Saturday, February 03, 2007

Spent the morning at the local U at a forum organized by the SD Club. I don't know much about the club -- other than that NBS once hung out with them -- but they sure know how to pick their guest speakers.

The forum was about freedom of speech in S'pore and the speakers brought in their expertise from politics, the press and blogging. The Opposition guy who opened the session was a bit hesitant. He didn't look like he'd prepared any material, preferring to speak off-the-cuff from his own experiences at the last elections. According to him, it's ok to be an Opposition politician; difficult, but not impossible, as long as you keep your nose really clean and not do or say anything stupid that might get you sued after the elections.

The press speakers included my old school chum, Cherry G., of whom I will always accuse of scarring me for life in one of the games I mentioned in my previous post, but I do have a great respect for him nonetheless because of his critical eye on local politics, and his gumption for telling it like he sees it.

He said that whatever danger we perceive in becoming an activist for a cause we feel strongly about is only an excuse for apathy if it prevents us from doing something about it. But we do have to choose our battles wisely, in terms of our timing and the manner in which we fight them. He, himself, has had several times run afoul of the authorities for his scathing commentaries in ST. Yet, he is still a respected ex-journo and academic, and hasn't had the pants sued off him yet. The difference, he says, is that his bosses didn't panic easily, whereas Mr B was unfortunate to have a boss who overreacted when the government exercised its right to rebuttal.

Blogging is still the freest avenue for discourse, according to the speakers on the Internet issue. Most blogs have insignificant circulations anyway (mine is only a daily average of 11, as a case in point) and are hardly worth anyone's attention. Blogs, as I mentioned before, are policed by the blogging community already, so there's no need for the 'outside world' to interfere with whatever we say in our blogs.

Though we've heard of bloggers getting sued or jailed, in the last speaker's experience as a practicing DPP, because the process that an investigation file goes through before it can even be taken up in court is a long and complicated one, that their cases were actually brought before the judge was more of a case of their extreme bad luck rather than the fact that anyone was really out to get them.

The impression then, from today's forum, is that there is more freedom of speech here than we think. Only, the greater the reach, and the more impactful the speech is, we do have to exercise more and more care in what we say and how we say it. And, as the last speaker pointed out, as long as we stay away from the legally protected issues of race, religion and purposely trying to slime our incumbent politicians, we can write anything we want on our blogs and not worry about "disappearing" in the middle of the night.

Still, that's politics and police business. I'd rather be more careful about what my employer thinks about my blog. It's easier to get fired than jailed.

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