Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Pre-U seminar: An Open Letter to The Senior Minister of State for Law and Education

Dear Madam,

I refer to your recent sharing on national topics concerning integration and national identity at the Pre-University seminar held on Monday.

In response to the question "What is a defining characteristic of a Singaporean?", you had recounted how Singaporeans came together to overcome the SARS crisis over a decade ago, which is why you felt Singaporeans are defined by their tenacity.

Madam, I couldn't agree with you more. Indeed, Singaporeans display tenacity and stand united especially during difficult times. Even though the SARS crisis is a relevant example, it is slightly outdated because it happened close to a decade ago. I believe there are more recent examples of Singaporeans displaying tenacity which may be worthy of mention. The Hong Lim Park protest held on Labour Day this year, in response to the release of the Population White Paper, is one such example of Singaporeans showing spontaneous tenacity. Even though the scale of the May Day protest cannot compare to the SARS crisis, I believe that the event is particularly noteworthy because it was entirely organized and coordinated by ordinary Singaporeans from all walks of life. The speakers and participants (totaling 5000-600according to one report) had no other agenda but to speak up and stand united for a cause that they strongly believe in. If that is not moral courage and tenacity, I don't know what is.

Tenacity in action.

Madam, you also mentioned that the essential quality of a Singaporean is what others termed as "kiasuism" but what you called "tenacity". At this point, may I politely mention that "kiasuism" and "tenacity" are terms with quite different meanings. The term "kiasuism" has mostly negative connotations and is widely associated with unique local phenomena such as Singaporean parents spending a lot of money on tuition or Singaporeans queuing for Hello Kitty plush toys. Kiasu individuals are generally self-centered as they are afraid to lose / be left behind, whereas individuals displaying courage and tenacity like those who attended the May Day Protest, are truly selfless in their motives. 

The Pre-U students also had concerns on what could be done to help the disabled become an asset to society. Your response to their concern was, "The government can do many things, the government can encourage, the government can set frameworks, the government can give incentives, but when you are trying to achieve something at the national and societal level, everybody has to play their part."

Again, Madam, you are right. All Singaporeans have a part to play to make this happen. In this aspect, the government has indeed made the first move by introducing specific initiatives to assist the disabled with the 2012 Budget. It is also evident that our disabled fellow Singaporeans require both financial assistance and societal acceptance. While complete acceptance of our disabled counterparts by society is an ideal that all imperfect societies are working towards (as a long term solution), shorter-term financial assistance in the form of personal donations will assist our local disabled societies greatly. As an example, if all of our nation's leaders were to lead the way in "playing their part" by making personal donations to the disabled society, I am certain this selfless act will encourage other ordinary Singaporeans to do likewise.

'Everyone has a part to play' - starting with our leaders, perhaps?

Finally, in response to the concerns that the new MDA regulations will clamp down on free speech, you explained that “The only thing that the new regulations do is to bring the online sites onto the same programme as the traditional print media and the main restriction or prohibition there is if there is content which is objectionable." When queried further about the nature and definition of objectionable content, you added that 'objectionable content' which would attract the sanctions or take-down notice are those against public interest, public order, national harmony or if it offends against good taste or decency.

Has The New Paper been publishing 'objectionable' content?

At this point, I must humbly admit I am confused by the given explanation and definition of 'objectionable' content. If an example of 'objectionable' content is one which offends decency, then surely The New Paper (which is part of the mainstream media) has been crossing the line all along, having published details of numerous 'indecent' sexual scandals over the years? With regards to the given example on prohibiting extreme videos and images, I completely agree that disturbing scenes such a beheading should be regulated. However, as one of the writers on theonlinecitizen has pointed out, currently none of the 10 sites to be regulated by MDA have posted any videos or images to do with beheading or similarly objectionable materials. Thus, I cannot help but wonder what is the true nature of objectionable content that the MDA is prohibiting.

Since the introduction of the Population White Paper a few months ago, any attempts by the mainstream media to justify its policies had been met with much backlash and contempt on social media platforms. It has also led to heated discussions on local forums, which eventually resulted in a historic gathering at Hong Lim Park by tenacious Singaporeans. One can even argue that the White Paper's introduction and coverage on mainstream media has disrupted our national harmony to some extent, because it is against public interest. By that measure, Madam, will all subsequent news on Population White Paper be defined as 'objectionable content' according to the MDA, and be taken down accordingly?

It is timely, then, that in response to the new MDA regulations, our spontaneous and tenacious fellow Singaporeans have decided to hold another event at Hong Lim Park this Saturday, 8 June at 4pm, to voice their opinions and take a united stand. As someone who approves of tenacity in Singaporeans, I am certain you will support this event as well.

Part 2 of Tenacity in Action.

In closing, I would like to thank you, Madam, for sharing your insights with our Pre-U students. I am certain your responses to national issues have provoked much thought and further debate amongst our youths, just like they did for me.

Yours Sincerely,
A Neurotic Singaporean.

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