Friday, June 23, 2006

Reflections on Police Investigation of Blogger Char for Sedition

The Straits Times reported on this story last week where this "21 year old accounts assistant is being investigated for allegedly flouting the Sedition Act by publishing pictures on his blog that were thought to depict Jesus Christ in an offensive manner. The blogger, who used the online moniker Char, had found the cartoons on the Internet and began posting them in January. He told The Straits Times last week that he was called in by the police for questioning in March, after they received a complaint."

My basic stance is towards moderation and tolerance for all religions and nobody should belittle anybody's religion, either out of malice or discrimination (I am a Buddhist btw). That is a tenet which i live by. However, at the same time, i am secretly pleased with the blogger community's strong support for 'Char'. There are very compelling and valid reasons being spoken out in his defence and i agree with most of them.

Is there a contradiction here? No, because of my moderate stance, in fact, i have a very open mind about such matters and satirical cartoons, free religious discussions, will not bother me. If you were to tell me now that a monk has committed cardinal sins, i will really lambast him instead of covering him up. Or even if someone were to write an article about, say the 'unclean' life of Buddha before he attained Nirvana, i will just read it with an open mind and if this is absolute nonsense, i will not be agitated but just ignore it.

The internet has a lot of such garbage but at the same time, also rare insights into the workings of certain cults, which a lot of people will not have access to if not for the internet, so it is really up to the readers to judge the merits for themselves.

Back to Blogger 'Char'. To be frank, i wasn't happy that the police has gotten involved in this case. Yes, Char's actions may be wrong, irresponsible, insensitve, or whatever, but leave it to the internet community to put it right rather than the use of prosecution.

Right now, Char's case is a situation where a person or a minority group with certain agenda can launch a complaint against anybody and get him/her into trouble with the law. Justice and taxpayers' resources can be misused easily and there is no way of stopping such abuse at the moment. There are more offensive cartoons on the net which can be accessed with just a search, so why isn't the person who lodged the complaint against Char also complaining about these pictures? By the way, Char's blog wasn't that popular or influential a blog in the first place so the heavy-handed manner in which he is being dealt with is really disproportionate to the crime.

There is always a danger when it comes to comments on religions or races that an innocuous remark can be taken out of context, interpreted wrongly and becomes inflammatory. The government may want to prevent a small incident from becoming serious before it intervenes but somehow, I just got a nagging doubt of whether this could be the government's warning shot to the online community to toe the line.

If we are to prosecute people for posting religious content with the slightest twinge of impropriety or because one person is offended, what kind of message are we sending to the world? We will be moving towards a fundamentalist and intolerant society which will unravel the good work which had been achieved over the years. Bigotry will be tempted to rear its ugly head by the government's actions.

We should in fact give ourselves a pat on the back when religious pictures or comments which cause temperatures to rise in other parts of the world do not cause as much as a ripple in our society. If the day comes when our citizens take to the streets to protest over a satirical picture, then the government is in trouble. We should not cultivate 'sensitive' citizens as it is the first step towards intolerance and social unrest whenever religious topics are brought up.

The movie Da Vinci Code, controversial as it is, has not caused widespread mayhem but one will imagine the author being sentenced to life in Singapore's case. Instead of sensationalising these issues, desensitize is the word when it comes to religious issues. Only when there is a very serious case of malice or sedition, does the prosecution moves in. For a secular nation to prosecute its people for very mild religious jokes does seem out of place and not befitting with our global image.

I also find it an irony that the government just came up with an initiative a couple of days ago to speed up the IT development in Singapore. If the desire is to get more people connected to the net, then you will also have to be prepared for more internet activities and comments, so a change in mindset is required. Regardless of the importance or triviality of the matter, if police investigations can be called in at any time to settle personal online vendettas, then the system is going to be overwhelmed.

As this case is not cast in stone yet, investigations are still ongoing and neither have most of us seen the pictures for ourselves, we just got to wait and see what will happen...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Upgrading issue again

A few days ago, Mr Mah Bow Tan promised that all old housing estates will be upgraded by 2015 but till then, PAP wards come first.

It has been pointed out time and again that there are flaws in the PAP defence of such a policy. But first thing first, if all wards will be upgraded as promised, then don't make the upgrading an election issue anymore. Why must voters be faced with such a dilemna of voting in a PAP candidate just to jump ahead of the upgrading queue instead of looking at the what the candidates have done or will be doing for the constituency?

A letter in the Straits Times forum pointed out correctly that when elected, the government of the day has a fiduciary duty towards all citizens, regardless of their political stand. Now, i can accept that resources are limited and someone would have to come first. The problem is in the selection process. If all things being equal and it boils down to a single factor of PAP or opposition ward, then the PAP decides to give their own ward the priority. Well that is fair enough for me and it is their privilege for being elected as the government with the majority votes.

Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. Opposition wards do not even factor in the equation at all, straightaway, they are being placed at the back of the queue without any careful consideration of their needs, which may have placed them ahead of most PAP wards being upgraded currently if this whole issue is not being colored by political affiliation.

