Monday, April 28, 2008

Of Angry Journalists, Anger & the Evil Internet Again

I remember playing the board game Monopoly once with a group of children comprising my nieces and nephews. Being the only adult and the only person most familar with the game amongst a group of DOTA and Maple Story veterans, wily me started slowly, cornered some utilities and very soon owned the essential parts of Monopoly which squeezed the liquidity from the children. Then, one of my nephews, the youngest, who enjoyed the initial luck of the dice, pushed all the little green houses and little red hotels away from the board and whined that it was not fair. He did not want to play anymore.

Board games like Monopoly live through the ages because it make-believes very human emotions like greed, ability to handle failure, the embarrassment of failure, the fear of defeat/failure and of course, the thrill of winning, the satisfaction of monopoly.

Reading Chua Lee Hoong's latest ST article on the Internet reactions to the Mas Selamat debacle strikes an immediate sense of deja vu. If I am not wrong, not that many years back, her fellow journalist, Sumiko Tan, opened her diatribe against the Internet with exactly the same angry descriptive barrage of the evils in cyberspace, crawling with bad people, filled with nasty brutish demons and poisonous commentaries. Years later, another fellow journalist repeats the same diatribe on this lawless space known as cyberspace.

We have to engage Lee Hoong's article precisely. She has dissected and isolated this Mas Selamat debacle and ends wondering why the reactions of the Net and of the mob are so incommensurate to the issue at hand? Why are Singaporeans over-reacting? Why this much anger? This much hate, this much scorn, this much disdain? To be fair to Lee Hoong, this is not so bad a form of analysis. Isolate the issue, study it, than assess the implications and measure the reaction/response. Incidentally, this is a method of journalism which ST excels in. Isolate, measure, assess and respond. Indeed, the entire article by Lee Hoong has a narrative structure not unlike how PM Lee dissected the Mas Selamat debacle in Parliament. Clinical, efficient, laying bare the facts, laying bare the skeleton with skeletal facts. When Lee Hoong removes her surgical mask, she cries out in boiling anger: What for this anger? Why this anger?

The answer is simple. This anger is not only about Mas Selamat. This anger is inextricably entwined with how the Ministers gave themselves a huge pay rise on the reasoning that they have to benchmark themselves to the private sector. This anger is intertwined with how the Government pursues accountability in every action, every utterance, every behavior of an Opposition politician. This anger is tied deeply with how the Government removed a columnist from his job at the newspaper because of his accountability for one column mocking the rising costs of living. This anger is about the unfairness of political accountability in Singapore. This anger is about the shifting meaning of accountability in the political landscape of Singapore. So Lee Hoong, the answer is simple, this anger, this “hysterical” mob manifesting in the Internet, is precisely the product of the actions of this Government.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the angriest of them all?

Perhaps, to be fair, we also have to measure, assess the reasons why Lee Hoong’s blood is boiling. Why her anger? Is it a commensurate anger? Somewhere along the commentary, she assures Singaporeans that her past articles have shown she has been critical of Government if it warrants. This is her licence to ask the thinking Singaporean why we are behaving irrationally, disproportionately. Perhaps she has to ask herself why, even if she has “rebelled”, inserted subliminal messages of protest, why does it never find resonance with Singaporeans? Perhaps, she and other journalists should reflect whether their exercises in this measured dissent are more to salve, satiate their own egos, soothe that little hidden rebel deep in their consciousness rather than real, sopisticated messages with true resonance among their readers?

Lee Hoong’s anger is ultimately an incommensurate anger. The Net moves on. The world moves on. The people whom Lee Hoong is trying desperately to connect with have moved on. Perhaps, this is the reason for her anger. No one cares what she writes anymore. No one bothers. It is incommensurate anger because the thinking Singaporean now has choice, has the ability to choose, to respond, to voice. Look at Catherine Lim's blog, old school writer, new media advocate. Whereas for Lee Hoong, what recourse is there but incommensurate anger if her choice is staying in an institution like the Straits Times whose excellence is only in its ability to isolate incidents/issues rather than extrapolate from incidents/issues. Her subliminal messages of “protest”, of “change from within” will ultimately remain at best as exercises in intellectual self-gratification, disconnected from the pulse and reflexes of the real world, the connected world as the Mas Selamat episode clearly shows.

Occasionally I still play Monopoly with the children. The nephew who threw the tantrum is fine now because he understands that throwing tantrums is poor behavior indeed because then, no one will play with him anymore. And this is his greatest fear.

