The 3 May 2015 statement by the Media Development Authority (MDA) regarding the website http://www.therealsingapore.com (“TRS”) liberally uses words like “fabricated”, “false” and “deceiving readers” without providing any evidence what these instances were. It also accused the editors of “doctoring articles”. I’m not sure what this means. In fact, I am very concerned that any kind of editing could be cast as “doctoring” if the MDA so wishes.
MDA ultimately said the editors “contravened the Internet Code of Practice”, a set of regulations that I consider completely illegitimate. Worse, the MDA does not even set out what due process has been followed before they came to their conclusion – not that any process would have been legitimate when the Code itself is illegitimate. But the point is: they arrogantly didn’t even try to explain.
Even though the statement mentioned that TRS publishers Ai Takagi and Yang Kaiheng “have been charged with publishing seven counts of seditious articles”, surely the principle must be that they are innocent until proven guilty. That being the case, MDA should not use that as justification for any ban. Moreover, I also consider our Sedition Act to be deeply flawed. It is too broadly phrased and too easy to use to undermine the freedom of speech. For the MDA to cite it as some kind of justification for their action does not convince me at all.
I wish I could fill you in with a better description of TRS’ behaviour, but the fact is, I have not bothered to look at its articles for a very long time. I formed the opinion quite early on that it tended to engage in hyperbole and seemed to revel in intolerant speech. It was not worth my while to spend time on that site. From mentions by others on Facebook over the years, I believe my opinion is shared by many. People often criticised the site for its inaccuracies and exaggerations. I even remember an instance when someone urged a boycott.
It’s no contradiction to disagree (strongly) with the MDA’s action, while holding a low opinion of TRS. In fact I would argue that precisely because many people find credibility problems with TRS, there is no danger to the public. It appears that few take them seriously anyway. In any case, despite MDA’s accusation “several articles that sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore”, I don’t know of anyone being found guilty of anti-foreigner violence from being incited by this site.
For all its sins, TRS is a lesser threat than the MDA.
That MDA is the greater and more insidious threat to us all can be seen from this very action. Shrouded in a non-transparent process, it goes out to ban a website. It flings accusations without offering proof. More dangerously, it plants the idea that it has the right to adjudicate truth and falsehood.
The brutalities of the 20th Century should remind us always that we should never entrust governmental bodies with deciding what constitutes truth.