ST Forum Jan 24, 2006
S'pore is an open society despite what Soros says
AMERICAN billionaire George Soros came to Singapore and commented that we are not an open society. Mr Koh Buck Song echoed his views and said that 'if Singapore is to mature as a democracy, then it is time for every thinking citizen to take up his responsibility to play his part in shaping the kind of open society we all need to believe we deserve to have' ('Think spectrum, not open or closed'; ST, Jan 17) .
Both Mr Soros and Mr Koh are entitled to their views. Singapore has evolved into an open society where anybody can do anything and say anything he or she wishes. There is the media for them to express their views, Speakers' Corner for them to say it in person, the Internet to publish them for the world, and blogs to share them with friends. The only requirement this open society asks is that the messenger be responsible for the message.
Some say we cannot hold rallies or demonstrations without police permits. But do we want our society to be like, say, Taiwan or the Philippines where demonstrations are the order of the day, and politicians and celebrities throw mud liberally at each other and anybody else, with some of the media merrily playing the role of cheer leaders?
The Singapore I know is an open society. It may not be the kind of society Mr Soros envisaged, nor the shape which Mr Koh wished, but it is a fair society where rules are applied fairly and equally to all without fear or favour.
Assoc Prof Koo Tsai Kee
Sigh. Tsai Kee, I know you're a PAP MP and all that, but what is the point of letters like that? Facts are facts, the rest are just opinions. Here, Mr Wang will provide you the facts, and you go and rethink your opinion:
- May 2005: Police investigate Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See for making a political film. The Straits Times suggests that Martyn See should stick to making comedies, not serious films.
June 2005: The police deny the gay group Fridae permission for organising a public event, saying that this would be contrary to public interests. Fridae has to move the event to Phuket, Thailand.
July 2005: The National Kidney Foundation launches yet another defamation suit to silence a critic who had tried to point out its financial improprieties. This time, the NKF loses, but it's the first time they've lost. Subsequently, the NKF's massive wrongdoings are exposed and the rest is history.
July 2005 The Singapore Government denies Mr Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan entry into Singapore and deports him. Mr Yeshua, a democracy activist and a member of NGO Nonviolence International, had been travelling here to conduct a non-violence workshop for Singaporean activists.
August 2005: 12 anti-riot police officers armed with shields and batons put an end to a tiny demonstration held by 4 peaceful people standing quietly in a row wearing T-shirts asking for more transparency from, amongst other institutions, the NKF.
August 2005: Police allow an anti-death penalty group to hold a memorial concert for the deceased Shanmugam Murugesu, but ban the group from showing Shanmugam's face on any "publicity platform/material such as internet website, displays, banners, posters, T-shirts and any other paraphernalia".
September 2005: Buangkok residents put up cardboard cutouts of white elephants in front of the Buangkok MRT station to protest against its non-opening. The authorities immediately launch police investigations to find out who did it.
October 2005: Blogger-academic Cherian George writes an article about the government's use of "calibrated coercion" to stifle the expression of dissenting opinions. The Prime Minister's Office immediately slams Cherian for his dissenting opinion.
October 2005: Senior lecturers at Warwick University in the UK vote against setting up a branch campus in Singapore due to worries about limits on academic freedom.
October 2005: Singapore is ranked 140th in the world for press freedom.
November 2005: International NGO, Reporters without Borders, writes an open letter to PM Lee Hsien Loong offering 10 suggestions to improve press freedom in Singapore. The organisation offers to meet PM Lee to give him a personal presentation of what can be done to ensure press freedom in Singapore.
December 2005: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses alarm over the recent ruling by a Singaporean High Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit which charged the country's public institutions with trampling the rights of their citizens to free assembly and free speech.
December 2005: Benny Lim, a theatre director, is ordered by the Media Development Authority to remove all references to the death penalty in his new play.
Tell me again, Tsai Kee, with a straight face, that we are an open society. I'll try not to laugh.