I received this well-written piece about PM Lee's recent announcements on New Media at his Rally, and the buzz around it. The author had tried get this published in a mainstream paper and failed. So I told him, heck, I'll publish it here.
New media: This government doesn't get it.
by Some Singaporean Dude
Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong shared at the recent National Day Rally about laws to make space for Web in the political sphere, including during elections. That update created quite a buzz in this newspaper with comments from Members of the Parliaments (MPs), Editors, public and academics alike. While this government has finally recognized that its rules are "way, way out of date", I feel that this government still hasn't "got it" when it comes to the New Media, or Web.
You can't control what you don't own
PM Lee added, at the rally, that the Government had to grapple with "how to maintain accountability and responsibility" and that some safeguards will still be in place. The Government intends to maintain some control over this New Media, or Web 2.0 as it is commonly known.
The essence of Web 2.0 is about "user-generated contents". In traditional media, there is a clear distinction between "Producer" and "Consumer" of contents or information. An example would be this newspaper (producer) and its readers (consumers). With Web 2.0, the line between producers and consumers of contents blurs because consumers have the capability to produce contents as well. A Feedback column of a traditional newspaper doesn't provide consumers the capability to produce contents because its editors can choose to ignore or tweak feedbacks. Not so easy on Web 2.0. Because Web 2.0 is made up of contents not entirely owned by any one person or party, nobody actually owns the Web. The government's intention to regulate or restrict it only proves its naivety, and reveals its lack of confidence on the New Media.
The proof point? Two years ago, Bloggers posted photos of Workers' Party (WP) rally online at a time of restrictive election laws, and when photos on mainstream media did not present the full massiveness of turnouts at those rallies in their reports. You can't control Web 2.0.
Fear factor. But whose fear is it?
There seems to be some concern over credibility and accuracy of contents on the New Media. PM Lee mentioned that Singaporeans needed to be savvy cyber citizens and distinguish between truth and falsehood. So who is to define what is "truth" and, exactly whose fear is this?
Blatant lies or foolish views on the Web are quickly exposed and dispelled because consumers of such contents have the collective intellect and courage to do so. What really is out there (on New Media) is more and varied points of view on a subject - not entirely falsehood - and that is the beauty of Web 2.0. You are not force-fed a singular point of view. A case in point is again the WP rally photo postings by Bloggers when the mainstream media would not initially post. Blogger Alex Au of yawningbread.org also provided alternative views and analysis of our Ministers' pay that are different from what our mainstream media report ed. Other cases include citizen-journalists who post contents where mainstream reporters do not have full access to, say at the instance of a tsunami near a beach. So views differing from the Government or the mainstream media need not be untrue - they are just different.
In the Today article "Come blog about it" (Aug 20), PAP MP Baey Yam Keng went further to say that reports on Government issues should be regulated like traditional media, "to establish the same quality of objective and responsible reporting". Yet the same PAP MP, when interviewed by Blogger Lee Kin Mun in The mrbrown Show, mentioned that the "society needs to be more tolerant" when it comes to creativity and the New Media. When Blogger Lee probed whether it was the "society" or "someone else" that needed to be more tolerant, MP Baey responded "actually both lah". So whose fear is the Government trying to address?
Wikipedia is a popular and free, multilingual, open content encyclopedia. Wikipedia's articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, and nearly all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the internet. Near zero-control and regulation. Yet the British scientific journal Nature found that each Britannica article has an average of three errors while each Wikipedia article averages only four. Another proof point.
Stop telling. Start listening.
I read that a Ministry invited bloggers to preview and comment about a government-sponsored TV commercial on the family. That was a smart move because it came across as sincere, and the Ministry eventually got a greater feel of how people really saw its initiatives through "heartfelt" responses. So the New Media is the real and effective "Feedback Unit" unlike any other. This is the channel that the Government should use, not to tell its people what to do, but to listen to what and how its people wishes to progress.
They say, in Brand Marketing, that on the New Media you have to be prepared to lose control (over your Brand). It is the same for politics and policies. And that is okay because it is the people's life and that is how they want it run. The "Singapore Brand" or "Singapore Story" should really be written by its people. PM Lee mentioned that in preserving the integrity, quality and honesty of our political discourse, we have to "keep it straight, serious, think carefully about serious matters which concerns our lives."
Whether contents on the New Media are written in serious, funny, sarcastic, Singlish or academic ways should not be the main judging criteria of the Government on whether the content has a valid message that affects our lives.
Today, in its Aug 22 article, reported that Foreign Minister George Yeo supported media diversity, even if it meant there could be more "false truths" out there. (I wonder where he got that statistics.) He further mentioned that the Government needed to quickly react to "rumours", and that "rumours" getting out of control cannot be overestimated. To that, I will just say to the Government that there is greater urgency to respond quickly to its people's feelings and views because that cannot underrated.
 "New rules for policies in cyberspace?", Derrick A Paulo, Today, Aug 9, 2008.
 "Come blog about it", Alicia Wong, Today, Aug 20, 2008.
 "Conversations: What does MP Baey Yam Keng feel about new media, censorship and anonymity online?", The mrbrown Show, http://www.mrbrownshow.com/?p=719, Mar 5, 2007.
 "I'm not selling Wikipedia", Michelle Tay, The Straits Times, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/World/Story/STIStory_268322.html.
 "Singapore government promotes obscenity", yawningbread.org, March 2007.
 "Trusted channels in the age of new media", Derrick A Paulo, Today, Aug 22, 2008.