Trumpets please. I am quite a prophet, ain’t I. Recently I wrote, “… many more ordinary S’poreans will realise that the internet is not a “cowboy” town or injun territory where one can get away with anything. It is a place where if the authorities are determined, they can identify users … What next? A minister suing someone for defamatory comments made on the internet by the latter, comments he tot was “safe” because his identity was “hidden”? You heard it here first …”.
Since then, Yawning Bread and then TRE each got a letter from the lawyers of the Foreign Minister and the PM respectively, telling them to remove defamatory articles. I could become a fortune teller, couldn’t I?
Seriously, the letters from the ministers’ lawyers show the fifth phase of the still in progress evolution of the governing PAP’s attitude towards the New Media (internet 2.0 and the social media).
Phase 1 was to ignore the New Media. It didn’t exist, and wouldn’t affect public opinion, unlike the traditional media. Well it existed, and it did affect public opinion (for example in the 2006 general election when a photo of a WP’ rally showed S’poreans that it was true the constructive, nation-building local media were “fixing” the Opposition).
Phase 2 was to pretend to ignore the New Media while actually reading what appeared there. On the surface, the government and the PAP ignored the New Media. Examples:
— There were no official replies to queries that appeared on the ST’s Online Forum. Official replies were made only to queries published in ST’s Forum pages.
— TOC’s stories on the homeless were referred to by VivianB as “noise”, even after he led raids on the camps of the homeless.
Well this didn’t work. So Phase 3 was to continue pretending to ignore the New Media while trying to seduce the leading players by making them feel important. Example: Injun Chief bloggers were invited to have tea and biscuits in “secret” with second tier PAPpies (the NCOs) like Zaqy and Baey. Sometimes, a less important first tier PAPpie like George Yeo would grant an audience in secret. Again this tactic didn’t work. If anything, the leading New Media players were annoyed by the hypocrisy of it all, and by being courted by “lesser PAPpies”, not the ones that mattered like the PM, DPM Teo or Tharman.
Then came a phase where the New Media’s existence was acknowledged and where the likes of Zaqy, Baey and Yeo continued in private vainly to seduce the leading players to see things the PAP way.
Well, we are now in Phase 5, which I analyse to be “threatening them lightly”. In both recent cases, my understanding is that the ministers’ lawyers are not asking for damages or costs, juz for removal of the offending article and some form of acknowledgement that the piece shouldn’t have published.
What’s next? Who knows? The PAP could feel so threatened that it resorts to bankrupting bloggers that defame ministers, or it could organise a counter-insurgency campaign to try to retake lost territory (I’m available to be a hired gun if the pay is good). The Malaysian government has its sheriffs to try to tame cowboy towns. Or it could try a combination of the two.
Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications & the Arts Grace Fu said on Saturday that the challenge of increasing social diversity is likely to become greater as the society evolves and that Singapore must adapt and learn to manage greater diversity in perspectives, value systems and aspirations.
I hope that she is giving the PM and the other PAP leaders the same message and emphasising that the PAP must adapt and learn to manage greater diversity in perspectives, value systems and aspirations. I suspect not. But I’m sure she is telling them that there are emerging trends that “tug” at Singapore’s social fabric. One of these trends is the emergence of social media which has amplified voices beyond what was achievable by the traditional media.