Straits Times, June 1, 2006
Bak Chor Mee was a clever and funny work. But...
Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, explained the Government's approach towards regulating the Internet in a speech at the annual PR Academy Conference yesterday. This is an excerpt from his speech.
....... A few of these blogs postings and podcasts became instant classics. An example is the Bak Chor Mee podcast by Mr Brown. I must congratulate Mr Brown who is present today for his clever and funny work. A friend sent it to me in the middle of my contest. I enjoyed it too and had a good laugh. However, my assessment is that this is symptomatic of the nature of the Internet. The root issue which was parodied in the podcast was actually a serious issue of intention and integrity. So, while podcasts can be very entertaining, it would be dangerous if important decisions such as electing representatives to Parliament were based on which side can make the most funny video or podcast.
It is good to have a sense of humour but we must take care not to allow humour or satire to mask the key issues. The bottom line is that a sense of humour is necessary but, more importantly, we must remember that elections and choice of leaders for the country are serious matters. Elections are certainly not laughing matters.
Boon Yang missed the point. Deliberately or not, I leave you to decide.
Against the Singapore government, humour is a key defence. Jack Neo used it in movies like "I Not Stupid". Mr Brown used the same defence in his Bak Chor Mee podcast.
The Singapore government would look ridiculous to the whole world if it took legal action against the likes of Jack Neo or Mr Brown. There is too much reputational risk involved in destroying comedians.
That is what both Jack Neo and Mr Brown are counting on, anyway.
Why do you think Mr Brown made podcasts entitled "The Persistently Non-Political Podcasts"? Obviously, to make it too embarrassing for the government to prosecute him under the Parliamentary Elections Act for making political podcasts. For how can a political podcast be a political podcast if it is a persistently non-political podcast?
In a freer society, such defences would be less necessary. Mr Brown and Jack Neo could still opt for comedy, but they would also have more room to opt for more-serious commentary, if they wanted to.
Naturally, despite the restrictive nature of Singapore society, Mr Brown and Jack Neo are both talented enough not to allow comedy to detract from their underlying message. Only fools and non-Singaporeans could miss Jack Neo's social criticisms in his comedy "I Not Stupid".
And only fools and non-Singaporeans could fail to realise the underlying message of Mr Brown's Bak Chor Mee podcast.
Yes, Boon Yang, the issue being parodied was indeed the issue of intention and integrity. And whose intention and integrity was in question then? Don't ask me. Don't ask Mr Brown. Don't even ask James Gomez. If you still haven't got the point yet, you probably never will.
Or maybe you need to listen to the Bak Chor Mee podcast another ten times. And then it might just sink in.