Jewel & Nithun’s speech at #FreeMyInternet protest
*A transcript of Jewel Philemon & Nithun Nandakumar’s speech at #FreeMyInternet’s protest on the 8th of June.
Jewel: We are here today to break the misconception that young Singaporeans don’t care about socio-political issues.
There is a notion that the youth of Singapore are apathetic – even the government has indicated that they are not too concerned about young people being apathetic.
But no, young Singaporeans are not apathetic – the real reason why most of us are reluctant to speak up is the culture of fear that we are conditioned with, and the lack of hope that results from this fear.
We are conditioned to believe that speaking up against authority will negatively impact our future. We are also conditioned with a lack of hope that even if we speak up, things are not going to change. This is even more tragic than apathy – it’s not that young people don’t care to speak up, but it’s that they don’t dare.
But now, things are changing. We are very proud to announce that this fear is dissipating. After all, what should we fear? Who should we fear? The government? The government is here to serve us!
Speaking about the government, shouldn’t the government be kinda happy that hundreds have gathered to bring up their concerns? Shouldn’t the government be proud that the people are coming forward and not leaving the burden of governance on them?
Nithun: It was with this conviction that we crafted and sent a letter to the Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, regarding our concerns about MDA’s new licensing framework for online news sites.
In our statement, we highlighted that the broadness and vagueness of the amendment suggests that the State will have unmoderated power to muzzle virtually anyone who uses the internet.
We also pointed out that the gazette exhibits a discouraging lack of trust, and voiced our concerns about how this would have negative consequences on the youth of Singapore.
As part of our campaign, we called the Minister to rescind the gazette or engage us in a dialogue to explain why he would not.
We are sorry to announce that the Minister has not responded to our invitation.
Instead, we saw a response from the Ministry for Communications and Information to TODAY that clarifications have already been reported in various media, and that the Minister has already addressed the various issues raised.
Jewel: What is most puzzling is that this statement was sent to TODAY – not us. Additionally, we are extremely disappointed that the Minister would dismiss our call in such a manner and deflect our concerns – which were not addressed, at all – entirely. It is extremely disheartening that the Minister for Communications would resort to the talk-down approach instead of communicating directly to us.
In fact, this whole issue has been such a huge PR disaster for the PAP from the start. As mass comm students, PR is a part of our curriculum and the most basic thing you learn in PR is to talk to your stakeholders before you take any major decisions. You would imagine that a first-world government such as ours would have the foresight to speak to its stakeholders – which is us – the people of Singapore.
Nithun: Instead, the actions by the government send out mixed signals. Clarity is impossible, but their actions send out the perception that they are either: fearful, insecure, confused; or worse, all three.
An event like this has the strong possibility of further distancing Singaporeans from involving in their own civil societies, especially the young.
I feel that, when you’re young and go through a school, especially if it’s here, you’re brought up with an ideal world in mind. That what’s made the world is freedom, liberty, struggles, glorious ideals and that everything is fine. That yes, there are problems in other countries, but things are fine in Singapore.
The shock comes when he/she steps out into the “real world”. When a first world government brings out such a law, that young person would initially, like us, be confused and their ideal world takes a major blow as things like these happening in his/her own backyard! The confusion leads to disappointment which is a tamed word for anger, and not settling this anger leads to cynicism, and, over time, apathy. Singapore cannot afford that apathy anymore and that it’s changing is what we see here today.
Also, there is this worrying trend that I’ve seen online and in conversations at home and in coffee shops: where we tend to alienate those in govt – and this seems justifiable. Some of us may justify this by saying the govt or the establishment makes us feel so, but there’s a problem there. If the government does something which we know isn’t helping and if we engage in the same, what difference does it make? No one is winning. Rather, the cause is lost. So I think it’s timely for us and especially the youth here to change that culture. The ‘you do to me, I do to you’ idea will only lead to madness. This can’t be madness, this can’t be Sparta, this is Singapore. And we do things better here.
And I strongly believe that this situation has brought with an amazing opportunity for both us citizens and the government to rethink our ideas on freedom of expression and that this could be a major shift in things, a tipping point even. It’s a great place to start more discussions. Some may say that to solve a problem you’d have to put aside your differences, but I think it’s passè, it’s exactly at times like these that we bring our differences to the table reason, debate and then solve the problem. Dialogue is the only way forward.
Jewel: On a more personal note, I’d like to say that I feel very much invested in this issue because Singapore is very close to my heart. I was born and raised here for most of my childhood. I went to the US with my family when I was twelve and came back to Singapore in 2008.
Before I came back, my teacher told me to give a presentation about my home country and I, rather excitedly but quite naively, told my peers about the wonders of Singapore – our united people, the great food, the awesome public transport system, the ‘fact’ that everyone in Singapore are well provided for by our amazing government, our low crime rates, our clean and green city that I was so proud of.
Surprisingly, I never really got a culture shock when I moved to the US. It was when I moved back that I got a real culture shock – Singapore had changed so much in the years that I was abroad!
And things were not that great – I discovered that Singapore too has its share of people who fall in between the cracks – the homeless, the underprivileged, lower income families. I discovered that while the cost of living was going up, people’s incomes were stagnating. I discovered that we’re not such a perfect society, after all.
In 2008, I also discovered local alternative news and community driven websites.
Having contributed to some of these sites, I have personally been witness to the power of online media.
Online news and community websites have empowered the people to take action, to champion causes, to spread awareness, to speak up against issues that affect them, to stand in solidarity with those in duress, to effect change. Online sites have played a large part in highlighting the struggles of the common man (an area which mainstream media seems reluctant to cover) and have been a huge catalyst in the 2011 general and presidential elections.
I am now even more proud of my Singapore, and my fellow Singaporeans for daring to speak up, for being courageous and making a stand – for being here today to bring up their concerns, to exercise their freedoms.
And I am not in favour of ill-advised policies, such as the new MDA regulations, that threaten to rob us of this empowerment. I am not prepared to live in a society where our freedoms of expression are clamped down upon. I refuse to live in a society that endangers my democratic right to information.
And I would like to urge all of you to not lose hope, for that would be the most tragic outcome. This MDA issue has strengthened us to openly call for change. Engage your MPs, engage the Ministers. Call for dialogues. If they don’t respond, then you know what to do come 2016.
Both: We’d like to end with a message from one of our signatories, Ms Aldora Chan.
Aldora is a concerned young citizen. Aldora is a media practitioner. Aldora is a blogger. Aldora fearlessly blogs about politics. Aldora feels that people should not find her unique because she blogs about politics, and that she is more concerned than interested.
Aldora is fifteen years old.
Aldora could not be here today for personal reasons, but this is what she has to say:
“The freedom of press, is undoubtedly a human right, an important and crucial characteristic of a democratic society. The internet has no doubt filled the gap of the traditional media (SPH) in Singapore, with reports that do not and will never show up in our state-owned media.”
Jewel Philemon &
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