14 Jul 2006
The recent announcements from various ministers coupled with the action taken by Today newspaper have created a window of opportunity amongst the Singaporean blogosphere. In particular the decision not to attempt to regulate bloggers, partly because it's rather difficult, has highlighted the governments attitude to online versus offline discourse.
The decision seems to hinge on the notion that the internet is 'virtual' as in virtual media, virtual reality. How can the internet and online activity which is a major information provider for the younger democraphic be described as 'secondary'? The recent IPS survey highlighted the reliance of twenty-somethings on the internet for information during the recent general election. To an older demographic the internet may be 'less real' but the young who will inherit Singapore are moving online. To the younger generation the internet is 'real', something that was in existence as they matured, not something that appeared from the mists of discovery and technology.
Studies in the UK and US have highlighted their local mass media concerns that they are losing advertising revenue and readership to the internet. They have begun trying to get their piece of the online action. One example is The Guardian running news blogs, comment is free. The Straits Times launching of Stomp may be an attempt to garner some of the online action but they have been rather slow off the starting line. The internet burst into most of our daily lives almost ten years ago. The Straits Times did host material online but then decided to start charging for access. Will Stomp go the same way? The Guardian and New York Times are still free to all.
To argue that offline media outlets are somehow superior to online outlets is the argument of a 50 year old manager who likes to sit at the breakfast table with his/her morning paper. Arguing that because someone is publishing online that their writing and information is less objective is simply showing a bias towards the PAP controlled Straits Times. No minister ever engages with the argument because they know in their hearts that uttering the sentence, "The Straits Times is an independent media outlet..." would have everyone laughing their porridge up.
Discourse online is anti-PAP because the mass media in Singapore is owned and controlled by the PAP. The recent sacking of MrBrown highlights this relationship to all. The mass media in Singapore simply reiterates the discourse of the PAP, collectivism, survivalism, economic progress above everything else as if people and the environment didn't exist. Critique is regarded as an attack as opposed to the opening up of the argument to allow the possibility of emancipation or empowerment.
The recent decision not to regulate the blogosphere was taken not out of a desire to encourage freedom of speech but a pragmatic response to a situation in which the powers-that-be feel that they have lost sovereignty over online discussion. In order to maintain a level of perceived difference regarding 'objectivity' they ridicule online discourse as 'chatter', 'chaotic' or just something to ignore. They have tried to ignore the online arguments, now they are laughing at it, in a few years time they will fight it. Then the younger generation will win, as a wise man once said.