Quote of the Day –

“Dr Judson, you were against the Super Collider, were you not?”
“Oh, absolutely”
“And you testified in favor of cutting off its funds?”
“I did indeed”
“Please tell this committee why you did it.”
“Quite simple. I made an idiotic mistake.” …
“Dr Judson, I’m afraid you have to explain that”
“No problem, There’s only so much money for science in the Federal budget. Back in 1993, I thought the Collider was soaking up far too much money … I never anticipated the Chinese would come up with the Higgsie”
“The Higgsie? Do you mean the Higgs boson?”
“Sorry, around the institute we call it the Higgsie and regard it as fairly trivial … Nevertheless, there was a world race on to find the Higgsie … I mean by 1993, the Higgs boson has become a sort of Holy Grail of physics, hadn’t it? So it was politically important. We’re all here today because the Chinese have aced us, aren’t we? …”
– A Hole in Texas, Herman Wouk


Anonymous Anonymous said...

masterful :)

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't cut Lee Hoong too much slack; her bout of dyspepsia is just a front for a more insidious (but rather unsophisticated) endeavour.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sumiko Tan a journalist? Haha! More a 'let me tell you about my haemmorhoid' prawn peeler.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mas selamat has helped us expose the true colours of papaya government.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Ozy said...

the internet is fairly young so there aren't that much provisions for it. And given the rise of post-modern thought, putting laws or regulations on internet-related stuff may cause an uproar.

All in all, there's a lot of uncharted territory, and innovations are coming out faster than regulations.

Monopoly will always be a favorite. There's a real human element in it. Though in the end usually only one or two people are having fun.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously the Straits Times will do a lot better cutting off deadwood like Sumiko Tan and the Chua sisters. Then again there are many more sycophants eager to fill their shoes.

Is that why WKS die die cannot resign? LOL

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I thought you were writing about why Lee Hsien Loong was so angry that he threw the note book on the lectern while answering Low Thia Kiang. Ohhh- now I see Chua Lee Hoong, not Lee Hsien Loong.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many Straits Times Journalists are no different from Mas Selamat,s Escape in that they aroused very strong reactions.

I thank them for their mettles.


11:49 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

ST is a comfortable place for Lee Hoong. She writes without people commenting on her articles. She should try write something online with people commenting on her work.

See if she can survive in the world wide web.

You see, ST people are afriad. There are a lot of more better people out there that can tackle her work. In ST, she only have the editors and colleagues to comment on her work.

Out in WWW here, she is afriad. She is indeed angry as she cannot deal with the retentless pace of WWW.

1:08 AM  
Anonymous fedupwithST said...

I wrote the following to the Straits Times , and as expected , received a reply that they have too many letters and sorry mine would not be published; lol !

I refer to your article (ST Apr 26 2008) titled "That escape: Crucial issues aplenty, so let's move on" by Ms Chua Lee Hoong . While I have found some internet postings blood boiling , they pale in comparison with the following points made in your article:

1) But the Mas Selamat escape? What loss has there been, except that of face - mostly?

I beg to differ with that point. Here is a man who was considered dangerous enough to be detained in a supposed high security detention centre (without trial since 2006) because he planned to fly a plane into Changi Airport and bomb the US Embassy. How then can his escape be just a loss of face ? Is the Straits Times suggesting that the Home Team was over-stating the danger that this man posed ? If so , then I'm afraid the Home Team and ISD have just wasted a lot of tax payers' money , not just with his detention but with the searches that caused traffic jams and resultant losses in time, manpower and money. Is Ms Chua not concerned that this man still poses a threat to Singapore's security ?

2)The escape has been a big stain on the reputation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). But it has been a lesser stain on the reputation of Singapore.

Was I the only one who read the reports published in the International Herald Tribune and New York Times that cast Singapore in an embarrassing light over that escape? The following excerpts from IHT dd 21 April:

"His escape has been a major embarrassment for the government, which has not been able to capture Mas Selamat, its most-wanted man, despite a nationwide manhunt. Thousands of wanted posters hung around Singapore are a daily reminder of the failure.........The report described what appeared to have been a carefully planned but remarkably simple escape that took advantage of small errors in a fairly relaxed prison routine as the prisoner was being escorted to a weekly visit from his family. It seemed to substantiate the one-word analysis of the escape given last month by a former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew: complacency."

And excerpts from New York Times dd 14 Mar 2008 :

"With each new empty-handed day the embarrassment deepens as Singapore confronts its Tora Bora moment, its most-wanted terrorist suspect melting into the urban terrain, as Osama bin Laden evaded American troops in Afghanistan. For some people here, this noisy, flailing search ¡ª even more than the escape itself ¡ª has cast Singapore in an unfamiliar light of haplessness...........
....As a nation, Singapore is as lean and mean and flexible as the rapid-response military the Pentagon dreams of, and it reacted with impressive speed and agility to recent Asian outbreaks of bird flu and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. But for the moment it seems to have met its match in Mr. Mas Selamat. His disappearance challenges the government¡¯s basic promise to its citizens that it will keep them safe and comfortable."

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said that Singaporeans needed a dose of bad government to appreciate that Ministers need to be paid top dollar. "That escape", as Ms Chua calls it, has proven that despite the high salary , we still can get a dose of bad government... and it is not helped by the fact that we have insufficient opposition members in parliament nor an independent press to keep the ruling party on its toes.

