Singapore is now moving to restrict Internet media and content coverage even further. The city-state, a democracy bordering on autocracy already features some of the most stringent media restricts in the “free” world.
Going forward, sites that target Singaporean audiences and attract more that 50,000 people will have to furnish a performance bond and have to remove objectionable content within 24 hours. Sites that promote homosexuality will also be outright banned. These moves have drawn criticisms from both LGBT and free media activists.
I should make a full disclosure before writing the rest of this article: Generally speaking I am a “fan” of the Singaporean government and consider Lee Kuan Yew to be one of the best leaders in history. While many people like to underestimate Mr. Lee’s accomplishments, taking a small backwater city-state and transforming it into one of the richest nations in the world was no easy task. I write this as an expat who has lived and worked in the region.
Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) himself is a hard hitting, skilled politician and leader of the People’s Action Party (PAP) who understood that Singapore would have to work hard to find a good position in the global economy. While many people point out that Singapore is strategically located as a port city, the shipping industry can only provide so many jobs and so much revenue. LKY was able to build Singapore into one of the most vibrant and economically powerful cities in the world. He did so through strong armed political tactics and a tight control over society.
Still, LKY understood that eventually Singaporean society would progress to a point where the government would have to shift away from economic development and towards building a more holistic and free society. This would be necessitated by an increasingly educated and demanding population that would desire more and more freedom. Unfortunately, those who have followed in his footsteps may have missed these nuanced points.
Instead of moving towards a more free and open society, the PAP seems bent on tightening control over all aspects of its citizen’s lives. Singapore has now reached a stage in its development that continued oppression of the media, laws against homosexuals, and the creation of the so-called nanny state will only generate resentment among progressive minded individuals. Further, a continued suppression of opinions and freedom of thought will only discourage people from thinking creatively.
“Singapore Lacks Creativity”
Some critics have charged that the Singaporean people themselves lack creativity and the ability to produce innovative products and services. For example, despite massive amounts of funding to support innovation, the country still relies on Western and Japanese firms to provide creative input. Singapore remains largely as an outsourcing center, albeit a high end one focusing on financial services and high end manufacturing. Most of Singapore’s own large domestic companies are government linked and involved in more traditional industries, such as airlines and petroleum storage.
While the criticism that the Singapore people lack creativity may be harsh, it is fair to wonder if a government that emphasizes such a strict adherence to rules and obedience is smothering the full potential of the Singaporean people. Further, an education system that emphasizes standardized test scores over creative and critical thinking may simply be turning out individuals with the wrong skill sets needed to succeed in the modern economy. With the advancement of technology, walking, talking human calculators and encyclopedias no longer add much value. Instead, individuals who can think on their feet and solve dynamic real world problems are in the highest demand.
Continuing to suppress freedom of expression and the restriction of the media and internet will only continue to discourage creativity. The Peoples Action Party’s continued reliance on heavy handed tactics points to a party increasingly out of touch with society and Singapore’s needs. Instead of embracing change and heeding Lee Kuan Yew’s earlier insights that eventually Singaporean government policies would have to change with society, the PAP is trying to turn back the clock.
The PAP has been slipping in recent polls as newer generations of Singaporeans are increasingly disenchanted with the party. These recent moves to suppress society will only stoke the flames of dissatisfaction, not increase the government’s power. If Singapore continues on its current path, the best it may be able to hope for is a strong push back from civil society and the PAP being thrown from power.
The worst case scenario? A docile and uncreative population unable to compete in the global economy.