Tuesday, 24 April 2012

"WE DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT NEVER MIND WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK."



TM Emeritus 24 Apr 2012 quoted former Prime Minister of Singapore in 1987 as saying, " We decide what is right,never mind what the people think." Andrew Loh contributed this article as his reaction to what Lee Kuan Yew said in 1987. These words by Lee Kuan Yew were already 25 years old and yet there are people in today's Singapore saying "Mr. Lee's way of doing things, hopefully, has been relegated to the dustbins of history."

His son, the current Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of the problem and has recently engaged in Twitter, saying it as "meaningful". Lee junior is learning to communicate with the people . Probably, deep in his heart he must be thinking what Malaysian PM, Najib Tun Razak have in mind that the cliche which resorted to "the government knows best" is already obsolete. Below is the full text of what Andrew wrote in Singapore's TR Emeritus published on 24 April 2012.

"We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think"
“I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”- Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, 20 April 1987.
Singapore has come some way from 1987 which, incidentally, was also the year 22 Singaporeans were arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Government.
It was indeed a different time, or is it?
Mr Lee’s way of doing things, hopefully, has been relegated to the dustbins of history. The Government’s authority to “decide what is right” no longer is absolute. Neither would such claim to authority even be tolerated in the present day. “Never mind what the people think” is a recipe for disaster for the Government and for Singapore as a nation and a society. Recent examples should remind the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) of the consequences to itself if it continued to adopt such an archaic mindset.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is aware of this and post-GE 2011 made engaging and communicating with the public and those online his first priority [Link]. “[The] government as a whole has to be more active and adept, engaging Singaporeans online,” he said in August 2011.
And on Friday, 20 April, PM Lee finally jumped in and set up his Facebook page.
But engagement is no easy feat to undertake. However, neither is it surprising, given how our paternalistic and patronising PAP Government has operated throughout the last 5 decades in power. It has found itself, for the first time, on the side which it cannot control or mercilessly beat into submission.
The Government seems uncertain and tentative in wading into the arena of public engagement, especially online. It has taken PM Lee several years to decide to have his own Facebook page, for example.
This is borne out in its latest attempt to rein in what it perceives as “cowboy towns” and the “lunatic fringe” in cyberspace. The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) offer to “facilitate” the creation of a “code of conduct” for netizens is the Government’s way of a “softly softly” approach to persuade netizens to police themselves.
Undoubtedly it will approach, if it has not already, the more well-known and widely-read blogsites and bloggers to institute such a “code of conduct” themselves. This is so that such a code will have a veneer of “street cred”. In short, the Government wants netizens to do the dirty work for it, to put it bluntly. The Government will apparently stand at a distance, providing “support” to facilitate such an exercise, while hoping that this vicarious attempt will result in what it wants to see – a prim and proper cyberspace, stripped of the messy, the chaotic, the unexpected, the unorthodox, and perhaps even the creative – everything put in its respective boxes and properly labelled.
That’s the way things have always been done in Singapore. And that is what the authorities here want to see done in cyberspace, an arena which is mostly critical of the establishment. The recent spate of racist postings and what is seen as instances of cyberbullying are the apparent excuses the authorities are using to justify or explain the need for a “code of conduct”, never mind that there are already laws which can be used to deal with these. I will be honest and say that at times netizens have done themselves no favour by their actions. But that is the nature of the Internet.
From where I stand, the recent spate of racist postings and what are seen as instances of cyberbullying, the community equipped itself well by voicing out its displeasure and disapproval of these sort of behaviour. And that is heartening.There is no need for a “code of conduct” because recent examples show that netizens do know what is acceptable and what is not, although I do admit that the threshold among netizens for what is not acceptable is perhaps wider than we may expect.
If someone were a real racist, for example, and persistently and maliciously instigates violence, then I would want the law to come down hard on him or her. That’s the way it should be. But I would not want a “code of conduct” to rein in or fence in free speech for everyone, just because a few bad apples choose to behave in a certain way.
The Internet in Singapore is the last free space we have, and I for one would be extremely reluctant to have anyone, least of all the authorities, stepping in to curb expression. And worse, to want netizens to do this themselves. Contrary to what the Government thinks – that there should be regulation and rules of behaviour for online discourse – what is needed is a physical space for netizens, and civil society, to be able to meet regularly to speak, discuss and debate among themselves about various matters.
If the MDA were serious in wanting to facilitate something more concrete, rather than a superficial, meaningless and useless “code of conduct”, then perhaps it should look into and consider providing a physical space for civil society, one which anyone can use at a nominal fee, on a regular basis. It is through regular interaction, discussion and exchanges that understanding, learning and appreciation can happen. It is totally woeful to think that a “code of conduct” is what will get us to that utopia of civil behaviour and civil discourse. Let us realise that first, there is no such utopia. And second, that the nature of online engagement and exchanges will only “improve” if there is mutual respect, and such mutual respect can only happen if time and effort are spent on the tedious task of meeting in real life, and engaging in discussions and debates. This, hopefully, will lead to understanding and respect for one another.The Government should facilitate this instead of trying to coerce netizens into doing what it thinks cyberspace needs.
In brief, let things evolve naturally and organically.Lastly, what is also disappointing to me is that the Government seems to have decided that a “code of conduct” is what is needed. It has not and did not, as far as I know, consult or ask netizens themselves how untoward behaviour should be dealt with. Instead, it seems the Government has thought about it, and decided that a “code” is what we netizens need. Consequently, it goes out and insists that this is what is needed and is trying to shove this down netizens’ throats.It smacks of the old paternalistic and patronising habits of old.It would thus seem that the present Government still subscribes to the thinking and behaviour which were evident under PM Lee Kuan Yew – “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” There are many reasons why personally I am against a “code of conduct” for cyberspace. One of these is that I feel the Government itself does not know how to “behave” when it comes to online engagement. And thus, it should perhaps give itself time to learn, and not preach to others how to behave when the Government itself is groping in the dark.
Andrew Loh helms publichouse.sg as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010. He was nominated by Yahoo! Singapore as one of Singapore’s most influential media persons in 2011.
 

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