MARUAH is dismayed over the Prime Minister’s first step action of issuing a letter of demand to ‘Heart Truths’ blogger Mr Roy Ngerng, asking for an apology, a retraction of the blog post and compensation for damages and legal costs to the Prime Minister.
We are concerned that these actions on the part of the Prime Minister will further shrink the space for public discourse in Singapore. Robust debates, diverse views, critical inquiries, in addition to a healthy media landscape, are all critical to the development of a functional democracy. A healthy and engaged society calls for diverse, independent voices who will need the space to express their views and face sharp rebuttals if their views are found wanting or even false. These are the first steps to robust critical discourse: being transparent and open.
Mr. Roy Ngerng’s articles can be and ought to be refuted by the Prime Minister for any misinformation or lapses in communication. That needs to be done for public good. Criticism of key institutions, including the Office of the Prime Minister, is best addressed through a right of reply by way of well-reasoned rebuttals, not by this reliance on the archaic legal action as a first recourse. If the article in question by Mr Roy Ngerng was incorrect, then the better thing to do is to rebut him in public. Threatening to take legal action against him will not convince the public that he is wrong or that the Prime Minister is right. In fact, sympathy towards Mr Roy Ngerng can even cloud the issue, when what the issue needs is further clarification.
The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in our Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration signed by our Government. Yet, our Government’s actions, once again, are highly regressive, and serve to limit the space for expression instead of expanding it. This has also been raised in the 2011 Universal Periodic Review report submitted to the Human Rights Council.
In 2004, the Prime Minister, then a Deputy PM, said in a landmark speech to the Harvard Club: “I have no doubt that our society must open up further… Looking ahead, one important task of the government will be to promote further civic participation, and continue to progressively widen the limits of openness. … We will promote a political culture which responds to people’s desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore’s growth as a nation.”
We urge the Prime Minister to be open and to engage first in refuting Mr Roy Ngerng’s points of view robustly. This is the way our society needs to function and mature.
Ms Braema Mathi