Censorship impairs informed decision-making

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm

We live in an age where there is growing dissent about issues such as gay rights and where netizens actively question long-standing government policies like CPF. In this age, it is especially vital that the public library remains a free place where Singaporeans – young and old – can find out more about shifting trends and different ideologies. It is only with full access to various kinds of literature that people can make informed decisions about the controversies that surround us. It is only then that citizens can actively participate in a healthy public discourse. It is this discourse that in turn allows us to properly decide what values to impart to our children or which party we should vote for in the next election.

For this reason, the National Library Board should not filter the knowledge that is made readily available to Singaporeans – even if it is merely taking a few children’s books off the shelves. For the same reason, the MDA should not ask artists to censor their artwork. It is through literature, theatre, painting, dance and music that talented Singaporeans have learnt to express their political voice, their patriotism, and contribute to the cultural vibrance of our city. This is something that the Singapore government has long striven to promote. The slightest degree of censorship may dampen the spirit of expression that is growing stronger among Singaporeans today. I should add that I think it reflects a lack of synergy within the government, when one ministry (MOE) tries to strengthen arts education in primary and secondary schools, while another agency (MDA) wants established Singaporean artists to start censoring their work.

Bias does not only come from providing information of a particular ideology. Bias also comes from withholding information of a particular ideology. I get that concerned parents wish to protect their children from non-pro-family books and art (though, personally, I think the titles that were withdrawn were extremely ‘pro-family’. Those books helps kids realise the diversity of families that we have in the real world – gay parents, single parents, divorced parents. I guess society still does not consider two loving parents/penguins of the same sex as an actual ‘family’).  But despite having similar conservative concerns, my parents brought me to the National Library when I was a very young child and set me loose amongst the shelves. They allowed me to devour the books with reckless abandon. In addition, I was free to use the internet. The television remote control was left unguarded in the living room. When I was 12, my parents brought me to see a Singaporean adaptation of the political satire “Animal Farm”. That controversial play was held at the National Library, and it was perhaps the most intellectually enriching moment of my life.

The art scene and political scene in Singapore continues to grow stronger, louder and more vibrant. Censorship guidelines from MDA and pulling books off shelves in the public library will do very little to stop this diversity of ideas and ideologies. What we should do, is embrace it.


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