Related previous posts: 1
And here am I still chewing on the harm principle and the offence principle in relation to Judge Magnus's ruling
(scroll down). This sort of thing take time--thinking about how I might articulate my misgivings about the offence principle. (Meanwhile, Singapore Classics "vents his apparent frustration"
.) But new information has just been made available by The Sunday Times
(Oct 9; which also sort of gave me a clue as to a possible motivation to the the "offence" angle in the court ruling).
First, "POLICE are investigating another blogger for promoting hostility and ill-will among different races on his blog." A quick search using blogsearch.google reveals that there are two blogs by one "Chinapore": one called "China Pork", the other "Gan Huai Shi". The former is now returning a blank. As for the latter:
The site reproduces posts by 17-year-old private school student Gan Huai Shi, who was the third person after Koh and Lim to be charged with making seditious comments on his blog, The Second Holocaust. Although Gan has since shut down his blog, Chinapore said he decided to re-post Gan's articles 'for others to express themselves here'.
More interestingly, there is an interview with the concerned citizen--alias "Kalin"--whose complaint to the police first started the investigations into Benjamin Koh and Nicholas Lim Yew ("Why should I keep quiet about it?" by Ben Nadarajan). It was also Kalin who brought the police's attention to Chinapore.
Kalin first came across Koh's blog (via links from her friends' blogs) "at 3AM one Sunday morning in June". It was an encounter that "jolted her out of her seat." The 21-year old was so angry after reading Koh's blog (which also linked to Lim's forum postings) that she was unable to sleep that night.
She picked up her phone and called the police on 999. That call led to two men being jailed on Friday for making seditious comments on the Internet - the first time in almost 40 years that this law has been used.
Apparently, she did not quite anticipate that the case will conclude the way it did. She told ST that when she first made the policy report, she was asked what she wanted the outcome of her complaint to be:
'I said I thought the bloggers would get a stern warning. I had no idea that the two men would be charged and even jailed.' She does not regret what she has done though.
The next bit is intriguing:
[Though angry after reading Koh's posts] she did not do what others might have done - post a reply to his message - which was what some 200 others who had seen his comments did. 'I felt it was childish to post any reply. What he said was very disturbing and I could feel the hatred emanating from his post and the replies to it,' the media executive said. 'I didn't want to add to the hatred. Otherwise, I would just be like one of them.' A subsequent message by Koh saying he wasn't scared of making those comments spurred her to make the call.
Though I was aware of the hoohah back then (it was tomorrow'ed, no?) I've never actually visited Koh's blog or seen Lim's forum postings. But judging from previous experience, it is not hard to imagine that in the 200+ comments generated, there will be much that is...shall we say...nasty. Nevertheless, I am a little ambivalent about how Kalin proceeded. For the first time, a netizen called 999 instead of leaving an objecting comment, or email, or for that matter, a threat to call 999 unless the blogger retracts. I am not saying that Kalin did wrong--I just don't know enough to make that kind of call, and what I have
seen before on the internet forums and comments sections inclines me to give her the benefit of doubt. (In fact, since the court did find the duo guilty of breaking the law, she must have done something right!) Nevertheless, it is striking that, one, the police report should be the first resort; and two, that Kalin should find the entire notion of posting objecting comments "childish".
Responding to hatred with hatred is one thing. But what happened to the reasoned
response? Is that hatred too? Or necessarily childish? Or is the very notion of a reasoned response to unreason such a rare flower in the jungle of the internet? --destined only to be trampled by hatred on one side, and criminal sanction on the other?
But I digress.
While Koh and Lim are the first two to be convicted of making seditious remarks online, it seemed as if it was also the first time the police operator had received a call reporting a blog. With a chuckle, Kalin said: 'I told the officer I wanted to report a blog. He asked me which block I was at and if there was a fight going on there. 'It took me about a minute to explain to him that I meant a blog and not a block.'
Bloggers sometimes talk about the government cracking down on freedom of expression on the internet (just for the record, I don't quite buy this line of thinking); but that's really too simplistic. It was a bottom-up affair from the beginning (exactly as was the case with the CZ affair
The article also said a bit more about Kalin's background. Apparently she has her encounters with racism before, even from lecturers in class (one "muttered that Malays were 'slow' and 'stupid'" when Kalin asked her a question). And this is apparently not the first time she dialed 999--"Earlier this year, she had also called the cops about a website which mocked and ridiculed Indians.":
Kalin said: 'It's like seeing someone rob another person. Of course we need to report it to the police and not keep quiet about it. Otherwise, society will suffer. 'If the person was taking away someone's dignity, why should I keep quiet about it?'
The last bits drew a sigh:
She told her parents, both retirees, what she had done only after the two men were charged last month. She is the youngest of six children. 'My father was very worried for me,' she said. 'He was scared that those who were not happy with what I had done would hurt me.' For now, only her family members know. She has not told even her close friends. 'After some time, when all the hoo-ha over this case is over, maybe I'll tell them,' she said.
She is glad she made that call to the police though. 'Now bloggers know there is a limit to what they can say on their blogs,' she said. 'Those who complain about restrictions on freedom of speech are missing the point and the bigger issue - that racism has no place in our society.'
Indeed--racism has not place in our society. But the question is not quite that. The question has always been how best it might be dealt with.
With that, I will now return to my meditation on the two principles limiting the freedom of speech.coda:
A further thought
about harm and offence--I think that what motivated Kalin to call 999 was probably her being greatly offended by what she read on Koh's blog. But what eventually led the relevant authorities to file charges under the Sedition Act would more likely be considerations of potential harm. I don't think that 'mere offence' would have driven the case to this particular conclusion (and especially the form of the ruling). The connecting link is not difficult to imagine as well: what was posted was perceived to have a tendency to deeply offend a certain segment of the population to such a degree as to harbor a potential for inter-racial distrust. (add:
Singapore Classics left some very cogent comments
on this issue.)while I'm at it:
This is from the conclusion of an article I'm reading:
The need to accommodate diverse and sometimes inconsistent styles of life, which may depend for their success on being socially accepted, militates in favor of a "thick skin" approach to the regulation of expressive acts, even where those acts are offensive to others. Friction is a characteristic of social interaction, at least in a pluralistic society. Such societies require of their members a certain robustness of sensibility, so that incivility is sometimes tolerated for the sake of social discourse. But this, it seems to us, is no bad thing.
This is from A.P. Simester and Andrew von Hirsch, "Rethinking the Offense Principle"
, Legal Theory
, 8 (2002), 269–295. The classic formulation of the offence principle is still Joel Feinberg, Offense to Others: The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).international press reactions: Reuters
.finally: Singapore Classics
explains in detail why both the Sedition Act and Judge Magnus's ruling must be basied on the "harm principle"--and only that principle (and not the "offence principle"). This is something with which I agree--but he has the legal training to explain how exactly so. He does warn, however, that this being a very long post, you should read only if you are really interested.