In the tightly-controlled media in Singapore, blogging, and any other form of public expression is subject to great perils. Personal opinions and comments, once published and accessible by the public come under intense scrutiny by the guardian (aka government, i.e. the People’s Action Party). Every word is scanned for intent and perceived mischievous meanings. Writers who are not skilled in Queen’s English face possible legal challenges by the members of the guardian, if the published article falls short of literally excellence and unintentionally is being interpreted as libelous. Numerous people have thus been taken to task. The courts are unforgiving and the sentence meted out is often severe financially. Once a libel action has been initiated, the statistical win in favour of the guardian is astronomically high.
Naturally, writers who would have loved to comment and give positive feedback about failures and misgivings of the state policies are always hesitant to do so. It is fair to say that under such circumstances, enthusiasm fades and the citizenry evolves into a state of apathy and complacency. It is not hard to envisage how this condition will eventually result in society descending into a passive and gutless chasm. It saps entrepreneurial energy and inhibits creativity, leading to society’s decay.
Foreigners working in Singapore are often politically correct and do not wish to get engulfed in social commentaries. Most FTs (local jargon for foreign talents) know their bounds and are unlikely to cross the out-of-bounds markers that they know well. More so if they are the well-heeled, high flyer FTs. For them, first in their minds are dicta: “no chewing gums” and “keep your mouth shut”. As long as they remember these mantras, an enjoyable stay awaits them. There will be maids to serve them at home, and endless parties for lonely hearts that stretch into the middle of the night, 7 days a week. The city never sleeps. As a FT, their primary motive is to enjoy the economic rewards of working in this safe haven city. There is no compelling reason for any FT to get himself into a quagmire of political debates. At best, opinions and comments are uttered in the confines of private parties where jokes about the city state can create massive and intense convulsions. FT’s who are used to “free speech” must acclimatise to the tropical climate of having mouths bridled when expressing opinions in public.
Occasionally, a FT may take up courage to publicly comment on topics that are considered taboo in Singapore. They are rare, especially if the comments are not in favour of the establishment. It is refreshing to read a posting on “TheRealSingapore” by F Reedom (a pseudonym) on the libel suit “Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong vs Roy Ngerng”. In the post, it was revealed that:
The author wanted to write this article in full name. However, his in-laws requested it was published anonymously as they were afraid of repercussions from the PAP government if the article was published with full name. The author hopes to one day be able to freely express his views in Singapore without fear for himself or his family.
The author has worked in financial consultancy and wealth management. He has a post graduate degree in finance and economics from a world leading university. He has intimate knowledge of asset management in general and management of sovereign wealth funds in particular.
The FT may be courageous, but fear of reprisal still dominates those related to him, presumably citizens of Singapore. The commentary by F Reedom on the libel suit is nothing more than “common sense” as he puts it. Common sense or not, it was clearly a case of David vs Goliath, except that in this case Goliath prevails. Perhaps F Reedom alludes to a contrary verdict, the PM has lost spiritually and morally even though the court’s verdict is in his favour. F Reedom opined that the PM in using his full power to thrash a young boy just out of school for fair comments has transcended common sense.
On the other hand, let’s get real. Common sense has repeatedly failed to survive the brutality of politics everywhere in the world throughout history. The Western world may proclaim freedom of speech and so on. But the tyranny of political power is no less diabolical in such societies. In fact, they could be worse, the only difference being that they are well camouflaged within the veil of universal suffrage and shouts of democracy.
The commentary by F Reedom is reasonable and generally embodies common sense analysis. In his opinion, common sense and legal justice are at odds in the case of “PM Lee vs Roy Ngerng”. But then, there still exist a “court of justice” underpinned by laws of the land. The legal process was in order, and Roy did plead guilty (notwithstanding he may be under duress). Since the court has already passed judgment, would this commentary by F Reedom be construed as contempt of court? If so, F Reedom may indeed have to fear, even if he pleads a case of the right to “fair comments”. Anonymity may not provide adequate protection as Snowden has revealed the extensive powers of universal surveillance in the hands of governments.
It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.