14 Jul 2006

Chaotic Chatter?

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.


Anonymous said...

'...in a few years time they will fight it.'

The fight may come sooner than that. It all depends on how far and how fast the online threat grows. Which means the process is driven by the online community - the PAP is reacting to events. Whether it remains for long, or indeed still is, on the back foot remains to be seen.

But one factor that enables the PAP to hold the blogosphere in smug contempt is the latter's lack of access to information sources in government. Online is presently restricted to commenting on, as opposed to reporting, the news. All comment is slanted but is not a distortion of the news so long as we all know it is fair comment. The 'reporting' of the PAP-controlled media invariably is distorted because it processes facts to present a viewpoint favourable to the PAP, which then masquerades as fact. Online journalism is arguably as good as mainstream and, logically, sheer weight of numbers - even allowing for the bulk of dross - will eventually tip the balance of where people choose to get news from in favour of online sources, and independent sources such as blogs in particular.

I posted a (rather lengthy) comment on another blog with some thoughts on how the balance of online-offline power might shift and where it might all lead, or not. I won't repeat it here but I am rather taken by the idea of open-source software as an analogy for government - instead of the limited choice of monopolistic (or duopolistic) political parties, why not develop public policy online? The OSS movement is still fighting its battle with commercial software giants and arguably OSG would be a much longer-term project; possibly, it might happen when today's '20 somethings' take over from the 'older demographic'.

dfgd said...

hi xeno boy. At my recent interview with IPS they were very keen to get to know you. Do I have your email address etc....

Stay anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Oh wait, where did you cut and paste this from? I mean... SBP contributors posting articles they actually wrote themselves? Unthinkable!

Anonymous said...

Lee Kuan Yew has devoted a large part of his life in bringing the mainstream media to its knees, including the foreign press.

(Read Media Enthralled by Francis Seow)

He is not about to let the internet usurp his triumphs.

So while he contemplates his next campaign to manage online expression, he lets his Lee Boon Yangs denigrate the medium by name-calling - "chaotic chatter" blah blah.

- Mr Ow

Anonymous said...

that is actually going too far

I believe LKY is still making up his mind whether blogsphere poses a real threat to the government monopoly of serious political discourse; for now, the position is that "mainstream" press must be strictly controlled, while blogsphore can rant on; they can change their mind if they find, say, any opposition party successfully exploiting blogs; for now, this appears unlikely

dfgd said...

My belief is that the blogosphere is a 'real threat to the government monopoly', they just haven't realised it yet. They actually believe in their own rhetoric of 'chatter'.

The recent flash mob was started online in a forum and thirty people showed up. The police are of course looking into it, but the nature of these flash mobs is that it is difficult to ascertain 'who' exactly initiated it. Net savvy individuals can be 'anonymous' to an extent.

If all the Sg government has to monitor online activity is a lone police officer sitting at a computer for 48 hours trackng down a 'seditious blogger' the PAP are on thin ice.

They have control of the IP servers etc but lost control of the 'chatter' or the discourse online. They admit that much. A party that prides itself on control of all things Singaporean has lost control of the internet 'chatter'. They will have to take the gloves off and hit high and hard or admit defeat, a defeat that might lead to their eventual downfall.

For now they cannot 'manage us', they are simply seeking out new techniques that might be used.

Criminalising online political discussion will have to be eased into gently.