Govt should grow public debate, not censor it: Arts NMP

Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh.

The Government should unlearn its instincts of wanting to draw more boundaries for civic discourse, urged Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh.

Instead, it should grow the space for public debate and facilitate a civic discourse, as this makes Singapore more socially cohesive in the long term.

This would be a break from its tendency during Singapore's first 50 years "to discourage the discussion of sensitive issues", she said in Parliament yesterday.

This strategy of avoiding conflict included "keeping the polar groups away from each other, or keeping the government's critics from poking their noses into the policy arena", she said.

But avoiding sensitive topics or steering clear of out-of-bound markers does not mean we have moved any closer to understanding an issue, or each other's differences, argued Ms Koh.

"In fact, censoring or restricting films, plays or online sites that seek to examine a complex issue in our society simply because some might find the framing of the issue objectionable is tantamount to cutting off the space for constructive civic discourse to take place," said the actress.

This would have a "chilling effect far beyond the immediate circumstances of the case".

Singapore, she said, "needs critical lovers and loving critics" to thrive. Genuine debate lets people consider all sides of the argument and learn to agree to disagree, making society more resilient.

In her impassioned speech on what is needed for open debate, she said that much is at stake.

"If we get it right, we will be a diverse, plural society where mutual respect is built around a Singaporean identity that is strongly felt, but at ease with itself.

"If we get it wrong, we may become a brittle nation of close-minded individuals divided along... social fault lines."

This article was first published on May 30, 2014.
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