GE 2006 has brought the issue of censorhip into the forefront of Singaporeans' consciousness. The media is, according to some, most guilty. The biased and one-sided coverage of the PAP's campaign has irked (and angered) quite a few people. In my own private conversations with friends, even those who were pro-PAP or 'fence-sitters' were all unanimously frustrated.
The sad thing to me is that the media has not changed much at all in the last 40 or so years. There have been some commentators - such as Cherian George - who claimed otherwise. Perhaps they are not entirely wrong but if there were any changes or improvements, I would argue that they were minimal and inconsequential. Thus, generally, nothing much has indeed changed.
I fear for the negative 'tone of society' which such self-censorship creates. Many-a-time have we heard govt officials lamenting and then urging, encouraging Singaporeans to speak up, to have an opinion. Yet, when it came to something as crucial and important as the elections, we have regressed - as far as the media is concerned. Daily, nauseating one-sided news report in print and broadcast was the order of the day - for 9 days.
The incessant espousing 'of one particular sychophantic political philosophy', to paraphrase Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Couple this sort of unashamed, biased reportings with the ban on podcasting, videocasting, political films, and requiring blogs which are 'persistently political' to register, and we have a scenario where only one view is allowed to be propagated.
I would offer that this is a very dangerous thing indeed.
In a time when the world is a global village, where technology is always changing and improving, where a people is constantly exposed to the world at large, such blatant gagging of a national media - and alternative media - through crude laws and restrictions, spells trouble in the long term.
What are these problems?
One, only allowing one official view to be propagated gives the impression and perception that only this one view is the 'right' one.
Two, for censorship to take place, it must mean that there are some - a group of, a committe of, or otherwise - people who dictates and decide what is allowable.
Three, it casts a shadow of fear amongst the electorate. A fear that any other views outside of the official one is perhaps tantamount to open dissent.
Four, the very act of censorship itself means that there are those in the media who are powerless and unable to speak up against it - even though their members may be truly frustrated and who are against such controls. (There have been stories of journalists and reporters who are alleged to have said that they were thinking of quitting their jobs because of such censorship during the elections.)
Five, censorship laws are too vague, too wide and too ambiguous. This is on purpose, I suppose, so as to allow the law to be 'flexible' to accomodate any future 'unforeseen, undesirable' forms of communication and communication tools.
Six, censorship controls by the few means that the citizenry is not allowed to participate in vibrant, dynamic and necessary exchanges of views, ideas and opinions. This may - and can - lead to disillusionment, apathy and frustration - especially among the young who are increasingly more outspoken.
The next 5 years therefore will be of immense importance. How the govt deals with such issues will decide the entire tone of society, including the fear factor.
I would hate to see us regress further.
The govt has to realise, and do so quickly, that this is a time where immense opportunities for our society to open up is taking shape. To try and curtail, cage and control it with crude, vague and blunt laws and regulations will result in a stagnant and dull environment.
We are now in the 21st century.
It is time to rid oursleves of ways of thinking which clearly belongs to the Dark Ages.