[Analytical Essay] Are Singaporeans too afraid to speak up?

Are we too afraid to speak up or have we become conditioned to not do so?

How do our media landscape shape us?

What diverse platforms can there be for us to express constructive criticisms to the government?

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Sharing the Silence

At the Free Amos Yee Rally, the first person I interviewed was a middle-aged man. Once the recorder was turned off, he suddenly had so many opinions to share. He felt Singaporeans were too sacred to speak up and that we should be more brave in voicing out. But wasn’t his actions ironically a reflection of the same comment he made? Many I approached to interview were equally as apprehensive and cautious to be audiotaped. Thus, I emphasised on anonymity e.g. not required to provide their name.

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Have we become conditioned to Self-Censor?

  • When a student carried out an interview with me for her project, I naturally asked if my name would be mentioned out of fear of getting into trouble for expressing any my views, and kept in mind what I should or should not say.
  • Even my parents used to remind me when I was younger not to talk about the government or politics in public because – walls have ears or there may be spies.
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  • If someone who does not even have the right to vote is already conditioned with a fearful attitude towards expressing any open thoughts towards the government, what more not to say for the adults and older generations?

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  • Why are students not taught in our education system on the political landscape/ideology of Singapore e.g. Compare freedom of speech, censorship, political systems of Singapore with other countries.
* There are comparisons of case studies in existing Social Studies textbook which educates on the importance of racial and religious harmony.
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How liberal is our Political System?

  • I’m not particularly knowledgable in regards to the political landscapes of Singapore but there are claims of nepotism, as well as stories of political exiles or prisoners, high salary of prime minister. Some may be valid recounts, but some could also be exaggerated or unfounded claims e.g. being wrongly treated in prison or having to leave the country cause they felt unsafe.
  • Anyone can post anything on the internet, which is why we can only give everything with read a benefit of doubt, and take the information in with a pinch of salt. We will never know how credible or valid any type of information given to us are – be it from online sources, mainstream or independent press. All of us have our own agendas.
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  • In other western or even asian countries, citizens can freely speak about their political leaders and get away with it but in Singapore, it’s a different story. One can get into trouble for teasing a leader in poor taste.
  • We are a so-called democratic state as we are given the right to vote and other political parties are involved during elections. However, many foreigners still view us as an authoritarian state. Why? Maybe because.. the same party usually wins majority of the seats for almost every single election up till now.

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  • Could a single party be on the winning streak due to the media portrayal of political, social issues/policies that would influence greatly how Singaporeans view the various political parties?

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  • Are Singaporeans aware that other countries are much liberal in terms of what can be spoken about the government? e.g. Citizens allowed to openly question or criticize policies.

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Defamation and Protection?

  • There are also quite a few well-known defamation cases made by local government leaders towards Singaporeans or foreign press (that mention something the government feel is false or misleading). They usually end up being sued for high damages.
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2 Quotes by Prime Minister Mr Lee 
A: “The signal we want to send is if you want to make an allegation, make sure it’s true and be prepared to prove it.” (2010)
B: ” You can’t defame anybody you like … If you can’t redress defamation, how can I clear my name when somebody defames me?” (2015)
 
  • I agree to his statements because we do need laws to protect the innocent from being wrongly persecuted or accused. 

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  • However, why are defamation suits or fines from the government to the people so costly? Not only is a person’s reputation tainted, they are also left with financial and occupational woes.

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  • Yes, some people, press or organisations may make untrue or exaggerated allegations. Still, can there be more effective ways e.g. showing transparency or rebutting – to prove fabricators wrong other than the method of suing?

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Media Exclusivity and Censorship

  • One thing I find peculiar is the particular exclusivity of our media landscape. Almost all mainstream press comes under SPH, and all our local non-cable TV channels comes under Mediacorp.
  • Many political films have been banned such as a recent one e.g. To Singapore With Love. It was deemed by Singapore’s Communication and Information minister Yaacob Ibrahim [who supported the ban by Media Development Authority (MDA)] for showing “distorted and untruthful accounts to mislead the public, absolve themselves or deny their past actions”.
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  • Mainstream media comes mainly under these 2 main branches. Could this be for easier control over what to censor or what to promote to local audiences/readers?
  • Why are local political films given such a heavy ban? If there is little to hide as the government is clean and uncorrupt, why fear what fabricators would say? 

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  • For political films that are really untrue or biased, wouldn’t sensible adult Singaporeans be able to differentiate and evaluate between what is true or false, and right or wrong?
  • Should we then be given the right and chance to gain alternative insight into out political history or alternative stories?

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Food For Thought: For Anti – Change Groups

  • Since change brings about fear and uncertainty, and we often are resistant to it due to the comfort, security and familiarity we have with the present. Are we shaped by the mainstream media to view a certain party more positively and skilled than others? And thus, vote for them to maintain the stability we always had. 
  • At the same time, should we test waters and give opposition parties chances to show their capability by voting them in bit by bit? By gradual steps. It may add more diversity and novelty to our current governing system? Adding on to the balance and checks.
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Food For Thought: For Pro-Change Groups

  • We want change because we do not agree or have doubts about the current way of the government handling state matters. Could these views be somewhat influenced by biased independent press coverage? However, have we thought about the possible impact if opposition leaders became the majority elected? 
  • Are they able to give what they say? What can they make up with lack of experience? Can they do equally as well as our current government in running the country? Would we enjoy the fruits or end up regretting the risks a new change may bring e.g. losing our current stability? 

Questions in my head…

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 If almost any form of criticism towards the government is shielded by media censorship and defamation suits, how opened or democratic a state is that?

Will we become conditioned to reflect and ponder less, as well as to not speak up in regards to national/social issues out of fear of the consequences it may bring?

What possible outlets can the media or government provide – to allow people to openly and meaningfully express their constructive criticisms, opinions or feedback towards in-depth and important social/political issues (e.g. Policies, government expenditure)?

With the lack of diverse platforms and autonomy for citizens to openly question and express what we feel the government may be lacking or can do better in state matters, how is Singapore going to strengthen, grow and progress together as a nation?  (Since citizens make up a nation.) 

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“We need to be trusted to be able find the answers about ourselves, for ourselves.”

– Tan Pin Pin

To check out more of our posts on Singapore’s media landscape and censorship, click HERE

Written by: Cass

Are we being silenced? Do we even know? How do our landscape shape us? For sure we may never know…

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Article for reading: 1994 – 2015: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore

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