The things you can do and learn online for General Paper (and Project Work).

It seems that there are a few similarities in the rules of rhetoric for writing in GP and political propaganda in Singapore. In this (free) article on the Straits Times Interactive, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang explains why the streaming of explicit political content through podcasts or videocasts is not allowed but posting of party manifesto and texts of rally speeches allowed for political parties.

Election advertising on the Internet has been permitted since the 2001 polls, and remains restricted only to political parties, candidates and election agents. As for bloggers who 'dabble in political content' (see this subscription page), if the Media Development Authority finds them to be 'promoting a certain political line', they will be told to register with the MDA and suspend their online political advertising.

Perhaps the more interesting ban is the one on podcasts or videocasts containing content such as election rallies or views on the polls, in view of the allowance for political parties to post party manifesto and texts of rally speeches. The minister cited the greater persuasive power of podcasts and videocast when compared with written texts and likens them to party political films and videos, which are also disallowed. He mentioned Fahrenheit 9/11 as an example of 'slanted propaganda' that selects images and quotes politicians out of context to achieve an emotional response.

The characteristics of the Internet that the incumbent party finds most worrying are its ubiquity, speed and anonymity. The minister referred to the incident in which the spurious statement that Zaqy Mohamad, a new PAP candidates, was a nephew of Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi and the speed with which this untruth spread through the Internet. While he conceded that this piece of misinformation was not particularly significant, the minister pointed to the volatile issues of race, language and religion, which provides the government with justification to use the MDA to promote accountability on the Internet.

Also worthy of note are the rules governing the role of foreign media in local elections. No foreign news organisations operating in Singapore are allowed to involve themselves in domestic politics here. 'Singapore politics is for Singaporeans only'.

The subscription article also carried responses by Mr Brown (accepting) and Alex Au of yawningbread.org (critical).

I'll end off here with a quote that the Straits Times selected from the email interview:

I agree that the controls are not water-tight. The virtual nature of the Internet and its global scale make regulation difficult. But rules do have some effect. They set a certain standard and help maintain order and accountability in the way political issues are discussed over the Internet.

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Comments on: "Rules of political rhetoric for the new media in Singapore" (9)

  1. twostepsfromtwilight said:

    Whoa – you subscribe to ST online? I cannot think of a more frivolous way to spend money.

    Interestingly, LBY appeals for ‘journalistic integrity’ from foreign newspapers.

  2. I don’t actually spend money on the subscription.

  3. The goverment has surely been harsh on free speech, preventing the people from airing their thoughts, comments and views on politics, race and religion. Perhaps the ministers should grow up. The people of Singapore today are not only more educated, but also mature enough to detect any biased views within the words of other people. I know in the past, people very easily veered to support the side which was most influential and radical in their speeches, hence all the chaos like the racial riots and the strikes. Even now in other countries, people are still stired by such speeches and riots and protests promptly follow. But with the implementation of social studies, it has surely taught the young of Singapore to see things from a wide variety of perspectives, not just seeing it from the speakers point of view. Hence, unless the PAP are denouncing their efforts in educating the people, I believe some form of trust between the government and the people needs to be established. Of course, with the PAP desperately trying to silence the bloggers that are ‘careless’ in what they type, they have painted themselves as a party with equally prejudiced views as their actions slowly start to resemble the totalitarian kind, closest which being the Soviet variety. Perhaps the skills that are taught to us like inference, evalutation of credibility and detections of bias views within our english and social studies curriculum have backfired PAP’s plan to control free speech and to consolidate their political power.

  4. twostepsfromtwilight said:

    Your arguments are simplistic, Keng Hua.

    There’s a good reason why this social studies thing is there at all. Everything is there for a reason. What’s the point of inferential skills when none of one’s starting evidence and none of the contextual knowledge is critical of the government, and better, one doesn’t have a critical opinion of his government to offer? That’s right – none, and that’s why we learn it in school.

    The PAP isn’t as overtly evil as you may think, because they don’t need to. They did a good job in forming an affective bond between themselves and the people, which is virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world. It would do little in their interests to be seen as evil dictators. I think it is this affective bond they want to strengthen rather than their power per se, simply because it’s vastly more potent than pure political power. Interestingly this is the exact same conclusion that George Orwell’s 1984 comes to. So maybe you are right.

    I take the greatest offence with your comment, Keng Hua, when you say that our local education is responsible for teaching students to be critical thinkers, because nothing can be further from the truth. You can’t *learn* to infer and deduce, really, you can’t. An education in critical thinking is a subscription to the Times of London, or the Economist, not a textbook written by a government with an ulterior motive. And certainly not the Straits Times.

