More freedom of speech, but some restrictions necessary: DPM
SINGAPORE — Singapore society should evolve towards more freedom of speech but some restrictions, such as on hate speech, are necessary, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday at the Pre-University Seminar.
He was responding to questions from students about freedom of speech in Singapore, media censorship in the context of the need to develop originality of mind, and on remarks against Islam made by teenage blogger Amos Yee. Had the authorities’ response to Amos given him more support and attention internationally than he would otherwise have garnered, questioned a student from River Valley High School.
Mr Tharman did not comment on Amos as his court case is ongoing, but said some restrictions are necessary all over the world, with hate speech featuring prominently in the law of the many Western democracies. Enforcement against hate speech is needed, he said. It does not mean all comment and expression is scrubbed out, but individuals have to be responsible.
There is more freedom now compared to a decade ago, “let alone when I was your age”, said Mr Tharman. “I was a dissident, a government critic. It was completely different then, compared to where it is now. We have evolved into a society that has more freedoms, but it has some restrictions and they serve a purpose.”
He also spoke of the need to let values in Singapore “evolve quietly”, instead of having a debate to decide on values for the future, because it was not how societies evolved. Each generation, he added, would have its own sense of purpose and values, but rarely totally divorced from their parents’ or grandparents’.
On media censorship, Mr Tharman said it was not the only test of a liberal, progressive society. In some countries with looser reins on the media, there is much less freedom to walk safely on the streets and to advance oneself regardless of ethnicity or religion, he said.
Society has to find the right balance and some freedoms have to be curbed for it to evolve in a way that advances other freedoms, he said. “Every society faces this. We haven’t found the perfect balance, and we have to keep evolving.”