Everyone has an opinion. Your mom probably has a thing to say about your hairstyle; the taxi uncle that ferried you to work this morning rants about government policies; a stranger has a personal story in relation to today’s current events. Even the man who says that he has no opinion to weigh in… that’s an opinion.
We want to foster dialogue and hope that, while it may be difficult to hear a view that is contrary to your own, we hope that our sessions can inform, and ultimately lead to a place of understanding. There are no winners or losers in a dialogue, only a joint process of making sense of one another.
By Alisa Chopard
To censor or not to censor; is that the question?
Censorship is defined as, “The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” The question that is often asked is: is it acceptable to practice censorship?
The answer to this question cannot be as straightforward as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Censorship must be seen on a spectrum. A balance must be struck between maintaining individual freedom, and at the same time, ensuring that there is peace and progress in the wider society. Swing too much in either direction, and the result is an anarchical environment.
Some argue that both those ideas should not be mutually exclusive. The reality, however, is this: we do not live in an ideal world. In an ideal world, we would be able to create and express, without our content being offensive, or taken offense to. In an ideal world, mature discourse would follow said expression, instead of threats or violence. But as events around the world have shown, we are far from such an ideal state. In short, our individual freedom ends exactly at the point where someone else’s begins. And that ‘someone else’ may have a gun.
In 2006, the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which were controversial to many. In 2011, again, it published a caricature of Prophet Mohammed. This resulted in what many have touted to be the worst terrorist attacks in France in a generation. On January 2015, two gunmen stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, claiming to be avenging the Prophet Mohammed. They went on to massacre twelve people: eight employees, a guest at the magazine, a maintenance worker and a police officer. More fatalities followed in attempts to capture the suspects. Around the world, many pointed fingers at the perpetrators, calling their actions an “attack on free speech”, but few stopped to question whether, being aware of the racial, religious and social tensions that exist in Europe, the magazine did all it could not to provoke such senseless violence.
On the other end of the spectrum is a country like China. In China, the authoritarian government has a tight handle on the press, and oft jails its own citizens for dissent. In 2013, the Southern Weekly, an influential and liberal newspaper, was forced to change an editorial calling for political reform into a piece praising the ruling Communist party. In a rare display of bravery, protestors, including scholars and students, gathered in front of the newspapers’ offices in Guangzhou, calling for freedom of speech, political reform, and democracy. It is said that Tou Zhen, the chief provincial censor, was responsible for this. Southern Weekly continues to be subjected to tight censorship, and its readership has suffered over the years. I daresay the price of censorship is even greater than a protest (and its potential fallout) – it results in an uneducated nation; one that has not developed or progressed through a free flow of information and open discourse.
Regardless of fallout – physical or otherwise – one must agree that neither extreme is beneficial for peace or progress. So, instead of asking if there should be censure or no, we should be asking: to what extent is censorship considered to be acceptable in society?
Unfortunately, this is a question that I do not have an answer to. Similarly, no nation has found an answer either.
Take our poll: Is there too much censorship in Singapore?
Read: What does improviser Prescott Gaylord have to say about censorship?
Read: What does comedian-actor Rishi Budhrani have to say about the freedom of speech?
This article was originally published in the May issue of Esquire Singapore.