他們的言論自由

 

1. 新加坡海峽時報(Straits Times) 11月6日一篇關於言論自由與傳媒的評論, 有趣

2. 特點是文中忠奸分明:忠的是政府, 奸的是傳媒.

3. 似曾相識的調子: “新加坡地少人種多, 經濟又依賴外在環境, 所以不能出差錯"芸芸.


In defence of Singapore exceptionalism

 

THERE are three ways to respond to critics: ignore them, rebut them or engage them.For a long time, the Singapore Government’s preferred response to criticisms levelled at the Republic’s civil-political milieu has been to ignore them. Some ministers with a more combative nature – notably Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew – have chosen to rebut them robustly. Few have done the critics the honour of actually looking at their views and engaging them publicly.Law Minister and Second Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam did so, as did Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, during the recent meeting of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) International Section in Singapore.This was most welcome. More intellectual leaders in Singapore’s public sector as well as its civil society should do the same.The head-in-sand response to criticism simply backfires these days. Bad press gets widely read online, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. Silence in the context of an activist state like Singapore can be interpreted as assent – especially since ministers here are quick to rebut domestic critics.Dismissing surveys that rank Singapore poorly on civil liberties (Freedom House) or media freedom (Reporters Without Borders) while pointing to surveys that heap praise on Singapore (lots) is not a good way to respond to bad press. The approach begs the question as to why Singapore should pat itself on the back in the case of the latter findings while dismissing the former.A better response to criticism would be to see if there is a basis for the views, and then engage the criticism.Former Straits Times journalist- turned media scholar Cherian George, for example, dissected RWB’s media ranking on his blog and found it wanting conceptually and methodologically.An attitude of sober soul-searching when criticised is always in order. But if the criticisms are shown to be wrong or unfair, then a strong, confident, robust response is called for.This in essence is what the few days of exchanges at the NYSBA conference amounted to. CJ Chan parsed the criticisms of Singapore’s judiciary and took them apart one by one, challenging the assertion that the courts here lack independence or that the rule of law in Singapore was flawed.His comments were learned and measured, like the man himself and as befits the office he holds. Yet anyone listening to or reading the Chief Justice would have been left in no doubt as to the firmness of his message: the judiciary operates independently to enforce the law as laid down by Parliament, without fear or favour to the executive or any other party.Mr Shanmugam’s speeches were even more direct in setting out Singapore’s unique position. His comments were the best I have read in many years in summing up the case for what I have termed ‘Singapore exceptionalism’ before: the notion that Singapore’s unique demographic mix, small size, history and geopolitical position compel it to prioritise communitarian over individual values, order over individual expression.Despite being a new Cabinet member, Mr Shanmugam has taken a leading role in defining the PAP Government’s political philosophy to both an international and domestic audience. It takes confidence and eloquence to do so. As a Singaporean who has chafed at unjust criticisms of this Republic, I read the transcript of Mr Shanmugam’s exchange with his interlocutors from the New York Bar with alacrity.I appreciated the way both CJ Chan and Mr Shanmugam located Singapore’s policy and political choices within the context of a larger philosophical debate on the proper balance society should strike between ideals and practice, order and freedom.This has the advantage of moving the discussion beyond the immediate but limited realm of whether Singapore’s laws on libel, elections, media and detention without trial are designed to maintain the PAP’s grip on power. (These laws may help the incumbent; but one should not confuse cause and effect.)When you frame a debate on these laws as solely about the PAP’s determination to hold on to power, you basically close off avenues for productive engagement. For you would be refusing to take into account the fact that laws do not exist in a vacuum, but are legislated and enforced in response to, and in accordance with, a society’s mores.The more pertinent question is whether the laws are good and necessary for Singapore society as a whole, and whether Singaporeans accept them.Mr Shanmugam’s own view is this: ‘I do not accept the notion that there are these restrictions, and they are designed to keep us in power. I disagree with that.’ On libel laws that give more weight to the protection of reputation than free speech, he said: ‘My position is yes, we need it, we want it and this is our political platform and let the people decide.’This is actually the point where the debate should get interesting – but the panel could not go there, because of time, and because it is a debate only Singaporeans have the moral authority to engage in.Foreign critics can cajole and try to browbeat Singapore lawmakers to change – by pointing perhaps to the incongruity of a sophisticated, successful society with a free economy, having a political climate that has restrictions on expression, assembly and contestation. But it is Singaporeans’ views that matter, and Singaporeans who must decide whether these laws are good for Singapore – or only for the People’s Action Party.Singapore is a work in progress, as Mr Shanmugam acknowledged. It has the paranoid tendency of continuously examining itself so as to get better. Whether decades-old laws curtailing freedoms are relevant today, in a free economy situated in a volatile region, remains an issue to grapple with.When speaking to outsiders in defence of Singapore’s overall political philosophy, which privileges the group over the individual, Mr Shanmugam may be said to be speaking for all Singaporeans. But as to whether Singaporeans support specific laws – on libel, for instance, as used in the political realm, or the laws on the media – short of clear surveys or a referendum, the jury is still out.muihoong@sph.com.sg

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