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Open letter re: “Singapore Uncensored and Censorship”

Comments (7)
  1. Kenneth K says:

    I don’t get the rationale of your closed door policy, you stated that the main reason is to encourage people to speak up without fear of reprisal. However, it is apparent that the panellists have a recording of the session. On top of that, there will be a report submitted to the PSC. Does it mean there is some OB marker that can’t be crossed? Does it mean I would need to apply self-censorship? I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I would be wary of the reasons for such request and this certainly will not encourage me to speak freely.

    You mentioned that there is the fear that the participants and panellists might be quoted out of context and be involved into unnecessary debates which they don’t want. If that is the reason, then wouldn’t it be better to allow the audience to record instead so everyone will know what is really going on.

    1. Rayner says:

      Thanks for your questions, Kenneth. First of all, I think the recording issue has simply taken over the debate, which really should be about the many substantive issues arising from Yale-NUS operating in Singapore.

      Simply not having a recording policy might well have been the better option; I can’t tease out all the possibilities and iterations myself. However, one reason against it was that any of us might have misspoke in dealing with the complex issues under discussion. We had hoped that people would come to us, challenge us one on one on what we had said and in doing so, develop a conversation, rather than go straight out to the public domain – after all, our overriding concern was to engage the Yale community, not to talk to HuffPost, ST, or PSC. Specifically, we had hoped that, should anyone want to quote us in a report, they would speak to us first as a matter of good journalism.

      Back to your first point: fear of reprisal did not come up in organising the session, though in the letter I do indeed quote Professor Jill Campbell, who raised the spectre of “potential reprisals” – that’s her own speculation. When we found out that the PSC had requested for a report, it did not change our commitment to speak out one bit. As I pointed out in the letter, there are many innocent reasons why PSC might have wanted a report. We might have become more careful about making sure that our arguments were well-supported by hard facts, but that was something we would have done anyway.

  2. Raymond C says:

    I am wondering why Chatham House Rule was not simply invoked?

    There are internationally accepted standards for off the record meetings. This would have simplifies quite a bit of the rules articulation.

  3. Rayner says:

    Thanks for your comment, Raymond. In the course of organising the panel, the Chatham House Rule was indeed suggested, but in the course of our discussions was forgotten as we tried to figure out how best to engage the media while not diluting the message to our core audience: the Yale community. This was an oversight. We did not think so many steps ahead in the game, and had little idea how our policy would be interpreted should anyone choose to read between the lines.

  4. Ng E-Ching says:

    Raymond C: I guess Rayner has forgotten this, but another reason we didn’t use Chatham House rules was that we didn’t need or want to remain anonymous.

    Kenneth K: That’s a good point about recording (I think, can’t speak for the others here). I live, I learn.

  5. As the author of the Huffington Post account of the “Singapore UnCensored” panel to which Raynor Teo refers and which he kindly links above, I should say first that I never thought he’d been lying in bed all night worrying about how the panelists’ words would be interpreted in the media! Nor have I sought to “get into an eternal loop arguing over this,” as he puts it aptly, apropos the question of who did or did not report the session’s contents to whom. I can only encourage people to read the post, to which I made a few changes in response to criticisms from the panel’s moderator, Tse Yang Lim.

    I do insist that the “Singapore UnCensored” session’s ground rules were not appropriate, legitimate, or even necessary. But I should add that the Yale Daily News’ failure to present even a decently balanced account of the session — a failure I describe at length in my post — only deepened my own and others’ doubts about the intent behind the ground rules.

    It’s very understandable that panelists wanted to avoid being quoted out of
    context, but that’s a risk one takes in convening and speaking at a public meeting in a relatively open society. Let me explain what I mean.

    In America’s “open society,” the risks of being quoted out of context have
    both increased and decreased. They have increased because, owing both to new media and to new concentrations of wealth that give some people huge megaphones and others laryngitis as they strain to be heard, it is more likely that unscrupulous and/or desperate adversaries will pounce on a phrase or sentence and use it to advance a caricature. This has always been true in the United States to some extent: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton (who was killed in a duel over a matter of “honor” that involved public insults) were the subjects of relentless, scurrilous attacks in the press, not only upon their policies but upon their personal lives.

    The risks have decreased because, with so much fragmentation and cacaphony, it’s not very often that many people care enough to track down and establish the truth. The greatest danger to free speech in the “context” of an anarchically open society is not retribution but indifference.

    I do not defend such verbal and moral anarchy, although, as Yale’s
    Statement on Freedom of Expression (described in my post) makes clear, that anarchy is often a necessary and bearable price to pay for being able to discredit premises and assertions that would otherwise go unquestioned, especially if backed by great wealth and all it can buy.

    Although Americans’ legally equal and untrammeled right to free speech means little if my adversary has a megaphone while I have only laryngitis, there’s a more encouraging side to the matter: As George Orwell wrote, “Thought is not, like physical strength, dependent on the number of its agents… The words of one strong-minded man, addressed to the passions of a listening assembly, have more power than the vociferations of a thousand orators…Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks all efforts of tyranny.”

    This has so often proved true — in colonial India, in South Africa, in Eastern Europe, and even, perhaps soon, in the U.S. A decade ago I tried to explore Orwell’s counter-intuitive insights in an essay about him and the perils of the liberal public sphere in America, of which I was despairing at the time. There’s still ample reason to be worried, but also ample reason to work as hard and as wisely as Gandhi, Mandela, Havel, and others sometimes did to keep channels and criticisms open against the pressures of wealth and political power.

    http://www.jimsleeper.com/articles/signature-pieces/Orwell%27s%20Orthodoxies,%20and%20Ours,%20%28book%20chapter%202004%29.pdf

    1. Raymond C says:

      I can’t speak for the organisers of “Singapore Uncensored” but I believe the intent of the session was to assemble the stake holders of the Yale-NUS College to air their outstanding disagreements without attribution and try to address them. The desired outcome of the process would be some substantive resolution of these issues. I see no wrong in process. Recording the session sounds like a regrettable implementation mistake but just an aside with respects to the underlying intent.

      I believe the efforts of the Gang of Six to draft the debt reduction plan as well as that of the Gang of Sixteen used similar closed door process. This approach was taken because, to put it bluntly, open society as found in the US is unable to get any thing done. In fact, the 112th Congress elected by the People has been unable to get anything substantive bills passed as it is stuck in partisan grid lock. That not to say that the closed door process works all the time, the Gang of Sixteen being a case in point. The odds of successful resolution on the other hand is higher. The Gang of Six being of a positive outcome.

      To paraphrase your Orwell quote, the words of one strong-minded black President addressed to the passions of a listening assembly, have far less power than the vociferations of Fox News and a thousand superPACs. The era of FDR’s, a contemporary of Orwell, free society vs. fascist tyranny is very different one from today’s tea party vs. OWS in terms of getting important problems fixed in a timely fashion. The president’s bully pit isn’t what it use to be.

      Once again, I see the committees wisdom of holding a close door stake holder session considering the effects of current and future (at least for the current election cycle) media landscape in the US. A full open session would most like have lead to much acrimonious talking past each other leading no where.

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