Saturday, March 22, 2008

Before and After: My letter got amputated by the Straits Times

We should allow peaceful public demonstrations

(Original Version sent to Straits Times - Mar 20, 2008)

Dear Editor,

I refer to Paul Antony Fernandez’s letter ‘Advice to Chee: Don’t waste taxpayers’ money’ (ST, Mar 20), which was in response to the article ‘SDP holds illegal protest against rising consumer prices; 12 held’ (ST, Mar 16).

I agree with Fernandez that no government can appease all.

Nevertheless, a government should be willing to hear out the concerns of citizens, as expressed through various modes of non-violent and non-threatening communication.

Citizens should not only be entitled to praise the government, but also criticise it. Criticism also does not deserve to be excluded from the media domains in which praise inhabit.

While most of us are living a relatively “trouble-free” life as suggested by Fernandez, we should not quickly dismiss those who are saddled with problems such as the rising cost of living.

Fernandez may believe that a good government “will do its utmost to ensure that the majority are taken care off”, but I believe a good government strives to take care of all its citizens, whether belonging to a majority group, or a minority group.

If minority groups or aggrieved peoples are unable to express their concerns or be heard, they should at least deserve fair representation. The Chee-led demonstration is such a representation.

We should rethink the notion of demonstrations in Singapore in the 21st Century, and not let the ghosts of the turbulent 1960s haunt us or legitimise draconian control mechanisms on public demonstrations. History in that sense should be a lesson for us to learn, not a yoke or a pair of blinkers citizens are obliged to wear.

We should also problematise the oft-quoted notions of ‘public interest’ and ‘public safety’ as Singapore is multi-layered and of diverse interests. If at all, peaceful public protests deserve police protection rather than police intervention. This symbolically and practically defends the rights of the citizen to voice his/her concerns.

I feel that peaceful public protests and demonstrations are an alternative to other state-sanctioned feedback channels. If views, criticisms and feedback get edited, censored or even thrown out, how else can the message be transmitted?

Maybe instead of mobilising huge police and riot squads to contain him, we should let Chee carry out his protest and be heard. Chee wants people to think about their condition and positions as citizens, not stir up violence and hatred.

Ho Chi Sam

(Edited version in Straits Times Forum - Mar 22, 2008)

Peaceful protests are part of life today

I refer to Mr Paul Antony Fernandez's letter on Thursday, 'Advice to Chee: Don't waste taxpayers' money', which was written in response to last Sunday's report, 'SDP holds illegal protest against rising consumer prices; 12 held'.

I agree with Mr Fernandez that no government can appease all.

Nevertheless, a government should be willing to hear the concerns of citizens, as expressed through various modes of non-violent and non-threatening communication.

Citizens should be entitled not only to praise the Government, but also, to criticise it. Criticism should not be excluded from the domain of the media.

While most of us live a relatively 'trouble-free' life, as suggested by Mr Fernandez, we should not quickly dismiss those who are saddled with problems such as the rising cost of living. Mr Fernandez may believe a good government 'will do its utmost to ensure the majority are taken care of', but I believe a good government strives to take care of all its citizens.

We should rethink the notion of demonstrations in Singapore in the 21st century, and not let the ghosts of the turbulent 1960s haunt us.

History should be a lesson for us to learn, not a yoke or a pair of blinkers citizens are obliged to wear.

Ho Chi Sam

Afterthoughts:
I feel very sad that my message did not get across. What happened to the parts in bold? It's not only edited, it was amputated.

3 comments:

Solo Bear said...

Editing (and amputating) of texts is an art of the Singapore press. Er…actually it is an art of any press that licks the boots of the resident government. It happens in Malaysia, it happens in China, it happens in US....

In any case, here is another example of how the press (Straits Times) “plays down” non-favourable news. The following link is an article I wrote about Singapore’s questionable ties with Myanmar – and the US's hawk-like monitoring of the situation.

Our squeaky clean image under scrutiny

Note that if the news had been about the US watching another country, the ST would have screamed “corrupt government” and compare that government to PAP’s “whiter-than-white” image.

That's the magic of the press wagging its tail for its master.

PS - Since when you've been blocking anonymous comments?

Sam Ho said...

the mainstream media are generally conservative any way. but things should change in this "open society", something lee hsien loong championed in 2004.

i'm blocking anonymous comments? i didn't know that. i've not touched the settings since i started the blog haha.

Wei Haur said...

I think the PAP should stop viewing demonstrations as promoting anti-government sentiments, and instead treat then as constructive criticism - a different channel of
feedback to help mold government policies.

For a country built up on hard-headed pragmatism, closing off available sources of information, in contrast, seems to me like the work of a frog in a well.

In the short run it doesn't matter of course.

Our society is not likely to descend into arnachy just because we can't publicly display our displeasure.

But over time, if the people still feel that their views are not getting across, then they can only give feedback through the remaining channel open to them - the ballot box.