Workers’ Party member and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Leon Perera, posted a Facebook message on 20 Jul supporting his comrade’s online spat with the Minister of Social and Family Development. The NCMP’s comments attracted several responses, some of which were vitriolic and coordinated.
An academic, Mr Ian Chong, noted such comments which seemed to be well coordinated and asked if the Media Literacy Council (MLC) has a response to such vitriol.
This was when Mr Calvin Cheng, former Nominated Member of Parliament and a member of Media Literacy Council, posted his first comment. He accused Mr Chong of being a “second rate academics with too much time” on his hands to participate in such online activities. He further justified that name-calling was justified when talking to people without substance.
After claiming that he will never be reprimanded for any comments he make online because he is self-employed, the former NMP seemed to threaten the academic with termination of employment for engaging in such online conversation.
He further claimed that his term and that of his comrades with MLC is limited, and seemed to imply that he will not be concerned if the matter is escalated to the Council.
When Mr Chong told him that his employment is secure as long as he does not “talk about killing children”, Mr Cheng seemed to escalate the threat by referring to the Ministry of Education – suggesting that the Ministry should by concerned about the academic’s comments as well.
He further claimed that he had a group with him who are equally concerned about Mr Chong’s comments. He then posted information about where Mr Chong is employed (which is available in public domain). His remarks seemed to encourage astroturfing, with the sole intention of getting Mr Chong into trouble with his employers.
This publication wrote to the Chairman of Media Literacy Council, Professor Tan Cheng Han, to ask if he, as the head of the Council, had a comment on the comments made online by Mr Cheng. Prof Tan replied to us and said that he will choose not to comment.
He explained, “As the Council’s term is coming to an end very soon, and there will be changes, it may be inappropriate for me to comment if I’m stepping off.”
This is not the first time Mr Cheng’s online spat had been brought to the attention of the MLC Chairman. In November last year, another controversy was brought to the chairman, where Mr Cheng seemingly advocated the killing of children of terrorists “in case they grow up to take revenge”.
Prof Tan replied then saying: “I have spoken to Mr Cheng and counseled him that as a member of the Council he will be held to and judged by a higher standard compared to a private citizen. Taking everything into consideration, I am unable to conclude that what Mr Cheng said as a whole amounts to hate speech.”
Mr Cheng was right in stating that he will not be concerned if his online conduct was escalated to the MLC, because the council members terms are limited and is coming to an end.
Mr Cheng paid a tribute to Prof Tan in his Facebook. He said: “I would especially like to pay tribute to Prof Tan Cheng Han, the outgoing founding Chairman, who these 4 years had the difficult task of managing a council made up of members with disparate ideological and political leanings, as well as communicating our thoughts to the Media Development Authority.”