America’s late-night talk and news satire TV show The Jim Jefferies Show hosted by comedian Jim Jefferies dropped by Singapore recently to talk about freedoms in Singapore and how tough it is to be a comic in a country like Singapore.
In a video on Facebook, Jefferies describes the small island-state as a ‘crazy rich place with some of the strictest laws on Earth’. Speaking first to veteran journalist Conrad Raj, Jefferies asks for examples of more extreme laws in Singapore. Conrad points to laws that restrict speech and gathering. He says, “like many laws in Singapore, they are there to instil some fear.”
Jefferies goes on to illustrate how in Singapore you can be fined for selling gum or forgetting to flush the toilet but prostitution and gun ranges are perfectly okay.
He continues, “It’s a carefully designed system of carrots and sticks. The carrots are the prostitutes, the sticks are the actual sticks they use to cane people.”
Before going further, Jefferies asks Mr Raj if he would get in trouble for saying something wrong on the show. Cheekily, Mr Raj said “could be, but I’m 72. What the heck.”
Jefferies then makes a jab at Singapore’s ‘Speaker’s Corner’ which emulates the one in London where people are allowed to say what they want and ‘engage in raucous debate’. But Mr Raj explains that there are still restrictions to that such as requiring a permit, having a police station just around the corner, and the fact that the island-state has cameras all around. “Apart from that, you’re free?” asks Jefferies.
He then turns to a group of four young Singaporeans to get their take on Singapore’s restrictions. “If Singapore is going to claw back some of its civil liberties, maybe the answer lies in the young people.”
To his surprise, the young ones don’t seem to mind the loss of certain freedoms. In fact they say that the “laws are fair” and even “necessary for the country to function.” One young lady says she thinks the laws have allowed Singapore to grow to where they are now while a young man said that “part of the social contract is accepting that some civil liberties are restricted or suspended.”
Seemingly baffled, Jefferies does also point out that the UN survey on happiness has shown that Singapore has been rising in the ranks, now at 34 ahead of more democratic countries like Italy. “Maybe it’s because they get free healthcare and giant tax savings,” he says.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though. When prompted about whether they’ve felt like they weren’t able to speak about certain things that are important to them, one young woman said yes. “They [the government] frown upon stuff that is LGBT related. It’s very restrictive here.”
Jefferies says the country has a “very Singaporean” way of criminalising homosexuality – it is illegal to have gay sex but not to be gay.
“With all this social injustice, is anyone speaking truth to power?” asks Jefferies. He turned to comedians in Singapore.
Jefferies sat down with local comedian Sam See who said he has been pulled off stage several times. “I’ve had to learn how to sort of dance around the line, to sort of get close enough but not too close where I get arrested or go to jail.”
Mr See adds that it’s difficult to be gay in Singapore but “you try your best not to think about it.”
Pivoting to censorship, Mr See tells Jefferies that TV programming is censored, “everything is censored”. It’s no surprise then that even sites like PornHub is blocked.
Going back to the young people, Jefferies then asks them if they would want to live in the US. There was a dead silence before a strong ‘No’. One person said that it doesn’t feel like America treats foreigners all that well and that people no longer have the same perception of the US as they did before. “They [Americans] are a lot less free than they think they are”.
When asked why they think that, another young lady said “You’re not free to go to school without the fear of getting shot”. Another added, “walking around the street [in Singapore] and knowing that the likelihood of me getting shot or blown up is a lot lower [here] than somewhere in the West is of great comfort to me”.
The video cuts to Mr Raj saying that most Singaporeans agree that trading civil liberties for security is a good deal.
“But I think things can be more liberalised without harming security”, he adds.
Jefferies wraps up by saying the choice between freedom and security is a false one, noting that that is a message the US government needs to hear. He also holds Singapore as sort of parable for the US by saying, “Luckily, we still have the right to complain. It’s a great privilege, but it’s only worth something if we use it.”
Watch the video here: