LHL vs. Roy: What has changed

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Blogger Roy Ngerng is drawing a lot of social hostility against the powerful ruling party. This anti-PAP sentiment has raised some $86,000 so far for his legal fees because of a defamation suit brought against him by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Ngerng is so enjoying his international and local fame that Lee vs Roy merits comment simply for its political implications: put simply, Lee has used a sledge hammer to smack an ant.

Tshe blogger doesn’t expect he’ll win, going by his crowdfunding remark on his blog: “The actual amount of damages, which is separate from the legal fees I am trying to raise, will only be known after the court case is over.”

It has been years since the Prime Minister has sued anyone for defamation. What is the difference now? The ant is neither a political opponent worthy of being financially crippled in the political field, or a powerful media company like Dow Jones or The New York Times, wealthy enough to pay up hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages upon losing the suit in a Singapore court.

And there is social media to counter the coverage by the pro- government Singapore Press Holdings. This time, the public is exposed to alternative views on the matter.

“Supporters” of Ngerng are using the occasion to express their anti-PAP feelings. But perhaps the wisest words on the Lee vs Roy case came from Maruah president and ‘former NMP Braema Mathi, whose statement said: “Mr  Roy Ngerng’s articles can be and ought to be refuted by the Prime Minister for any misinformation or lapses in communication. That needs to be done for public good. Criticism of key institutions, including the Office of the Prime Minister, is best addressed through a right of reply by way of well-reasoned rebuttals, not by this reliance on the archaic legal action as a first recourse.

“If the article in question by Mr Roy Ngerng was incorrect, then the better thing to do is to rebut him in public. Threatening to take legal action against him will not convince the public that he is wrong or that the Prime Minister is right. In fact, sympathy towards Mr Roy Ngerng can even cloud the issue, when what the issue needs is further clarification.

“In 2004, the Prime Minister, then a Deputy PM, said in a landmark speech to the Harvard Club: I have no doubt that our society must open up further… Looking ahead, one important task of the government will be to promote further civic participation, and continue to progressively widen the limits of openness. … We will promote a political culture, which responds to people’s desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore’s growth as a nation.

“We urge the Prime Minister to be open and to engage first in refuting Mr Roy Ngerng’s points of view robustly. This is the way our society needs to function and mature.

For his part, Lee had this to say on his Facebook page: “You may think trolling and flaming is a problem unique to Singapore, but it isn’t.

“In Europe, freedom of speech is considered almost a sacred virtue. Yet recently the European Court of Human Rights ruled that when a website publishes a controversial story that may attract defamatory or insulting comments, the website must anticipate this trolling and flaming, and be ready beforehand to remove these comments promptly.

“It is not the last word on the matter. But it reflects how societies are still finding the right balance between freedom of speech and responsible online behaviour. I agree … that freedom of speech does not come free from the need to be responsible for what one says, either online or offline.

“This is a tough problem to solve, but we need to develop our own ways to keep online conduct civil and constructive. “

The PM’s posting drew this comment from Nervin Pillai: “Men who command power are remembered as long as power rests in their hands. Men who command respect are remembered for a lifetime.

Where do you stand?”

If Lee continues on this path, he will soon be standing on an ant’s nest.