By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
The controversies evolving around the Evidence Act Section 114A are not hard to comprehend. The key lies with the correlations between the freedom accorded and accountability.
To enjoy the freedom of expression, one is ethically bound to shoulder the responsibility of exercising such a freedom.
This is basic social norm and the core spirit of a community ruled by law. Any orderly democratic society cannot do away with this prerequisite.
That said, there is often a grey zone standing in the way of freedom and responsibility. It is at times next to impossible to draw a distinct line between the two opposing attributes.
Several days ago, a friend forwarded me a joke that somewhat epitomises such a conflict.
A Beijing reporter asks a visiting leader, "What do you think of the hostesses here?"
Appearing shocked, the leader asks, "You mean you have hostesses in Beijing as well?"
The newspaper headline the following morning: Visiting Leader asks for Beijing hostesses.
The leader rings up to clarify, "Please, I'm not interested in hostesses!"
Another day's headline: Uninterested in local hostesses, the Leader has higher tastes for after-dark pleasure.
The enraged leader summons the reporter, "Can you stop trifling with the hostess issue?!"
When the reporter calls up the leader later to pose more questions, the leader just keeps mum.
A new headline: The Leader is speechless over hostess issue.
The incensed leader sternly warns the reporter, "If you do this again, I'll see you in the court!"
The reporter responds with a new headline: The Leader gets mad over hostesses.
Overwhelmed by fury, the leader files a suit in the court, and the local media goes: The Leader's hostess case to go into hearing.
Of course, such a scandal will never take place in a decent and respectful newspaper. A professional newspaper publisher will painstakingly train its reporters and an internal news auditing mechanism would have been put in place to ensure no facts have been distorted before they go into print.
Nevertheless, in an increasingly intricate social environment where all sorts of information channels thrive, the media ecosystem tends to tilt towards more personalised development with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, microblogs, etc gaining increasingly more prominent ground.
People can set up their own information channels to broadcast their ideas. They can also lay down their own agendas and propagate the contents specifically tailored to meet their own aspirations.
Anyone can post another individual's photographs or personal particulars and then accuse him or her of some misconduct. In a similar manner, a person can have his words maliciously twisted and be framed a traitor or sinner.
Vicious attacks could wreak incalculable damage to a person who is mentally not strong enough.
I myself have come under attacks by some irresponsible individuals because of the things I have written. Fortunately, I have learned to compose myself not to take their accusations too seriously.
I write out of my own conscience, not to flatter anyone, and as such, I could be hardly bothered about the venomous verbal assaults meant to bring me down.
To deal with such literary thugs, a formidable willpower and mental state is simply not enough. It has to be augmented by law enforcement.
Curbing unscrupulous remarks is not running against the principles of democratic freedom, but the protection of the same. This is a consensus which should be installed in our society.
There are apparent weaknesses in Section 114A owing to its ambiguity which could be further rectified. Meanwhile, it remains absolutely essential to define the liabilities of freedom of expression as we strive to safeguard its integrity.