A new law in Singapore has kicked up a controversy about powers given to authorities, free speech and terror attacks.
The law gives government officials the power to block all electronic communications at the scene of a “serious incident.” This means that in the event of a terrorist attack, for example, all news coverage at the scene, as well as cell phone communications, etc., would be shut down.
Essentially no photos, text or audio messages, emails or phone calls.
At first glance the law sounds logical for the following reasons:
- Information reported live – whether by media outlets or private citizens – can inadvertently aid the terrorist(s)
- Cell phones can be used to activate bombs, thus a primary attack can be used as the bait to lure more people to the site for a secondary and possibly more deadly attack
- Safety and saving lives come first. Pushy media personnel in pursuit of a scoop and private citizens out for their five seconds of glory can impede the work of police and other authorities – including EMTs — at the scene of the attack, adding to injuries or even causing unnecessary deaths
On the other hand:
- What exactly is a “serious incident?” Authoritarian societies (which Singapore has been accused of being) can use such a designation to shut down coverage of peaceful protests and the like. Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index (with number-one being the best ranking).
- Shutting down coverage is a convenient way to avoid publicizing politically-inconvenient truths – specifically Islamist terror attacks. We are already seeing this phenomenon in Europe, where jihadi attacks are often excused as mental illness or not reported at all (in the case of religiously-motivated rapes, etc.)
- Coverage of terror attacks may actually save lives by warning people not to come near the affected area
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