100% anti-establishment or become “a conveyor belt of political angst” (to borrow the words of Miss Gayle Goh). In my opinion, people need to develop the sensibility and maturity to recognise that a person who expressed critical opinions about the Government in one aspect but express approval in another aspect is not a “flip-flopper” or has “sold out”. Few, if not none at all, people are either 100% anti-establishment or 100% pro-establishment.

It would be, as pointed out by Dr. Cherian George, a “tyranny of the reader” for people to affix certain labels to certain people, expect these “labelled” people to behave in accordance with the “labels” attached to them and to criticise them when they behave in a manner contradictory to the “labels” affixed onto them. Also, from my point of view, we need to recognise that people should be able to change their views or revise their views on certain issues as time goes by; it is perhaps unfair and unrealistic to expect a person to stick to an opinion forever. Well, I suppose that this quote by Michel Foucault would perhaps sum up what have been said in this paragraph quite nicely: “Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same”.

I also found it interesting that, during the Q& A session of the seminar, a woman member of the audience perhaps indirectly questioned the ability and maturity of the local online community (by this, I mean bloggers, frequent readers of blogs and active participants in online forums) to self-regulate itself when she pointed out that while there have been several members of the local online community criticising it, there have been also a significant number of people (who, according to her, appears to be young Singaporeans) that are reacting positively towards the infamous “RK House – No Pork” video clip (I suppose most of you all are already aware of what this video clip is about but if you all are not aware yet, I am sorry to say that I am not inclined to give it any more publicity than it already has received). In fact, she pointed out that Miss Wendy Cheng, more commonly known as Xiaxue, who can be considered as a prominent local blogger, actually posted the video clip up onto her blog and praised it.

Well, with regards to this issue, I suppose that my stand is perhaps similar to that of Dr. Cherian George who, according to my notes, answered that if people are really offended by Miss Cheng’s posting of the video clip, they should start a petition against her and perhaps even send letters to MediaCorp to ban here from any future appearances on TV, considering here bad influence (and judging from the loud applause by the audience, I guess they are in support of such an idea). In other words, I feel that perhaps it is up to the more responsible and mature amongst us to be the “self-regulators” of the local online community (on an informal and individual level, of course) when others amongst us perhaps lack the sensibility to do so. And, in my opinion, we perhaps need to be more pro-active in doing so in order to not allow detractors of the local online community to point to some cases in which certain members of the local online community act in an “undesirable” manner and use them to tar the entire local online community with a very large brush.

Of course, as implicitly hinted by Mr. Wang when he pointed out that Miss Cheng is a blogger who thrives on controversy, it is perhaps best that people ignore her Miss Cheng and her antics, lest she gain a greater level of publicity from all the controversy (here, this quote attributed to Oscar Wilde comes to mind: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”). That said, there, of course, must be a limit on our tolerance.

All in all, I found this seminar to be a well-organised and interesting one. On that note, should there be any future similar seminars, I would most likely attend them, if possible. So, if you all have any news about any interesting events such as the one discussed here, please do tell me about them!


Agagooga said...

Mainstream media wanted to cover it but they were not allowed in - it was for students only

LCC said...

Okay, I wasn't aware of that as the NUSDSC told me in their email to me that the seminar was open to the public. Thanks for the info!

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