We write to express our dismay at the attempt to prosecute Mr Alex Au for contempt of court and the reports about the Media Development Authority (MDA) seeking to regulate online media platforms the Breakfast Network and The Independent Singapore.
The members of MARUAH, as Singapore citizens and human rights activists, are concerned that these actions will further shrink the space for public discourse in Singapore. Robust debate, diverse views, questioning and criticism, as well as a healthy media landscape, are all critical to the development of a functional democracy.
Criticism of key institutions like the judiciary is best addressed through a right of reply by way of well-reasoned rebuttals, not by this reliance on the archaic legal action of “scandalizing the judiciary”, which the UK Law Commission has described as “an infringement of freedom of expression and out of step with social attitudes” that “would do little to reinforce respect for the judiciary.” If the article in question by Mr Au was incorrect, then the better thing to do is to rebut him in public. Using criminal sanctions against him will not convince the public that he was wrong.
Meanwhile, a healthy media landscape calls for diverse, independent voices that also need to have the space to be commercially viable. The MDA is reportedly requiring the Breakfast Network and The Independent Singapore to provide details on their shareholders and subscribers. These are overly-intrusive requirements, going far beyond what would be necessary to satisfy the stated objective of preventing foreign influence over the media, and will only serve to choke these outlets, even if they choose to comply.
The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in our Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration signed by the Government. Yet, the Government’s recent actions are highly regressive, and serve to limit the space for expression instead of expanding it. In 2004, then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a landmark speech to the Harvard Club: “I have no doubt that our society must open up further… Looking ahead, one important task of the government will be to promote further civic participation, and continue to progressively widen the limits of openness… We will promote a political culture which responds to people’s desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore’s growth as a nation.”
We urge the Government to remain true to its promises and so seek the reversal of these actions against Mr Au, the Breakfast Network and The Independent Singapore.
Ms Braema Mathi