Friday, November 27, 2009

Why people need to speak out about censorship in Singapore

I'm glad that Clement Tan and I seem to be approaching some sort of concord on the vexed question of press freedom in Singapore.

As he now seems to accept, red tape is clearly part of the apparatus of repression in Singapore rather than just an incidental annoyance. For example, see this account by Alex Au, a respected Singapore blogger and social activist, of the ridiculous hurdles he had to jump over just to screen a couple of films about Burma.

Clement still believes it's misguided to continue "harping on" about the lack of press freedom in Singapore but, as fellow Asian Correspondent scribe Jeremy Sear notes in the comments, there's no reason why reporting on general news stories and writing about censorship should be mutually exclusive.

Clement may be sick of people talking about press restrictions in Singapore but many people in the outside world are completely unaware of the darker sides of the Singapore story. With the government constantly pushing out so much positive propaganda - not least the absurd claim by the law minister that Singapore embraces press criticism -  it behoves journalists such as myself to expose this hypocrisy.

He says that it plays into the government's hands to speak out. But surely what really plays into the government's hands is not speaking out, allowing the misperception that Singapore is a liberal and free society to persist.

Clement also suggests that I should have come to Singapore with my eyes "wide open" and that I should have expected my expulsion to be "an inevitable eventuality". As a long-time student of Southeast Asian history, I was well aware of the soft authoritarianism practised in the Lion City.

But Singapore has not forced out a resident foreign correspondent in recent years (the last example I can find being John Berthelsen, then of the Asian Wall Street Journal, in 1988) and I genuinely felt that I had done nothing that would lead to me being kicked out of the city-state.

Ultimately, I share Clement's view that Singapore's handful of independent websites and blogs should strive to go beyond commentary and investigate the real stories that most representatives of the mainstream media (both local and foreign) are not willing to cover.

Sites like The Online Citizen have already started to fill the gap, covering issues such as poverty in Singapore and the abuse of foreign workers. But, without the manpower and resources of mainstream publications, it is very difficult for citizen journalists to produce hard-hitting and thorough journalism.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ben, I feel for you. your articles were fair, accurate and justified. Unfortunately, you are seen like a Chee Soon Juan or Gopalan Nair under the eyes of the SG govt. I wish something can be done for you, but at least for the near future, you can only go there as a tourist. It must be a big blow for you.
    Other examples of Singapore's oppresive govt: The Speakers Corner (which you have to seek a police permit before you can step in). How the PM's son (Lee Hong Yi) stepped over his superior's head in the army but was never reported in the local newspaper?
    Well, at least you won't be caught under the ISA(Internal Security Act) which probably has been used numerously for local SG journalists!