Why Pritam and Show Mao were wrong
I’ve been following the controversy over how two Workers’ Party’s (WP) Members of Parliament (MP) used content from sources without any attribution.
It first started with MP Chen Show Mao. He’d posted – re-posted, actually – virtually the entire posting from Donald Low. Donald’s Facebook note was in response to PAP MP Vikram Nair’s now-infamous “Nigerian scam” speech rebutting what Chen Show Mao had said in Parliament.
Chen was criticised for failing to credit his Facebook note to Donald. However, Chen later explained that Donald had told him that he (Donald) “preferred not to be cited by politicians.”
Donald himself posted a comment on Chen’s Facebook page, saying more or less the same thing – that there was no need to attribute the note to him.
A few days later, it was Pritam Singh who caused similar controversy. He had made a speech in Parliament on how perhaps Singapore should introduce an ombudsman. The controversy was over his use of a blog post which had argued for such an ombudsman. Pritam’s speech carried – ad verbatim – much of what the blogger had written. This prompted DPM Teo Chee Hean to remark that he “was struck by how remarkably similar” Pritam’s speech was to the blog post.
The blogger whose blog post Pritam had quoted ad verbatim in his speech said:
“For the record, Pritam contacted me for permission to use some of my text. I told him to go ahead with my blessings. No acknowledgements were necessary. I am happy he found my thoughts useful. Let’s keep our eyes on the bigger picture.”
WP supporters swiftly came to the defence of the WP MPs, while its critics criticised them for “plagiarism”. The two sides will go on arguing about this.
What I am more concerned about is that the two MPs themselves seem to treat the two episodes with nonchalance.
Chen posted later on his Facebook page:
And as the matter continued to be debated, Chen posted again:
For Pritam, he was more cryptic. He posted:
Following the WP’s silence on its change in position vis a vis ministerial salaries and what these should be pegged to – the WP had said, in its election manifesto, that salaries should be pegged to political office holders internationally but changed this position during the Parliament debate in January – one would question how the WP is behaving.
Particularly, its silence on certain matters. This is especially so given how the party itself has spoken eloquently about accountability and transparency – which the party listed as two of the tenets in its model of a “first world parliament”.
While WP supporters will continue to defend the actions of the party, I hope the party and its members will not be blinded by such support – and hold themselves to higher standards of propriety and behaviour.
Certainly, using entire chunks of someone else’s creation, in Parliament no less, is unacceptable, without any form of attribution or credit given to the creator. While the creators of the content may have given consent for it to be used, or may have granted permission to not be credited, even so, MPs Pritam and Chen should know that there are other ways to give credit. After all, both are in the legal profession where the specific use of words is a staple practice.
Otherwise, and as can be seen in the initial comments following Chen’s original posting of Donald’s note, these can be misleading. Several of those who read Chen’s posting had thought it was an original from him – and lavished praises on him.
The WP’s secretary general, Low Thia Khiang, has been an MP for more than 20 years. Never once has he had a need to use someone else’s work – ad verbatim – in his speeches. If he did, he had said so clearly and unequivocally – like the time he read, in Parliament, from a letter a resident of Hougang had sent him.
Low probably cringed – or would have – when he came to know of what Pritam and Chen had done, nevermind what WP supporters think.
Former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong said:
“Generally, I think the appropriate thing to do is to attribute the source, especially if words are used in a verbatim fashion. The fact that consent was granted only goes towards the copyright issues.”
I agree. And I hope Pritam and Chen Show Mao realise this as well.
The two men, so far, have not offered any apology – at least for causing the confusion or controversy. Both will probably put on the cloak of silence and move on.