Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Protesting Against Paid Subscriptions, and Organization

During my absence for the past couple of days, there has been a pretty fiery discussion on the recent imposed scheme of subscription to the ST Interactive, the online national newspapers. The comments have been wide and diverse, and many commentators, such as Singapore Ink. and From a Singapore Angle have compiled the complaints and suggestions together to suggest counter actions against the move. Needless to say, I won't repeat the same arguments here but simply divert readers to soak up the analyses put forth. The avove two sites have collected what seems to be the general reaction.

However, there's one small point some seem to have miss, and I think Singapore Ink's latest post touched on it, though I would like to expand on that. First of all, it is true that the ST is essentially a national press that serves to inform the general public and its citizens about the affairs of the country. However, the national newspaper doesn't merely serve that role but has to double as a spokespiece for wealthy investors and financial managers who run their businesses here in Singapore. See, a very simple mistake which most people assume (such as Ernesto's post illustrates), is that the newspapers makes money through readership. Well, that's partially true, if nobody reads the newspapers, they certainly wouldn't have anyone to advertise to. And that's the key word most people miss. It's not about the overall amount of people who read the newspapers but simply what kinds of audience are being targeted by that particular press. Now for a national newspaper, a boycott will do very little damage to its financial status, simply for the fact that a boycott will probably be on a very small scale and most citizens are going to need a way to inform themselves of government policies that affect their everyday lives. A large-scale boycott is, for the present moment, too unimaginable and wouldn't necessarily demonstrate that the results would be a fundamental shift of ownership in the national press.

The ST's other role is to attract investors. It has to portray to business leaders and other corporate powers who have to manage their own money here that Singapore is a safe, democractic, transparent and legit place to conduct their businesses here. These businesses would, no doubt, need to advertise to high-end consumers and of course the general public as well, but what counts the most would be the premium advertising rates the newspaper offers. It then comes about that the ST has no obligation to ensure its price hikes are adjusted for the average consumer, but merely to cater to social elities who will pay that kind of price to both advertise and market to consumers in the newspaper.

This dualistic function of the press is not at all as incompatable as one might think. To give a simple analogy, so one might comprehend the dynamics and relationship between the press, consumers, corporate managers and the public, say I am the mayor of a small town. As the mayor, I also own the only town newspapers which essentially the community relies on. In a bid to perhaps promote the town, similiar to how one wishes to promote tourism, I need to portray a fairly good representative of my town. Now, I can't paint a totally unrealistic picture since the town's residents rely on it for information, but I would pretty much ensure a very positive representation is depicted. This kind of positive representation naturally serves my two objectives cohesively, firstly to ensure that the residents geninuely believe in the goodwill and positive aspects of their own community and secondly to pander to potential investors and business owners who can simultaenously advertise to consumers and be assured about the safety of their investments in the town.

Given all that has been said, I do believe that it is pertinent that we rely on the national press, and that previous suggestions regarding alternative sources isn't an encouraging step. The ST is the national mouthpiece, and despite its flaws, it has to attempt in representing the "Singapore" in the framework of a national ideology. It's also the mouthpiece of the government, and there wouldn't be any other source to correctly access and critique the statements and ideas advanced by them. If you wish to critique dominant ideology, you must accurately string it from the direct source.

That is not to say there is little hope for fellow bloggers. It is only too simple to give up hope in reading, sourcing or criticizing the national press after March 15th. There is a need for the online community, at least those who are serious about the affairs of the country and wish to speak up, to create an organized community, one that routinely shares articles and ideas with each other. Indeed, if there isn't an impetus to regroup as an organized whole, political commentators would continue to stay marginalized and effectively do very little work on their own. Hence, for what may seem like an outrageous but yet undeniably plausible strategy, I think the political commentators who form part of the online community should stay connected through a network and relay information, articles, sources, ideas and commentary to each other regularly. Hopefully, I will be able to put this strategy into action.


Blogger Huichieh said...

Excellent post! I have been thinking along the same lines but you articulated it better than I could.

Discussed on my own blog.

I would really like to hear if you have something more specific in mind by "organization".

