NAC and the Sonny Liew Incident – The old trick does not work anymore


The National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew the $8,000 funding for the graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye one day before its May 30 launch, claiming that it “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the Government, and breached funding guidelines.

Khor Kok Wah, NAC’s Senior Director of the Literary Arts Sector, also said that the sensitive content depicted in the book violated the funding guidelines but did not elaborate on what the sensitive content was.

Could this be one of the “sensitive content” that triggers the withdrawal of grant?

Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chai

The Impact

The public interest following NAC’s move appeared to have buoyed sales of the work. Books Kinokuniya Singapore sold out its stock of 500 copies — half of the book’s entire print run of 1,000 copies — at all its branches. This included the 270 copies that were snatched up at the novel’s official launch on Saturday at the bookshop chain’s main store in Ngee Ann City.

The books have also sold out at other bookshops, according to publisher Epigram Books. “Our distributors have zero copies in the warehouse, and we have only two left in our office,” said Epigram Books’ Edmund Wee, who added that the publisher is preparing a second print run for the book, which will be out within the month.

Kinokuniya’s store and merchandising director Kenny Chan said: “This was more than three times that of a very successful book launch at our main store.” (Source)

Notable Quotes

“If there is one thing that our government needs to learn, is that the more you try to censor or ban a particular subject, the more it will backfire and gain interest. Take for example the recent news of the National Arts Council (NAC) pulling the grant from the publication of a graphic novel. It has generated heated discussions online, which may not have been the government’s original intention.” – Luke Phang

“The days where the government knows best is over and today, ordinary citizens would want to think that they know equally well too. Rather than dictate what we can or cannot consume — which has the opposite effect through these recent examples — perhaps the government could consider a more engagement-driven approach. Instead of trying to wipe out a controversial subject altogether, a more inclusive solution could be to address the issues in a thoughtful and open manner.”- Luke Phang

“For a start, what is NAC’s role? NAC’s stated mission is to “nurture the arts and make it an integral part of the lives of the people of Singapore”. Its strategic trusts to help it do so include “promoting the arts for self-expression, learning and reflection; shaping our cultural development through the arts; and developing a sustainable environment that enables the arts to entertain, enrich and inspire”. If any of the above states that NAC is supposed to be the defender of the current government’s legitimacy, I must have missed the fine print somewhere.” – Howard Lee

“The lack of clarity in NAC’s explanation could not have been more stark. From the National Library Board during the Penguingate saga, to the Media Development Authority during the amendments to the Broadcasting Act, our government agencies seem to take a certain pride in throwing out obfuscated statements that do little to clarify the situation, but do more instead to dig a deeper hole.”

“As a government agency, NAC is beholden to the people. It will not serve the people by trying to defend the legitimacy of the government, much less try to impose any form of authority that it does not deserve.

If anything, the fact that NAC could even muster the gall to produce such a statement goes to show how impoverished we have become as a democracy, and how this impoverished state is rubbing off on our creative spaces.”- Howard Lee

Askmelah Note

Askmelah notes that the reason given by NAC is the book “undermines the authority or legitimacy” and not disputing that some parts of the book (such as the picture above) is a “fact” or “opinion” which is not in anyway distorting the historical account. Decode: it is not promoting the official line but makes LKY looks bad in front of the public even though it is not incorrect.

This incident reminds us of the Roy Ngerng’s incident when the Prime Minister of this country look hopelessly desperate when it resort to high-handed litigation to win an information war but instead looks stupid when the blogger was able to raise a online donation of $70,000 in 4 days and open up a can of worms when the Government has to contain the damages due many misinformation about CPF and the use of the fund by Temasek Holdings.

When will this current Government under LHL ever learn to be humble and serve the nation with heart and soul instead of trying to silence, sue or explain their way out of an inconvenient truth? This is the Internet 3.0 era, grow up!

One comment on “NAC and the Sonny Liew Incident – The old trick does not work anymore
  1. Clive says:

    social media and technology advance did create an impact on everyone news and information receives. It is not that easy to block information or news from leaking unless you want to control like North Korea.