66% of REACH survey respondents were OK for sensitive performance to be performed with specific rules in place

by Lisa Li

Lots of articles on Straits Times, Channel NewsAsia, TODAY, proclaiming that 2 in 3 Singaporeans support the Watain ban, as proven by (but of course!) a REACH survey.

So let’s look at this survey.
– REACH conducted a Computer-Assisted Telephone Interview poll from 11-15 March (conducted 4 days after the Watain concert was cancelled, results published 1 Apr 2019)
– They randomly polled “about 680 respondents”
– 63% of the respondents were aware of the Government’s decision to disallow the band’s concert. (ie. 428.4 out of 680 respondents)
– Of those who were aware, 64% support the Government’s decision to disallow the Watain concert. (ie. 274.176 respondents out of 428.4 respondents)

So yes, it *does* show that 64% support the Watain ban. (I’m assuming that the “about 680 respondents” refers to some similar number that doesn’t leave people in decimals. Or maybe the percentages aren’t exact. Okay whatever, no biggie.)

But there IS one big problem.

Later on in the survey, in response to a more general question about “performances that may impact religious sensitivities”, only 26% of respondents felt that they should be banned”, while 66% of respondents felt that those performances “MAY BE ALLOWED, but with specific rules to diallow offensive content”.

Wait, what?

The Watain concert WAS already strictly regulated to disallow offensive content – exactly what the 66% in the REACH poll were supposedly okay with!

IMDA had earlier allowed the concert with a rating of Restricted 18 (R18), along with stringent requirements e.g. “the removal of songs which are religiously offensive, that the band cannot make references to religion or use religious symbols, and that no ritualistic acts are performed on stage.” (ST, 7 Mar)

And the discrepancy is even greater for those 60 and above, who seemed the most conservative group. A whopping 86% of that age group supported the Watain ban while 5% did not. But in response to the general question, only 34% of them felt that “performances that may impact religious sensitivities should be banned”, while 47% of them felt that “performances that may impact religious sensitivities in Singapore may be allowed, but with specific rules to diallow offensive content”. (So are you so sure older Singaporeans #notready?)

All this suggests to me that RESPONDENTS DID NOT KNOW that the Watain concert – had it gone ahead as planned – was already strictly regulated to disallow offensive content, and they assumed it was going to be totally unmoderated, full of hateful/offensive speech etc. So how exactly was the question phrased in this Computer-Assisted Telephone Interview? Were clarifications provided if people had questions? None of that information is provided in the REACH report.

This also suggests to me that people at REACH and everyone else who has used the survey are not bothered by this strange discrepancy. The survey concluded in 4 days. The same day REACH published these results, the Minister used the REACH survey results to state that “the Government has a responsibility to not just the individuals who like Watain music, but also the majority of Singaporeans who would be offended.” (ST, 1 Apr). The mainstream media went ahead to headline articles “Parliament: 2 in 3 Singaporeans in REACH poll supported the Government’s decision to disallow Watain concert” etc, all supported by this “evidence”.

Is it #fakenews or #realnews if the survey results are accurate but obtained from people who didn’t seem to have the full picture? And what do you do when it seems to be government agencies that are propagating misinformation/disinformation?

All the more chilling to read this alongside yesterday’s fake news bill, in which “the Government will make the decision on what is deemed false under proposed laws to fight the spread of online falsehoods” (ST, 2 Apr) and “General exemption: The Minister may, by order in the Gazette, exempt any person or class of persons from any provision of this Act” (point 61, Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill).

Where are we headed to, Singapore?

This was first published on Ms Li’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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