  5. I wonder how you can be so sure. For as long as I remember, the sources given to us in social studies usually biased, not of course, containing anything against the government. The teachers then, taught us how to detect such bias from the sources and critically comment on it. I dont know if you are a bad reader, but what i was trying to say that the skills taught to us(sorry for offending you again but this is what the silly MOE refers to as and I totally agree with you that such skills cant be taught from textbooks) has caused us to be critical when we read the newspapers and think through what the ministers have said and so on. I did not say that the social studies book contains anything against the government. Also, I did not say and certainly did not indicate that i thought the PAP was overly evil. I merely commented was that the PAP’s actions were starting to resemble those of the Soviet Union. Please do try to understand this simple idea I am trying to put across. I dont remember using any difficult words while typing the comment for that matter.

  6. I think we have seen enough examples of the consequences of totally free sppech in developing as well as developed countries –demonstrations and roits in Thailand, South Korea and France. Add to that the dramas in Taiwan parliaments and elections. For those advocating greater openness, would you accept the above dire consequences and the implications for our economy?

    Also, while creativity can not really be learned, critical thinking courses are thought in NUS.

  7. Believing that a free, open, tolerant society is the precursor to riots, protests, and unstable governments can’t be further from the truth. There are other, probably more relevant reasons, to believe that the converse it actually true.

    Let’s take the US for example. When the Wiretapping Act enacted by President Bush was discovered, many called for the judicial review for the possibly illegal act. Without proper checks and balances in the government, such an alleged abuse of power would never have surfaced nor would it be properly addressed.

    The case of the Philippines is also unique, just as all other democracies are in one way or another. The Philippines consists of millions of uneducated people who are easily swayed by pork barrel politics and TV personalities. This creates an environment where a large number of uninformed individuals collectively have a louder voice than informed, critical-thinking ones. Further, it is fallacious to claim that corruption in the Philippines is caused by democracy. Bad people make bad government. You should ask Filipinos whether they would prefer to live in North Korea and see what they say.

    Frankly, there is hardly anything wrong with regular protests in South Korea. Has their form of democracy led to a collapse of society? Has it led to widespread corruption? Have South Korean MNCs suddenly shut down because of democracy? The country appears to be doing much better than Singapore in my view, and overthrowing their authoritarian government a few decades ago hasn’t led to an implosion in their economy.

    Thailand is also a weak case, considering that Thaksin lost support from the people because he sold out to *surprise surprise*, Temasek Holdings. If Temasek Holdings was truly divorced from Singapore government intervention, considering it is under purview of the Ministry of Finance, Thaksin might still be in power today.

    Let me put it to you this way. The fact that Singapore is gradually opening up, albeit a little too slowly in my opinion, goes to show that there are merits in a free society. The government here also acknowledges that some degree of freedom is needed for greater prosperity, so are you saying this is wrong? If we were to remain a closed society where we lampooned gays and lesbians, completely restricted the freedom of speech, and only appointed government-endorsed journalists in all press agencies, Singapore would be much worse.

    Complacency sets in when people rest on their laurels. Singapore must always be on the move to stay ahead, and increasing the amount of space in civil society is definitely the way to go. Curtailing space for public discussion on the Internet is akin to taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back.

  8. twostepsfromtwilight said:

    Nobody here is pushing for less freedom of speech, chrischoo. Really.

    I think the truth is that you’re thinking too big – this country is barely a democracy, never mind a liberal democracy. Sorry – people just don’t care enough. You’ve got to start on that first before the democratic aspirations. Those that care, anyway, end up having their souls eaten and their hearts worn down to the core.

    It’s not strictly true to say that just because you live in a country without too much in the way of civil liberties, you don’t have freedom. You can always choose to leave, and that is the ultimate freedom. Other countries do a good job lying to their people that they have a stake in the country, but Singapore has taken a marginally franker approach – if you don’t feel that you’ve got a stake in a country, that’s because you’re a lousy, goddamned quitter. Which is just as well. It can’t be too bad if the SM’s daughter lives in London permanently.

    Between the sound security of hard cash and half-hearted promises of “democracy” (both by a reluctant government and powerless advocates), I choose the cash because it gives me the option of leaving for greener (and more democratic) pastures I can exercise at any time.

  9. Here's what BBC News said about our 'blog gag'. 

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