Saturday, June 17, 2006

Seditious whistleblowers | talking dog

(disclaimer: not a lawyer. no law degree. am very good at TV law, so if I was on CSI or Law 'n Order, I'd wipe the floor.)

There's one thing I don't like about the whole seditious blogger incident, and it's not unique to the incident, and definitely not to Singapore - it's the annonymous informant-ism of it all. The person being charged or investigated doesn't get to find out who the informant is. The same goes for other similar incidents involving "citizen reporting", and I'm not talking about reporting in the journalistic sense.

And if you don't get to face your accuser, it's a bit hard to mount a defense, I would imagine. After all, how do you determine that the material is offensive to the complainant if you don't know anything about the complainant? I mean, if the complainant complains about anti-Buddhist cartoons, but owns a massage parlour in San Fran with the tag line "Recline your buddha with our lovely lotuses".. well, I'd doubt the depth of his offence.

(of course, it seems that determining whether something is seditious has nothing to whether the complainant found it offensive, but rather that someone would find it offensive. Of course, there are people who would be offended by a banana held in an upright manner.)

And of course, there's the whole personal agenda aspect. The phenomenon of people reporting you in for misdemeanours that have nothing to do their actual grievance with you is a time dis-honoured one. And it's not difficult - after all, as Mr Wang has pointed out, are you sure you've never done anything wrong? Did you criminally intimidate someone recently?

Most of the time, you go unpunished (whoohoo!) for your crimes, mainly because the police can't be bloody arsed (and I don't blame them). However, there are some things that they are obliged to take more seriously, such as sedition. And HDB complaints.

(It sounds strange, but it shouldn't be. The link between politics, social harmony policies and housing is a well documented one in Singapore - I recommend Chua Beng Huat's book on the Politics of Housing for further reading. It's a good read, and Prof Chua is a very smooth writer with a palpable distaste for jargon)

Returning to the topic of anonymous complainants - i do understand the need to guaruntee anonymity to complainants. It's just that I've seen it abused too many times to feel comfortable. Dog owners will tell you that it's amazing how many complaints rack up against you because you own a dog. Sometimes the complaints are dog-related, like the person I know who kept on getting complaints about the barking. The problem was that his dog was a Cavaliar King Charles spaniel, a breed known to be on the quiet side. Unless, of course, to take a random example, the neighbour's kids stood outside the door and barked at the dog. The same (Chinese) neighbour incidentally, used to tell her kids "Dog! Dirty! Don't touch!" and was the only one who ever had problems with his dog.

It's not an isolated incident; in another case the outcome was potentially worse because the dog in question was an "illegal immigrant", a mongrel that the homeowner had adopted from a factory, but considered too large by HDB regulations. After the complaint was made, HDB officers told the homeowner to give up the dog (risking near certain death), or face losing the flat. The homeowner had to resort to bringing his dog out at midnight, so that no one would know he had a mutt. He didn't know who the "public spirited" complainant was, but he was fairly sure it was the neighbour who had insisted that his dog was noisy, spread SARs, and whose hair kept floating into the neighbour's flat. Now there's a guy who'd count the number of wanton he got at the hawker centre, and compare it to the picture.

The anonymous complainant aspect is prone to abuse. Of course, it's not a new phenomenon - to cast an even darker shade on it, similarly public-spirited individuals would report their neighbours to the Japanese/British/Facists/British/Russians/ISD/school teacher. (am guilty on the last score, myself. I'm ashamed, ok?)

It's a necessary evil of course, but at the same time, I wish the police, or rather, the attourney general's office would learn to exercise a little, well, judgement. You could say that political necessity dictates that they go after everyone; well, I would like suggest that it isn't as indiscriminate as that, and that they can choose not to go after a person, as was shown in Chua Chang Zhen's case. In fact, the depth of offense was much higher in this PSC scholar's case than in Char's Zombie Christ case, since Char merely reproduced material easily available on the net, whereas the PSC scholar Chua Chang Zhen wrote that Indians were disgusting and not Singaporean.

Actually, at times, I'm tempted to simply flood CID with a list of complaints about blogs that are offensive - hmm, we could start with Xiaxue the blogger that has been hired by the Straits Times to blog for them despite her bluntly racist entries. Sorry, I should correct that, it's STOMP that hired her, the new ST enterprise that's been launched and I haven't looked at yet because of computer woes. Man, if the hiring of Xiaxue is anything to go by, I feel bad for the ST. The Straits Times is a whore, as I've said before, but damnit, the old girl was just a dame trying to get by. It's too soon to tell, of course, but by comparison, STOMP isn't a whore, it's Paris Hilton drunk on a table at a party, legs splayed open, vagina ready to take on all comers.

Rounding up - Of course, there's a reason why the anonymous complaint/reporter mechanism, and the abuse that ensures works so well in Singapore. We're Singaporeans, remember? As Janandas Devan wrote: "Singaporeans are famous for complaining."

And of course, we have a strong belief that the government should "fix" everything.


At 11:37 pm, Blogger Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Oy, tell me about it. I'm not allowed to mention in my book what the ex-gay association said about Kuan Yin because that would be both religiously seditious AND defamatory if without concrete evidence.


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