Saturday, 23 May 2015

[Straits Times] Speak up, but be mindful of others' rights

I AGREE that we need to debate what freedom of expression means to us ("What do S'poreans want in freedom of speech?" by Dr George Wong Seow Choon; last Tuesday).
The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However, the exercise of that right is not absolute and is subject to certain restrictions.
Others' rights, along with reputation, national security, public order, and public health or morals must be honoured at all times.
As a private citizen, however angry and agitated I may be, "freedom of expression" means nothing much.
However, if influential bloggers or social media agents get angry or agitated, they will succeed in mobilising people to support their agenda.
Therefore, the debate over "freedom of expression" boils down to debating the responsibilities and consequences associated with the dissemination of an idea or a message.
Needless to say, the right to freedom of expression is a double-edged sword.
The recent incident associated with the Thaipusam festival, in which people rallied to support someone's misguided conclusion - that Thaipusam lost its status as a public holiday because the Government discriminated against Hindus - is an eye-opener ("Thaipusam as public holiday: MOM replies"; Feb 14).  
The organisers of that failed agitation thought they had the right to unjustifiably tarnish the reputation of the Government by hyping up people's emotions, all in the name of "freedom of expression".
To unscrupulous bloggers and social media agents, the right to "freedom of expression" has become synonymous with the right to be irresponsible.
There would have been extremely severe repercussions if The Real Singapore's (TRS) recent attempt to propagate hatred and divisive feelings among Singaporeans was not exposed at the right time ("'Enough proof to show TRS caused racial unhappiness'"; last Monday).
It is irrational to conclude that the Media Development Authority's decision to suspend TRS's licence as the start of a diminution of freedom of expression here ("No being 'Net neutral' about content"; last Wednesday).
It is comforting that the Government is serious about its responsibility - while remaining neutral, secular, and pragmatic - to not only weed out such errant social media agents but to also preserve public order.
To me, the right to freedom of expression means the right to speak up while being mindful of others' rights, which includes the right to challenge my stance in court.
S. Ratnakumar