Imagine if you will — a member of a council promoting respect and responsibility on the internet calling out for the murder of children.
In any other context, it would have been perfectly logical if that person promoting hate speech is removed from that council. Not so in the case of Calvin Cheng, in a surprising move that is untypical of a country known for crushing anything deemed socially undesirable.
The former Nominated Member of Parliament and current right-wing rabble rouser caused a furore online when he made a clearly controversial comment in a Facebook thread. In a thread about liberalism and security started by Future-Moves group chief executive Devadas Krishnadas, Cheng pushed for the killing of terrorists’ children just in case they take revenge when they grow up.
Pretty offensive no? It’s classic Cheng really — who’s been known to make annoyingly contentious comments in the past — but it’s made worse due to the fact that he’s a member of the Media Literacy Council (MLC). You know, the council who aims to encourage people to be “more reflective about the ethical choices they make as participants and communicators and the impact they have on others”. They’re against uncivil behaviours online, which seems like what Cheng is practising by saying that all children of wrongdoers deserve to die.
Obviously, folks are hating on him (more so than usual). Cheng however felt that he does not deserve all the criticism, and announced that he was the victim of a hate-campaign led by the “usual Opposition-supporting socio-political websites”, among other figures. He even went so far as to call veteran journalist and activist Kirsten Han (who first posted a screenshot of his comment) “unpatriotic” for writing an critique on Lee Kuan Yew in The Guardian following his death.
“My concern now does not lie with what Calvin Cheng says, but with the fact that when approached, the MLC has not only failed to respond to a clear breach of its own values and goals by its own member, but has tried to excuse it by saying it was made in his personal capacity,” she noted. “As a state-endorsed body, there should be more accountability than that.”
MLC has acted accordingly, and boy was their response pretty weak. No fault was found with Cheng, says council chairman Professor Tan Cheng Han, and the man remains on board.
Cheng himself made an apology, but not in the way you’d expect. He’s not sorry for his comment about killing children by the way — he’s sorry for allowing himself to be attacked “by people waiting for the opportunity to do me in”.
In response to MLC’s light-handed action, Han took to her blog to critique the whole shebang, complete with email exchanges with MLC. At the end of the day however, Cheng is still free to do say whatever he wants on the internet, and he’s still free to wriggle his way out of any controversy.