Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blogging : The New Political Frontier?

During each and every elections right from 1990s, alternative source of information on the political contests have been put online.

Independent reports on opposition rallies have been written and posted on forums and websites. These reports are a source of information alternative to local media. I was one of those who benefited from such alternative sources. I attended my very first rally in Potong Pasir back in 1991 after reading certain independent reports on opposition rallies which claimed that local media had grossly misrepresented the real situation on the ground. With an independent mind, I decided to see for myself what really happened on the ground and thus, I made my first ever trip to a political gathering. This trip is a very important step in my political awakening process in which I have confirmed the accurracy of previous alternative reports on opposition rallies.

It was also only then I realize fully the propagandus nature of local media which is skewed totally towards the ruling party PAP. From the experience of 1997 election bias reporting by local media, I decided to form a small group of local reporters when Sintercom decided to call it quit after it refused to succumb to PAP government pressure to register itself as political website. This alternative reporting organized by me was obviously drown by the full blast of biasness of local media.

Political battles are fought on various fronts but the media that projects messages to the voters is the crucial arm with strategic importance. In the past, communist and autocratic government could prolong their monopoly of power in their country with little opposition from their people basically because they could control information flow within their country. The most obvious tactic they used was control local media, shut out external foriegn media. In Singapore's context, though foreign publications are allowed to be distributed locally, but political content has been tightly controlled. The local media is also crucial for the autocratic government in social engineering and brain washing programme, so to cultivate the "political correctness" of public mindset. It is a powerful tool of political evangelism.

However, the rapid growth of the internet has somehow prevented autocratic government from effectively control information flow unless they want to be like North Korea that sacrifices their nation's growth and development just to protect its autocratic government. PAP wants to have the best of both sides; it wants the benefits of having internet but at the same time, protect its monopoly of power from the potential harm of this medium which could be used as alternative source of political information.

I suspect that they have changed strategy in recent time. They are trying to project an impression that the local media is "CREDIBLE" when it comes to coverage of political issues. That is why local media started to engage opposition parties, especially Workers' Party so to garner political trust from its readers/clients.

This could mean several things. First, it means that they realize that they could no longer play the game of total control of the media anymore else they risk losing all credibility at one go. Controlling access to alternative source of information which may be easily confirmed as credibility in contrast to the bias reporting of local media is not easy in this globalized and internet-linked world. My personal experience of "political awakening" due to consciousness of the unfair reporting is a prime example of how alternative source of information could destroy the credibility of local media almost INSTANTLY.

Secondly, the only way out for them is to change strategy. They will try to gain "political trust" by portraying themselves as "fair and just" by giving some coverage to opposition parties during "off election time". Only by doing so will prevent a total "unconscious boycott" of local media during GE by the masses and forcing them to turn to alternative sources of information from the internet. A more delicated, sophiscated and calibrated approach may be applied to gain trust from the masses and at the same time, promote the "preferred" ruling party in a more subtle ways instead of past "hard selling".

How successful are they in moulding a positive perception to local media? In the past, there are more people who are skeptical or even have total distrust of local media's political reporting especially during GE. But now, more people are "praising" or at least "admit" that the local media is "opening up". They have succeeded to gain a level of trust from the middle ground to a certain degree.

Having said that, we will not know what will happen in the coming elections. My personal belief is that a leopard will not change its spots, no matter what.

It is thus my wish that more Singaporean Bloggers will contribute to our democratic process by actively engaged in providing alternative sourcesof information and commentary in the coming General Electinos. The Monopoly of Power is derived from the Monopoly of Information flow. For the good of our future generations, we should seek democratic advancement by depriving any attempts of monopoly of power. Thus, as a socially awared citizen, what we could do is to deprive them the monopoly of information flow thus the monopoly of power by coming forward bravely to blog about the general elections.

Well, PAP government will try to "control" bloggers in this context. There are two tier strategies. First, they will try to discredit the blogsphere with whatever apparatus they have. It is in their interests to control the information flow in order to maintain their monopoly of power. But I think we will have to be brave in rejecting such scare tactics. The recent legal suits against bloggers are prime examples on how the blogsphere could be totally discredited by exposing a few "black sheeps" among the whole blogger community. This is a similar tactic they used against non-PAP parties. Each parties are different but they chose to lump them together as "Opposition Parties" for the convenient of hitting the whole group of parties that are contesting against them. What they need to do is to find fault with a few guys in these "Opposition Parties" and blow them out of proportion, to create an impression or perception that ALL in the grouping call "Opposition Parties" are just like that. They are using the same methodology against bloggers now. Bloggers at large are portrayed as "whiners", "complain king", "bo liao people", "irresponsible people", "rebellous" etc etc. For every report that they made bad about the blogsphere, they hit hard on the "credibility" of the blogsphere.

For those who are in the knowing, we know there will always be good and bad apples in the basket. For the local media and authority to systematically discredit the whole blogspere is just too skewed. It is of course self interests that make them do so... to protect their stand as the sole "credible" source of information.

