16 November 2004
I refer to my previous letter in this column and wish to voice out the reasons for my stand on the freedom of speech and expression.
The most important purpose of freedom of speech is that decision-making is reached by discussion and consideration of a large range of views. A decision made after adequate consultation is likely to be a better one than a decision taken with no consultation. Thus freedom of speech is important for society at all platforms.
A government that does not know what the people feel and think is in a very questionable position. The government that chokes free speech is at a risk of dampening the creative instincts of its people, with Singapore and Singaporeans being a very good example.
When criticisms of a government are freely voiced out, the government has the opportunity to explain unfair comments and criticisms about its actions. On the other hand, when freedom of speech is restricted, rumours, unfair criticisms, comments and downright lies are circulated by word of mouth “under the table”.
The government is in no position to answer these views, because they are not brought to the attention of the public. It is in a government’s and its people’s interest to have criticisms in a public platform where it can answer its critics and correct its mistakes. It is able to present its explanation only if the opposing views are in the open.
Freedom of speech is also a political right of citizens. Without the latter, no political action is possible and no resistance to injustice and oppression is possible. Elections would have no meaning at all. Policies of opposition parties and its response to public opinion can only be heard by free speech. In between elections the freely expressed views of citizens help restrain oppressive rule. Without this freedom it is futile to expect political freedom or economic freedom.
With the free speech system just like any other political system, there would be a minority who abuse the system. That is when the defamation law comes in. But the latter should only be used to protect the reputation of an individual and not to gain political ground.
In the United States a person holding a political position or public office has no right to sue for defamation. The reason given is that a person who enters public office, unlike a regular citizen, should come under unrestrained public scrutiny. This is considered essential to the workings of the US democracy system. Thus the law of defamation holds no value to the holder of public office.
I hope I have explained the reasons for my beliefs and I welcome any constructive criticism or suggestions vis-?vis my views.