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No talk on politics and religion without license: NTU

Following the incident in which a student posted an ‘academic blacklist’ of international students, The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sent out an email warning to its students about the school’s regulatory guidelines on internet postings. The ‘academic blacklist’ contained the personal details of a list of international students —  including their nationalities and photographs — accompanied by testimonials from their classmates reproaching their work attitudes and behavior.

The email, titled “Message on Exercising Freedom of Expression Responsibility“, warned students in particular not to ‘make comments that cause hatred or dissatisfaction with the Singapore justice system’ and not to create ‘web pages/blogs containing information on religion or politics’ unless the student has ‘acquired proper licences from the Media Development Authority AND the written approval of the University.’

Judging by the wide net of regulations it has casted, many blogs and webpages created by its students would have easily ran afoul of what the university claims is ‘exercising freedom of expression responsibly.’

While the list of regulations has a few sound guidelines on exercising exercising free speech on the internet, it makes no case to explain why dissatisfaction with the Singapore Justice system, if there was ever one, could not be freely expressed by its students. At the same time, the insistence on a complete blanket ban on blogs that discuss politics or religion without acquiring ‘proper licenses’ from MDA and the school contravenes the very tenets of freedom of speech.

Interestingly, judging from the contents posted, the blog TheLiberatingTruth, which was responsible for the e-mail reminder, would not have contravened any of the guidelines stated by NTU. Firstly, the blog is neither a site that discusses politics or religion, and neither is it a complete fabrication of allegations against the international students. The testimonials posted on TheLiberatingTruth, which has since shut down, are based on real-life experiences and encounters by classmates of these international students.

The guidelines for exercising freedom of speech responsibly on the internet seemed to have confused responsible commentary on the internet with ‘positive’ commentary — insofar as you only limit your opinions about another organization, person or entity to positive or nice-sounding words, you are deemed to have commented ‘responsibly.’

This is surely a travesty to the term ‘responsibility’ — it is not simply a matter of toeing the safe-line and to have only praises on a subject-matter when criticism is also due. If a good friend of yours asked for your opinion on an essay that is due for submission, would you only mention the good parts of the essay while neglecting the fact that there are some critical loopholes in her argument? Should this be considered as ‘responsible’ commenting?

Surely, one would rather be forthright in one’s comments to help our friends score a better essay result — rather than just saying the nice things, all the time.

Filed under: Opinions


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  1. ~autolycus says

    Happy is the Man who is not struck by Lightning Bolts in this Island of the Main. Hence the Shield of Apathy is a Right and Proper Defence against the drawing of Negative Forces. Therefore, Singaporeans should not be chastised for being Apolitical or Unwilling To Bear Responsibility, said States being Safe Ones, as Prescribed By Authority.

  2. George says

    Good points.
    As usual we witness another instance of Singapore officialdom taking shortcuts to 'resolve' issues – by abusing/misusing their authority. It's easy and a NO-BRAINER (ironical, considering it is a tertiary level educational outfit). Now compare this with the British University which declined to set up shop here due to its fear (well founded, it seems with the present case) of having to compromise its academic freedom given the Singapore government's well demonstrated proclivity to interfere and intervene with freedom of expression.

  3. CW Fong says

    I fully agree with the blogger's view.

    As I commented in an earlier post of mine on internal communications, the proliferation of social media is increasingly challenging organisations to manage unauthorized employee communications.

    Social media is here to stay and it can only become more pervasive. Companies should therefore direct their efforts on capitalising on their employees usage instead of restricting it.

    To win the battle for social media, NTU must embrace their student bloggers and convert them into ambassadors of the university. Student bloggers must be proactively engaged by the university administrators to ensure their understanding of the university's position on matters, rationale for unpopular policies, and limitations to adequately address the concerns of all students. This clearer understanding will then enable the students to blog responsibly.

    Hence, I advocate that Internal Communications is NTU's key to winning the battle for social media.

    • Exactly. The NTU administration way of handling the manner has became nothing more than a simplistic restriction of what one ought to say or not to say in the internet medium. Engaing these student bloggers who represent the viewpoint of the study body rather than an outright restriction of should be the way to go.

  4. George says

    " 20 Oct 2005
    Financial Times

    Warwick’s decision disrupts Singapore’s plans
    by John Burton

    A decision by Warwick University to abandon plans for a Singapore campus due to worries about academic freedom might set back efforts by the city-state to attract top western universities in its quest to become a "global schoolhouse".

    Warwick said yesterday it would not proceed with plans to set up a full-scale university campus in Singapore after the faculty last week voted against it by a 2-1 margin on the grounds of academic freedom and financial cost…."

  5. rajkumar says

    Over to you at Yale, some ought to post NTU"s proclamations over to them.Poor sods thinking of a liberal arts tie-up.God bless them.

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