The second strategy is of course using the FEAR factor. Constant demonstration that "irresponsible blogging" will get you in trouble. This subtle threat of lawsuits and criminal charges are similar to the rule of FEAR they have exerted on the "Opposition" group. What they need to do is to sue a few guys and the rest who may be interested to join non-PAP parties will think many times. This rule of FEAR is pretty effective in stiffling the growth of political participation in non-PAP politics but unfortunately, it also affect PAP's recruitment of good candidates.

We have to fight against these two strategies. The first one is easy. Promote ourselves as reponsible bloggers by action through our writings. The second one is a bit more tricky. One have to conquer his own FEAR to arrive to that enlightenment stage. One way is to have a strong belief in what you are doing is GOOD for Singapore. This Moral High Ground will be the source of your Moral Courage. The other way is to believe that you are not only doing for your own good; you are doing something that is going to benefit your future generations. We have been living in this subtle FEAR for so long in Sngapore. It would be irresponsible for us to continue to let our children and future generations to continue to live in this FEAR.

The Blogging sphere will only become a credible political front of initiating change in our country if and only if bloggers at large are willing to contribute towards the democratic process. Yes, simply by providing credible alternative views to local media, we will be contributing tremendously to our Nation's democratic progress.

James Gomez has written an interesting article on political blogging. The link is as follows:

http://www.jamesgomeznews.com/article.php?AID=230

We will be putting up links to blogs that are willing to provide alternative source of information and commentaries. If you are willing to take the crucial step towards a better Singapore for everybody and your future generations, please email me so that I could make arrangement.

Goh Meng Seng

8 comments:

at82 said...

If anything this is one issue that you all should be targeting...

Raise CPF withdrawal age?
That's one of the issues NTUC chief wants to raise for discussion among S'poreans.

http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,97164,00.html?

Anonymous said...

Good points here but isn't election reporting by blogs during election time illegal? It is undemocratic but still illegal..how can the blogsphere go around it?

Goh Meng Seng said...

I am not that sure if it is "illegal" for one to make independent reports and commentary if you are not affiliated with any political party.

The most important key word is "political advertising" and that is pretty vague.

Well, if your website is hosted in foreign servers, I doubt they could do much if you want to remain anonymous. The law only targeted at "organization" or "semi-organization" with group of people known.

So what if they want you to register your blog? So be it, just register. We are here to fight for our future generations to live WITHOUT FEAR for the rest of their lives. The only way out of present situation is to live bravely out of the subtle intimidation; you will have to show your children and be a role model to them on how to live out of your FEAR exerted by the system.

Imagine if thousands of bloggers just want to register with MDA, what could they possibly do? This law could only be "prevention" measures, i.e. to scare off lots of people from providing alternative source of political information over the internet. But when the FEAR barricade is being breached by a massive number of people with moral courage, the law would be automatically redundant.

This is in Hokkien what we call, "buah Hung". ;)

Goh Meng Seng

JANNIS said...

Hi, interesting blog ! Well, I am a Greek-German journalist who has recently started his blog on globalization, new ideas, education and smart business, unfortunately I don�t know the situation in Singapore so well, so I didn�t understand everything. But I would like to read and learn more about Singapore, because, as far as I know, it�s one of the most dynamic countries in the region. So, I would love to receive your comments, remarks, views and information about Singapore, the adress is
http://ideenwerk.blogspot.com

Thank You,
Jannis

Anonymous said...

You are right Mr. Goh..I hope you win the next election. ")

pipsqueak said...

Being a fellow blogger, I do feel that blogging is a very powerful tool and its growing in its influence. The more people blog, the more they start browsing other weblogs to see whats out there. It is a communal and productive environment. Like all tools, they can also be exploited.

Being a singaporean and coming from a generation bred by fear, it is understandable that some people do not feel comfortable expressing themselves at all, since we are programed to provide the right answer all the time and we are uncomfortable about being wrong and admitting it.

I haven't a clue about the politics, but what I guessing it's a bit like the banding in primary school. I love my country and i enjoy making an attempt to portray a positive image of Singapore, but unfortunately i can't say its doing really well in the public eye at the moment. Well I hope not everyone goes to jail, gets black listed or gets executed.

I just read the "legalities" of blogging and it mentioned to talk about yourself and say something good if making a comment. So, I am paranoid and great work there.

chemgen said...

The MIW do not realise or fully understand that while they can dominate the agenda in the print and TV media, they cannot control the Internet and the blogs' content. In a way, the Internet represents almost perfect competition in political ideas by everybody and it diminishes what unfair advantage the MIW has in the physical world. And that should be the way. However, I confess the Fear thing is a real one that can't be brushed away overnight. It is the sad legacy of the MIW. But the more we comment responsibly, and our numbers in the Internet grow, I believe this self-imposed Fear would go away very soon. The MIW knows that it is running out of excuses to unfairly shout people down in the Internet.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear chemgen,

Yes, we just have to create a critical mass of socially responsible bloggers who could rationally present their views on their blogs.

This is the common credibility of Singapore bloggers that we are trying to established. And whenever there are bloggers who try to be funny, we have the moral authority to use our "pen" (well, in modern days, it is keyboard that matters! LOL) against his nonsense.

If and only if we could create a climate of responsibility in our blogsphere, we could develop ourselves to be a credible alternative to our local media.

Goh Meng Seng