It has been a long while since I was so worked up about a government policy or a piece of legislation. I mean, really pissed. The last time I was so viscerally angry was perhaps 7 years ago – in 2006 when the local media’s reporting of the general election in May that year was one of the most atrocious state-managed media campaign against the opposition.
It was the main reason why a few friends and I started The Online Citizen (TOC) – which went ‘live’ on 1 December 2006.
7 years on, TOC has come a long – very long – way. It has gone through much struggle – both internally and externally – but has managed to survive. And it is for only one reason that it did – the selfless volunteer citizen journalists which believed in a cause.
And that cause is the right to speak, write, and express oneself freely. And this means a free media platform to tell stories which the mainstream media, shackled as it is like a lap dog to a pole by the Government, could not tell.
And TOC did all this with nothing more than just hardcore conviction and commitment.
Why else do you think the volunteers would forego weekends with families, and holidays they could take, long nights they could use to sleep, to do this thing called telling stories of the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the foreign workers, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the forgotten of society?
And TOC – along with other bloggers since – have done much to bring that desperately needed alternative voice to the public.
If you could take some time to read the stories which TOC has done the last 7 years, it is a breathtaking slew of stories and campaigns which the team of volunteers undertook, and also on issues which few cared about.
So, what am I saying?
The new regulations introduced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) last Tuesday affect bloggers and citizen journalists. But that is not the thing which bothers me, truly.
What disturbs me is that some of these people we have spoken up for – death row inmate Yong Vui Kong, for example; or the elderly workers who are being discriminated against, or the foreign workers who continues to be blatantly exploited – how do we continue to be their voice?
In 2010, we did a series of stories on the homeless people in Singapore. Few even knew that there were such people in this pulsing metropolis, with all the shine and glitter. But there were. The story got into Al Jazeera. The then MCYS minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, threw a fit – after ignoring our series of stories for the longest time – accusing us of spreading “falsehoods” about the homeless people we wrote about.
He went to Parliament and said this of us: “Some irresponsible websites have also caused these falsehoods to circulate widely on the Internet.”
We rebutted him in two articles on TOC and stood our grounds. We knew we were right because we were right. We had all the facts. The minister was wrong. (Yes, even higher mortals can be wrong.)
He did not respond to our two rebuttals.
If the new regulations had been around then, it is not improbable that we would be ordered to remove these stories from the website.
If we came across such stories now and reported on them, would we be ordered – under the new MDA regulations – to take them down?
The new rules empowers the MDA to make such an order (incidentally, it saves individual ministers and MPs from issuing legal letters) and require blogs to execute such orders within 24 hours, or face all sorts of penalties – including a possible S$200,000 fine and/or a 3-year jail sentence.
Yes, it is killing a fly with a bulldozer.
Blogs can shut down. What about the homeless people or the poor?
You might say that, oh this is not probable. The government will never do such a thing.
Well, the government banned begging – and we did not see beggars on our street for a long while, did we?
In any case, why should a statutory board have such overwhelming powers over citizens?
To cut a long story short, please join us at Hong Lim Park this Saturday, 8 June, 4pm to 7pm.
And join the #FreeMyInternet Facebook group here.
We – the bloggers and netizens – have worked very hard against all sorts of fear and obstacles, of attempts to discredit us in the mainstream media, of ministers slamming us constantly, and now of the government introducing legislation to tie us down, intimidate us, gag us and frighten us.
But we will not be cowed.
Because I – and others – believe that our Constitution is not a worthless piece of document. It guarantees us – citizens, Singaporeans – the right to speak and express ourselves.
Do not let faceless bureaucrats take away our our voice.
Because, without a voice, we cannot speak for others who need us to.
And that is the bigger danger than closing down a blog.
So besides attending the event on 8 June, please do sign this petition as well.
PS: For those of you who are in the civil service and who cannot speak up, I just want to say this: There comes a time when even the most ardent supporter of a regime has to have a conscience. Perhaps this is your time. What can you do? I do not know. But there is nothing stopping you from turning up as an observer at Hong Lim Park on the 8th.