Wednesday, November 30, 2005

With Expensive Speech in Singapore, Is Discounted Speech Possible?

According to Asia Times, two bloggers have been sentenced under the Sedition (definition: incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority) Act last month in Singapore. The ethnically Chinese individuals made remarks about the minority Muslim-Malay community on their websites. Although they may have committed an immoral act, this raises the question of justice, ethics, and freedoms of speech in Singapore and the broader East Asian region.

On the one hand, we all desire the freedom to say whatever we want and live free (or die). On the other hand, the saying "freedom isn't free" does carry some water, and in some cases we depend on people to be quiet for "the good life". It is essential to national security to have military and intelligence secrets, industrial secrets are important, and most of us can agree that it isn't right to call people names or ugly adjectives. But should laws or ethics govern these principles?

In the case of Singapore, an island-nation famous for its harsh penalties and unforgiving legal system, we are now faced with the clash between the IT-proliferation of bloggers, websites, rumors, and lots of crap being spread all over the world-wide-web at the speed of a mouse click. In Singapore the issue seems to be an even more hot-button issue in the US, where the Patriot Act has caused much pain to civil rights' groups. Singapore has to maintain a sensitive balance between its minorities, while at the same time sustain economic growth and prosperity--essentials for the legitimacy of the regime. A bit like China.

To complement, the article writes: "...some activist groups feel that Singaporeans have lost their right to freedom of information in exchange for social harmony and economic prosperity. "
Singapore again reminds us of PR China where the internet is even more censored and where the legal system is extremely severe. At the end of the day, however, free speech wins and those who sacrifice their freedoms to publish "the truth" will not have perished or lost their battles in vain. Most developed countries have eventually reformed their legal codes to adapt for freedoms of speech, and in the case of Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, we can see how Asian values do not make 'freedoms' an exclusively Western ideology.

While Singaporeans will continue to go to jail and pay hefty fines for speaking their hearts on the web, more and more bloggers will resist their inevitable desire for responsible freedom of speech.

Perhaps they will not have free speech in the near future - but can they instead have discounted speech?
Those are just some thoughts ....

What do you think?

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