2:44 AM  
Blogger Trowa Evans said...

My proposal is a modest one really, but one that would, if it was truly initiated and put into real action, could produce a significant shift in the political climate we currently inhabit. Your post does point out the same structural flaws in the current blogsphere, which is merely a very fragmented group of socially conscious individuals who only produce work of their own but not tied together in some collective expression of a single entity. In other words, as you said, we are all just producing self-expression of a political civil nature but not organizing as a cohesive entity that would illustrate a collective organization with similiar ideals for a transformation in Singaporean society.

My first observation about the online community was that everybody is doing their own work, and nobody is sharing their ideas and discussions with others. Yeah, there may be the occasional drop-in comments in some popular blog and maybe some substantive dialogue may take place but that's hardly what I call sharing. And certainly not what I call organization.

The idea I have in mind is to have a portal where the online community is consistently in touch. There are many ways one can do this online, since you have mailing lists, yahoo group accounts or some web database, which essentially everyone is contributing their sources, articles or ideas. To some extend, the Void Deck could play that function but its current status, as it seems to me now, is that it doesn't maintain that role consistently and can hardly be what I call a forefront for a social-political agenda.

Personally, if you ask me, eventually I like to see that evolve into a magazine, where then you can install some editorial board to manage the process of publishing articles and accepting letters from the general public. There isn't as yet a truly "counterpunch" newsletter against the Straits Times (or any dominant orthodoxy), and as all of us would know, browsing through a dozen blogs daily is a tedious task. Even the most informed and charged person would grow dull at this perpetual cycle.

There are a few contentions I would make. I don't have in mind of seeting up a political party, as you have suggested. But that's entirely up to individual autonomy and choice, so if a political party does arise out of this, I wouldn't play a play in supporting nor fighting against it. I also don't display that sense of optimism about what kind of significant changes this movement may bring. Another issue would be that as long as this organized community remains a cyberportal, I also doubt it can promote any real change. It would eventually have to transgress beyond its online status to becoming a real organization that seeks to engage with other citizenry parties (e.g. PLU, AWARE, etc.) in socio-economic political affairs. If this organization is suucessful, then it may eventually translate to aligning with the broader goals of a mature democractic citizenry.

8:02 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Trowa Evans said...

I sense a deep sense of hoistility and antagonism in your post. And while I am not one to take these matters personally, I feel you may have misunderstood my writings. Though I will have something to comment upon later regarding the tone of your message.

First of all, I don't disagree that converting one reader at a time is an effective ploy. And I certainly am not proposing that the current blogs, however displaced they are, should be torn down and reformatted to reconstitute as some kind of outlet. The blogs, as they are right now, deal with their own complex issues in their own way but there is no reason to suggest that they must all be co-opted.

What I am suggesting is that despite the strengths you have pointed out in this diffuse blogsphere, you really are not helping individuals see that there is some alternative collective meantality that sees "another part of Singapore" (I believe it was Mr. Brown who quoted this). Put it this way, how do you reach out to people who aren't already politically conscious? You can't if you don't at least have some voice that's pushing for an agenda, however vague it is. You pointed out minority rights, well that's an issue that certainly warrants a group of supporters to advance such a cause. Likewise, take the casino issue. If there weren't community groups set up who staunchly oppose the setting up of a casino, but simply if as you imply, rant from all different parts of the country, changing one reader at a time but not working together as a whole, then it's message is not going to be as strongly received as it is now.

But you, plus a few others, are right about a few things. It's certainly been pointed out that there have been efforts to demolish such alternative groups, like Sintercom. See, people are very pessimistic when a group gets abolished but I am rather surprised at how many groups have survived. If you want my honest opinion, it's a miracle that PLU, and other fringe groups are thriving. Now what I happen to believe is that you take advantage of those opportunities if there presents a new opening. So, say the new legislation allowing indoor talks to be held without public licenses, whic the Think Centre used. If these opportunities aren't utilized, then you truly aren't making use of the kind of freedoms granted (no matter how little there are, we know), even if you are skeptical. And I like to think these new "freedoms" aren't usually granted by the discretion of some higher order, but through dissent and support for these rights.

