Wikileaks and the deafening silence

The links are being blasted onto my Twitter timeline by this account I follow called @Vote_SG. They are also being posted on Facebook by The Online Citizen. The content of the Wikileaks cables are damning in many ways, yet come as no surprise. What they contain is pretty much what navel-gazing old men in coffeeshops and audience-hungry taxi drivers have been pontificating about all along. Lack of press freedom, tight government control, problems among the opposition, dominant party’s tactics and opinions, problematic immigration policy…if you’ve been in Singapore for even a week, you know all this already. You certainly don’t need Wikileaks to tell it to you. Maybe we are more open and less repressed a society than we thought we were.

When Wikileaks first burst on the scene last year there were major debates about freedom of information versus the need to protect government secrets. There are governments that have been deceiving their people – in these cases the cause of democracy has (it is argued) been furthered by Assange’s setup. But there are people whose lives are in grave danger because of Wikileaks, as James Ball reports in The Guardian.

The Singapore cables are probably the least important ones in terms of their immediate impact. But even so, some heads must be rolling now. The silence as far as the public is concerned is deafening. I can see how it would make sense for the frontline government action to be “no comment”. Commenting would indicate that Wikileaks is being taken seriously, given legitimacy. But not commenting may not be an option in today’s political climate. If there is anything that the General Election and the Presidential Election have shown us, it is that Singaporeans are clamouring for more transparency. What has been leaked this time are not official documents. They are conversations that had taken place (I assume) under conditions of confidentiality. How are these to be handled?

One of the journalists highlighted in the cable concerning press freedom wrote a Facebook note explaining that she had been quoted out of context. I think that is par for the course in that particular profession. She also pretty much contradicted everything in the cable. I don’t blame her for doing this. Clearly it is not easy to be in the eye of the storm, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. There is a clear policy on the handling of confidential government information. But this latest round of revelations concerning Singapore came mainly from conversations which were then recorded (amazing memories these chaps have, I must say). What is our policy on those?

Given our current political climate, it might be time for some comment. Love it or hate it, Wikileaks has changed the rules of the game. I’d like to know how we plan to play it on our end.

PS: Found the above picture here

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