TOC thanks The Kent Ridge Common for allowing us to re-publish the following article.

Lester Lim

Singapore — In his ministerial community visit to the Paya Lebar Division of Aljunied GRC, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan made a clarification regarding the allegations permeated online that he had suggested that Singaporeans should send their elderly parents to nursing homes in Johor as the costs of doing so is relatively much cheaper than in Singapore.

“As you know, I am a Buddhist,” he said. “And Buddhism, like all religion, teaches about fillial piety… how is it possible that (I) said, ‘Go send your parents overseas, and abandon them’?”

“People have reasons to twist it for their personal interest.. don’t believe in what you have heard.”

Minister Khaw is in effect addressing a very fundamental problem that must be addressed by all socio-political blogs in Singapore that attempt to establish the Internet as a credible opinion base. And he is not the first to have had his comments unjustly interpreted out of context.

For instance, a prominent socio-political blog recently ran a series of articles castigating MP Charles Chong for his now infamous phrase of “lesser mortals”. Immediately after giving an interview to the TODAY newspaper regarding the reaction of the public concerning the incident of Permanent Secretary Tan Yoong Soon, the tables were turned on Chong who then had to explain for his usage of the phrase.

The article asked rhetorically if Mr. Chong sees Singaporeans “who has less earning and spending power” than him “as (a) ‘lesser’ human beings (sic) who deserve little respect from him?”

Indeed, it is not entirely clear that Mr. Chong had insinuated so much from his usage of the phrase, which may reflect ill-judgment in choice of words more than an inherent attitude or belief.

A number of these interpretations were clearly evocative and have aroused indignant replies. What may in actuality be a seemingly innocuous usage of a word has the potential to be extrapolated outside its context and deracinated from the grounds of its original intent.

The weight of responsibility lies on all the socio-political blogs in Singapore that aim to provide a reliable medium for a constructive discussion of thoughts and ideas pertaining to the welfare of our country. PM Lee has highlighted the very need for the younger Singaporeans to actively engage in robust discussions of ideas and to keep sprouting new ones. Singapore’s one and only resource is her people who have demonstrated resilience and often defied very strong odds to emerge from challenging situations. And it is her people that Singapore will continue to count on in the future.

A climate of fear cannot and must not dominate the exchange of these ideas on the internet.

Encouragements were made on certain socio-political blogs to remain anonymous and “not to leave a trace of identity” on postings in forums and blogs. This cannot help our country. Our people must develop integrity and learn how to exercise responsibility in being able to corroborate their viewpoints with rational and accurate evidence, and to develop a sound argumentative or thought process. There is most certainly nothing to fear if one argues a standpoint along this line, instead of an overt indulgence in often vitrolic rhetoric.

Our views need not to be necessarily pro-establishment in order to be accepted as legitimate, but this also means that we do not have to be anti-establishment for the sake of it.

Socio-political blogs that provide for a sensationalism of news should not be considered as the helm of the community of Singaporeans on the internet that partake in a meaningful discussion of ideas. Writers may masquerade their intentions through high-sounding labels such as fighting for the rights of taxpayers’ money, but discerning individuals will consider these writers to be the nadir rather than zenith of credibility on the Internet.

The Internet has tremendous potential as a media of the 21st century. The individual is given the ability to have a voice on a plethora of issues and happenings, a voice that may be previously stunted by the traditional forms of media. Yet the Internet’s credibility as a medium for the exchange of opinions and ideas must not be undermined by irresponsible reporting or interpretative proclivities that may slant towards one’s own interest or prejudice. As Singapore progresses and matures as a country, it would be wise to tap strongly on this medium where a constructive exchange and debate on ideas can flourish. If the credibility of the Internet as a medium is bespattered as a platform for reckless, anonymous and baseless fear-mongering comments, then Singapore may stand to lose out very much indeed.

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