I don't deny that there are risks. That's something you guys have to decide. I simply propose, I am not coercing people to initiate my suggestion, and it certainly is not a foolproof plan. But these are little nudges you push into action so that people will become more aware. It's organizations like PLU or AWARE that have a proposed cause who can have some kind of influence on public discourse. You will never see my blog, your blog or any other blogs having that kind of effect. Even if there was, it's only going to be marginal

Lastly, I take no offense at your post but that kind of attitude, from what I infer, is exactly what drives potential supporters away. Sometimes when I read a blog, though I can sense the personal anguish, torment or disgrudgement with society at large, it really doesn't help to invoke some kind of elitism attitude. It wouldn't be any different from the PAP's "talk-down" approach, and it would further divert or marginalize people who you could engage into a similiar cause. That's why I keep my prose simple and neat (except on occasions where I have to indulge in academic discourse), because my intention is to reach out to lay people. I have no concern for those are already politically engaged, they can guide themselves. But I do think a cordial relationship should be developed among the politically-charged, so that they can then reach out to the nonchalent ones.

If this all sounds too simple-minded or pure drivel to you, I apologise. But it's simply what I regard as common sense decency.

Note: The only one blog which had a "significant" impact I can think of is a person called Grace, who had a blog describing her experience with her terminal illness till the day of her death. I even remember the Computer Times article describing her reson to leave Singapore, mainly her disillusion with the General Elections in 1997. But that's about it.

9:27 AM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

RIP Grace Chow.

RIP Grace Chow II.


I have deleted the previous post as it adds no momentum to your proposal of organisation.

It was not hostility and antagonism you sensed. Probably more of cynicism and frustration and resignation.

Have nothing against your proposal personally. I accept your rebuke about my unfriendly tone.

I wish you all the best in your quest to make a difference in Singapore.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Trowa Evans said...

First off, I wish you didn't delete your previous post. It was still a piece of writing which elicited a point of view I didn't think of. I welcome the insight you have, and I certainly didn't wish to see it censored. The second issue is that if I was wrong about the tone of hostility where none was present, I apologise for that.

There was one thing you mentioned in your post, that struck me. I also agreed with it, though in an inverse manner. You said that your proposition was an unpopular alternative. Actually I think it is the popular strategy being used. And I concede that it works to a certain degree, since you have shown yourself to be affected by that process. You mentioned about the high internet penetration rates, and that shows the internet is the only public domain most Singaporeans have to voice their discontents. However, we will be just as quick to notice how it poses little threat to shifting the dynamics of public social discourse.

For the few websites that have been targeted, we must remember that there's a message behind their dissolution. They challenged national orthodoxy, which could have radical effects on shifting the balance of power. They were probably also supported by a significant number of people, which meant they were, in effect, reaching out to people.

My hunch is that if an organization is truly successful, it will face challenges and obstacles. Blogs don't, cos they pose no significant threat. There are, however, a few occasions when blogs did, and that was in China and Korea, which led to the government setting up block barricades to any online blogs. Now I believe the Singapore government can do that if it wished, it simply hasn't because it doesn't consider blogs to have the momentum push for organizing social dissent. All it does is promote some facile about freedom of expression and that providing us an outlet for frustration.

I would like to alter your last remark, namely wishing me luck. Luck has very little to do with it, and this proposal I have is not conceived entirely on my own. It relies on the support of others to provide an organized community who want to play a part in changing the socio-political climate. You can be a one-man fighting machine, and that's easy, just write all you want on your blog. Your frustration and cynicism, which everyone shares, including me, is exactly what prompted me to ask myself, "well what else can I do besides resigning to 'fate'?" Well, it's not fate, as I realised that things are the way they are, but simply nonchalence and selfishness. Very much like you, I doubt any significant change can come out of any initiatives I know of, but if you don't try, you never know.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Organization is being done. Slowly, surely, steadily.

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Blogger Huichieh said...

Trackback, From a Singapore Angle, "Reviewing the Singapore Blogosphere: Managing Expectations"

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