Who's been complacent ? The ordinary Singaporean ? The Gurkha guards ? I recall the Malaysian who walked across the causeway after murdering Huang Na and Richard Yong's "escape" after the NKF affair and I have to conclude that there has been complacency in the Home Team. Are netizens taking things out of perspective and forgetting all the good the Home Team has done ? Do sacked CEOs justify staying on because of past glories ?

The main stream media do no justice to Singaporeans by being the ruling party's mouthpieces. Your article lends further credence to Cherian George's article "The Other Casualty of the Great Escape - Mainstream Media Credibility". I liked his last line "Treating citizens as if they were brain-dead will not make them so; they will simply migrate to other media that take them more seriously."

Ms Chua and editors of the Straits Times - please treat the citizens of Singapore with more respect. We are not brain dead. And the more you write articles like this , the more you turn Singaporeans off the mainstream media.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sharp as ever...too bad, i've juz gotta cut back on ST expenses for my rice and transport fares...

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well said man. This post was like reading poetry. So beautiful. I hope she reads this.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you said no one cares what she writes, but you care what she writes don't you? that's why you spent your time writing this?

You say no one comments on her article, unlike in cyber space: do note that she has an email, and readers who disagree can always rebut her. Though in private, often times to a journalist, it's no the boss's comments that matter, it's what their readers say that count. Further, isn't what you are doing commenting as well? If it's truly cutting, I am sure that she would react to it.

On this I beg to differ from your diatribe.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! To the above. You sound like Lee Hoong.

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you said no one cares what she writes, but you care what she writes don't you? that's why you spent your time writing this?

"You say no one comments on her article, unlike in cyber space: do note that she has an email, and readers who disagree can always rebut her. Though in private, often times to a journalist, it's no the boss's comments that matter, it's what their readers say that count. Further, isn't what you are doing commenting as well? If it's truly cutting, I am sure that she would react to it.

On this I beg to differ from your diatribe."

I think XENO BOY has done the bitch a favour to even mention her in the blog. Her full of crap articles is destined for the dumpster. If you think her article is so good why bother to read XENOBOY 's article on her. Damned you, if you differ who cares anyway.

Fever Guy

9:36 AM  
Anonymous dj pbk said...

For a critique, your writing is elegant and beauiful as hell ... you were sorely missed!

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know and can confirm this - was the marxist conspiracy about the same time that the Chua sisters were working as ISA agents? If so, it explains their stand on this Mas Selamat 'screenplay.' I am not surprised that the script originated from Dubai when PM Lee kept quiet for 11 days, but the spin started churning when Daddy Dearest talked about the toilet break, Singapore version while overseas. (PM- no balls to carry this story on his own) In the meantime, SM Goh appears very quiet in all of the 'script'. He disapprove of it (?) Just like the marxist conspiracy. SM goh is probably the only one with a soul (?)
Oh, the beauty of internet. I recall the horrors of singaporeans then, how everyone had to hold their views on the marxist conspiracy, can't talk in church cos some ISA agents could be sitting in the pews. So like Lee Hoong said, hey guys it is 'nothing' let us move on. A script that carried a life of its own and could not be undone. Yes, I await part 2 when the truth comes out in some on-line international papers.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for the hell of it, shall we start a 'stop buying ST' campaign, maybe for a day? and ask all bloggers to post it?? I know sometimes we buy it for our parents / kids etc, but we can try right, to send a message to ST.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Climate of Fear.

Even now, if a Muslim expresses disbelief at the COI report in a mosque, would he risk being branded a self radicalised terrorist by ISA agents? How many such 'terrorists' are in detention right now? Are they truly terrorists, or just another 'harmless' Mas Selamat - as clearly expressed by Lee Hoong?

6:36 PM  
Blogger kwayteowman said...


You know, the KTM disagrees with most of the things you have written in the past - but he does see where you are coming from and so doesn't bother to rebutt. It's not his job and neither does he care - and it's good to have more views floating around for netizens to consider. :-P

In this case however, the KTM agrees wholeheartedly with you that "this anger is not only about Mas Selamat. This anger is inextricably entwined with how the Ministers gave themselves a huge pay rise on the reasoning that they have to benchmark themselves to the private sector".

It is frankly quite surprising that the journalists never figured this out. A bit the duh if you'd ask me. That said, a lot of bloggers are also not using their brain and are spouting crap on the issue, so it's all fair lah. :-)

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KTM, I hope you are not trying to be 'funny' or 'disrespectful' in Xeno's blog. :-)

You see, you seem to imply that you agree to some points of Xeno's articles but you disagree with many other bloggers' views on the same issue and you said 'a lot of bloggers are also not using their brain and are spouting crap on the issue'.

Since you also disagree with most of the thing Xeno wrote in the past and so you are saying he was 'not using his brain and spouting crap'?

I agree with you that 't's good to have more views floating around for netizens to consider'. Isn't it better than 'insulting' others?

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The journalists are just doing their job. It's difficult writing something that everyone agrees with. And if they dont come up with controversial topics, nobody would bother to read their articles.

Anyway, why don't you guys publish YOUR views and become journalists instead? We'll see what kind of comments other people will give.

2:58 AM  
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Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

7:09 AM  

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