Mr. Conroy, you are Talking Cock!

Keith November 13th, 2008

Talking Cock (v.): A Singaporean term meaning either to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter.
 
- The Coxford Singlish Dictionary

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling to Singapore on a number of occasions to speak at conferences.  I have greatly enjoyed the experience - both the conferences, and wandering around Singapore as a tourist.  I have met some fantastic people there, and have greatly enjoyed the culture – and the food!

Singapore is a land of contrasts.  It is richly multicultural, with all public signage in four languages.  The population is predominantly Chinese, yet most of the public institutions are as British as they were before independence.  It has earned a reputation as a non-democratic nation, yet the country is alive with art and innovation, and not in the least like a totalitarian state.  I feel safer walking around the streets anywhere in Singapore than I do in some parts of Melbourne.

Some would like to portray Singapore as a place where freedom of speech is suppressed by the government, yet Singapore is now becoming increasingly open. One friend I have made in Singapore is Enrico Varella.  Enrico introduced me to a fantastic local web site – Talking Cock.

Talking Cock

This site bills itself as “Singapore’s premier satirical humour website”, and includes the delightful Coxford Singlish Dictionary.  (Singlish is the version of English spoken in Singapore.)  Talking Cock presents itself as apolitical: “Our main aim is to celebrate all the nonsensical parts of Singaporean life. We make fun of people in every sector, strata and profession in a completely democratic way.” Yet a sensitive government could easily take much of the satirical content on the site as criticism and take action against it.  The site also warns that “We have employed… language which might be upsetting to some and which some consider unsuitable for children.”

So what does this have to do with Mr. Conroy?

It appears that Australia’s Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy has proposed imposing a filtering system on the Internet.  This purports to be an attempt to shield children from inappropriate content.  A number of people have raised many problems with this.  At the very least, it would significantly slow Internet traffic for all Australians – some estimates put it as high as an 87% reduction in speed. If indeed it is primarily aimed at protecting children, then it also takes away from parents the responsibility of making their own decisions on what is suitable for their children.  There are many more arguments about this proposal – others have advanced these very eloquently.

My view on this is typified by the Talking Cock website.  Would this be one of the estimated 10,000 sites that our government is likely to block as “unsuitable”?  Would we block a site that the Singaporean government overtly allows?  If not initially, would sites such as this be blocked in future? Is it possible that our current or future governments would block sites that are deemed to be critical of the government of the day?  And if so, how would we ever know which sites were being blocked? 

This all seems like an attack on freedom of speech and access to information that is far too open to abuse.  Who will be making the decisions about which sites will be blocked, anyway?

If Talking Cock was determined to be a site that should be blocked, will my blog site also be blocked, because of this post?  As I also use this site for my business, would this expose the government to a liability for unfair restraint of trade?  Does the fact that the site you are looking at now is actually hosted on servers in the USA make me more or less likely to be subject to government scrutiny?

It seems that Mr. Conroy is attempting to use a simplistic industrial-age concept to address a very complex problem, and like most simple solutions, I believe that it is totally inappropriate.

Will we be able to say in future something like this statement on Talking Cock’s home page:

We donno how we’ve escaped the speech-smothering tentacles of the state, but we suspect it’s got a lot to do with you Singaporeans and your tremendous (and very touching) support for us since we began.

4 Responses to “Mr. Conroy, you are Talking Cock!”

  1. Frank Connollyon 15 Dec 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Nice points Keith,

    A typically simplistic approach to what clearly is a complex issue. This would make a great script for a new episode of the “Hollowmen.” The producers must be rubbing their hands with glee as whole scripts are drafted for them!

  2. Keithon 16 Dec 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks, Frank.

    Yes, a classic case. “For every complex problem, there are several simple solutions; and they are all wrong.”

  3. Ross Hillon 10 Jan 2009 at 9:46 am

    The “how would we ever know sites are being blocked?” is a concern. For a filter to be practical you can’t tell people what is on the list.. so disabling sites would leave holes in the internet. I know Chris Saad is in Dubai now and is having trouble accessing Flickr and Youtube – due to ISP-based filters (not state-imposed).

    Part of me is very wary and wants to shout out to oppose this, and another part of me thinks it is so technically infeasible I shouldn’t bother. *fingers crossed*

  4. Keithon 10 Jan 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Ross -
    Thanks for the note. I resisted joining the protest for some time, too. Part of the insidious Orwellian nature of the debate on the “clean feed” (a real misnomer) side is to state that all who protest are of the same opinion – ie, in favour of child pornography. This has the effect of silencing many potential critics.
    I have been a very strong supporter of most that Kevin Rudd has said so far. Labor has returned Australia to a far more humane and rational standing in the world on many fronts. I find the position on this issue to be extremely disappointing, to say the least! Keep your fingers crossed!
    – Keith

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