This is really an intractable situation with the PAP defending its stand and refusing to accept any counter-arguments or feedbacks. The opposition as well as some heartlanders on the other hand are also refusing to accept the PAP's side of the story.

Conclusion: Victors call the shots. Nothing is going to change and come the next election, this will again be the hot issue, regrettably...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Fixing" the Negative Internet Part II

It has been only a week but it seems like ages since i updated this blog.

Much has happened, ministers have been sworn into office and the government announcing that a lighter touch will be applied at the next election. I guess the PAP has come to its senses and realise that self-regulation on the internet may work out better than its intervention. It cannot stop the technological advances which will be even more pervasive nor turn the tides of ideological changes come the next election.

A lighter touch at the next election is a step in the right direction but at the same time, the PAP also voiced reservations on the free-for-all scene. It is apparent that the relaxations are ceded grudgingly (more out of helplessness) and PAP is still uncomfortable with the presence of political sites. Hence, it remains to be seen how the future legislations will be tabled out, despite the assurance of open-mindedness. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see the PAP's shift to a more moderate stance. It is true that certain sites have misused the annoymity the net has conferred on users to mislead the public and to further their own agendas. The PAP says that it is difficult to tell fiction from facts on the net but that is not true. In fact, because of the easy access of the net's information, in most cases, for every fiction/myth, the truth/counter-argument can be found with just a click or a search away from us. Of course, some people can research information better than others but that is no reason to regulate this free flow of information and try to sterilise the place. If the day comes when the PAP requires the ISPs to control what we can or cannot read, leaving us to imbibe only the government's press releases, then it would be a sad chapter in the history of Singapore.

We are thinking individuals and should be able to judge for ourselves instead of the PAP bossing us around and acting like it is the only savior of the nation and without them, our paths to enlightenment and success will be threatened. Those who disagree with the system are deemed as undesirable characters while those who agree are considered as good and loyal citizens.
In this day and age, this old school of thought and system must change. In fact, the priorities of the youngsters these days are to see a fairer and more efficient government; this is considered much more important than bread and butter issues as a recent survey reported in the Straits Times has shown. At later stages in their lives, the priorities may shift but at the moment, the PAP will have its hands full dealing with the aspirations of this group of young voters who are more idealistic and fervent about a level playing field.

The government is worried about rumors and half-truths on the net and yes, rumors if left unattended, have the potential to be the unspoken truth and influence people's thoughts. However, i feel that the best defence against rumors is to come clean on all the details, rather than to clamp down on dissenting views and make a topic taboo. Where transparency and accountability are concerned, the PAP should make them a rule rather than the exception.

Our investments in Suzhou, are they are a failure or success? How much of taxpayers money have gone into this venture? The government has insisted that most of the money comes from the private sector and very little of it is from public funds. How is it then that a lot of heartlanders do not buy this argument but rather to believe that a lot of public funds have been lost in this venture? Is it the government's disclosure which is at fault or the heartlanders are simply hardcore dissidents who want to sing a different tune with the government just for the sake of it?

When drawn into a dispute, the government makes a distinction between commercial and nation interests (for eg. the deal done between Temasek and Shin Corp) but again, a lot of people are not convinced. A few years back, the term "Singapore" seems to get much currency and goodwill globally and to link up with a GLC will put a business in a strong footing in most of the overseas ventures. Somewhere along the line, something has changed or gone wrong as it seems to be better nowadays for businesses to disassociate themselves from the GLCs and Temasek in order to close out a deal. The PAP should reflect on why this trend (loss of goodwill) is taking place and though Temasek has tried to strengthen their PR, it is still insufficient.

However that is not my main concern here. I am actually more interested to know whether the shoppping spree which Temasek and GLCs have embarked on has indeed been good for Singapore. In any investments, they carry an element of risk and by stepping up our investments, we are going for higher returns but also exposing ourselves to higher risks. The government has a duty to safeguard the assets and make sure that there is no immense losses while squande.., sorry investing. This is not a private corporation where losses can be written off as bad debts and the company filed for bankruptcy if creditors sue them. Our money is at stake so we need to know more, especially in light of the billion dollar purchases over the last couple of years.

Also, the internet has actually allowed us to explore the views of people like Francis Seow and Mr Tang Liang Hong and judge for ourselves whether their arguments hold any merit. Should this right to read be taken away from us and let us be deprived of their opinions? People are free to form their own impressions or convictions after looking at the alternative views which no mainstream media will publish. I have read their articles but i will not impose my views on anybody. What i can say is that there are relevant points in their arguments which the government can reflect upon and hopefully improve, so that we may also enjoy a better image abroad, which is increasingly important in this global economy.

Right now, all these alternative views are at our fingertips and it is easy for us to research on such materials. This situation shoud not change because of one or two person who are irritated by these remarks. Rather than having a group of brainwashed and easily manipulated citizens, it is better for the nation to have people with analytical skills and be able to think and fend for themselves. By controlling such views on the net, we may also be cultivating a group of people who are disconnected from the world and the ill-effects may be long-lasting and difficult to undo years later.

That will be all for now. Due to the demands of my work, I will be updating my blog on a weekly basis, so stay tuned...