Monday, June 05, 2006

For What Its Worth

In the recently concluded IPS forum, many points were made, surveys were flashed, addresses were spoken and future plans were outlined. Coming right at the end of the forum, IPS researcher, Tan Tarn How, flanked by NTU's Cherian George, gave his prognosis of the Internet and GE2006. I think their assessments were mostly accurate, my only point of deviance was really at their projection into the future.

What caught my eye though, was this wee bit of an irony. Tan Tarn How spoke about citizen journalism and the importance of performing investigative reporting and whistle-blowing as indicators of citizen journalism. According to him, GE2006 was still disappointing as no substantive issues were vigorously debated are raised from the Net. Cherian George expands on this notion of citizen journalism, in his blog, to include commentaries as well. In his blog, he provides some precriptives of citizen journalism and the way ahead. One of the points he raises is the need for greater links with civil society groups. The implication is that citizen journalism in Singapore was still at pre-natal stage.

The funny little irony is this. In Singapore, ex intelligence officers become journalists while ex journalists become academics. In Malaysia, ex journalists become citizen journalists who progress on to become online journalists.

I am thinking about Malaysiakini. When it first started, I would think it was citizen journalism, even though the term is more closely associated with bloggers and with Jeff Ooi; but Malaysiakini as it started was and still is very much citizen journalism. The spirit of citizen journalism is the spirit which Malaysiakini upholds too.

The Malaysiakini team was small but it was a team of mostly ex journalists led by Steven Gan. Since its inception, it has grown into what it is today, with the customary brushes with the Law, threats of closure, a seizure of their computers/servers : lauded as a truly independent newspaper without party affiliations, winner of numerous journalist awards. Still surviving. As a sign of Malaysiakini's credibility, it now boasts a journalist who joined the team straight after graduation rather than the norm of joining after stints in the paper media.

Why this discrepancy? If we go by the often cited logic, it is that Malaysia boasts a stronger civil activism scene and also a stronger NGO base. This allows an alternative newspaper like Malaysiakini to flourish. Well, this argument has been cited repeatedly but while historically true, does it then damn Singapore without such journalism for eternity? We have Think Centre, we have ArtsCommunity. We hold our candle-light vigils, we have anti death penalty camapaigns. so perhaps this is a historical baggage that needs to be left behind.

If not history, then structure? Singapore has only a handful of publications all owned by the same parent company. So in effect, the talent pool of journalists is too small. There is not enough journalists to set up an independent news entity. I have previously explained that too often, when convenient, we cite our small-ness as a defense against change.

Perhaps, it is really whether there will be not enough "news" for such an online paper to cover? Will the traditional mouthpieces shun the upstart? Will there be "little birds" willing to chirp? Will people speak to the online journalist? I believe the answer to all the questions is a simple "yes". The traditional mouthpieces will shun and probably debunk anything newsworthy by this imaginary online newspaper but so what? There is still "news" to be made.

So we are left with tat dreaded possibility : maybe it is simply just not worth it.

There is a quote by Steven Gan from Malaysiakini "In Malaysia there is freedom of speech but not freedom after speech". In spite of this, he and his friends went right ahead to do it.
Hopefully, there may come a time when a young Singaporean journalist, leaves the SPH, rounds up his/her group of best friends and sets up SgToday. Then he/she can say rather nonchalantly "In Singapore there is freedom of speech but not freedom after speech ... but still we set this up coz its worth it."

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good evening. I shared the same view as you. I think as a country, we are still a long way to go.
I've visited Mollymeek blog and I was a little dissapointed to read the comment from Diana Ser (from CNA). In my opinion, her comments showed the similar arrogance behaviour as our beloved government.
Pls see the following link to read Diana Ser's comments.
http://mollymeek.livejournal.com/

6:45 AM  
Anonymous Molly said...

Disclaimer: I don't know if it's really Diana Ser commenting or not. Plus, I think the comments seemed to be posted with a sense of humor, so ...

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So lets put up a thought expt :

1)SgToday is set up by a group of ex journos as an online private venture.

2) journos are all not issued with press passes so cannot cover alot of so-called "big" events like shangri la dialogues

3) But nvm, they collect human interest stories, like the TNP

4) They actually get successful within 2 months with 200,000 visits a month

5) Simultaneously during this time, the Govt is panicking and digging through the regulations

6) So at opportune time MICA steps in and says you have contravened XXX

7) So SgToday says okay, we register XXX

8) Then SgToday runs a story that rips the govt policy apart

9) Than after that content run afoul etc etc XXX

10) SgToday shut down, journos become ex journos again

11) Worth it?

1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After step 7), SgToday should just keep publishing 'cos their servers are outside Singapore juri-my-dick-sion and MICA and do SH*T except to ask all 3 internet service providers to filter SgToday's IP address (which changes) every 1 week.

SgToday today continues to release exposes on who's who in Singapore and how they came into their wealth and connections.

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok than the gahment puts pressure on SgToday's advertisers and sponsors, the mainstay of its income. The advetsiers and sponsors all withdraw

at the same time, the SgToday journos are faced with civil defamation suits, police intimidation tactics. in court, they cannot reveal their "sources", the court find them guilty as there's no 1st Amendment

7:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home