Government sets rules of engagement in face of new media
SINGAPORE: The government will continue to set political agendas and rules of engagement in the face of the new media, and will not be dictated by online petitions or polls.
And while it will try to balance the diverse interests of the society when it comes to issues of sex, nudity and violence online, it said it would not hesitate to prosecute those who post seditious or racially offensive content in cyberspace.
Singapore has a diverse community with different races, languages and religions living in harmony.
But it is also here where the fault lines lie.
Speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association lunch on the government's approach to the new media, Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said with the internet, these fault lines are even more exposed to foreign influence in the form of religious extremism and terrorism.
However, there is no need to suppress the new media.
He said: "We are not going in with our eyes closed. Generally, we adopt a 'light touch approach'. Although there is much offensive and untrue material in cyberspace, there is no need, nor is it practical, to pursue each and every transgression.
"All we need is the government to selectively target those who pose a clear risk to the real world. Consequently, we have seen no need to suppress new media unless specific laws are broken by posting seditious or racially offensive content which has come to our attention and gained traction in our society.
"Race and religion are sensitive and volatile issues that tug at the visceral feelings of people. We have a few such cases in the previous year and we have not hesitated to prosecute them in court."
Similarly, when it comes to alternative lifestyle, sex, nudity, violence or coarse language in cyberspace, the government will practise what is called 'ceremonial censorship' – drawing a line in cyberspace but taking into account the evolution of society.
Dr Balakrishnan feels the most potent impact the new media will have on politics is that politicians will find it hard to lie in future as there will always be citizens who will publish the truth in blogs or online.
He said: "Fortunately for us in Singapore, we run a clean system, and therefore we have nothing to hide. That is the reason why we can have our cake and eat it too, and that is why we do not fear the new media."
The government, he said, would seize the economic opportunities that the new media revolution presents by investing in infrastructure, promoting new e-services and overcoming the digital divide.
It will also use the new media to reach out to the public.
"So what really keeps me awake at night is the excitement of being able to live through a revolution. Just like you, I stay at the side and watch it all happen in our lifetime," added Dr Balakrishnan.
Despite the abundance of information in cyberspace, he said there is still a need for journalists in the mainstream media like television, print and radio, to provide the public with accurate, responsible and credible sources of information.