PeasantMoNkEy's MudHut

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." - Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, May 29, 2006

Censorship


GE 2006 has brought the issue of censorhip into the forefront of Singaporeans' consciousness. The media is, according to some, most guilty. The biased and one-sided coverage of the PAP's campaign has irked (and angered) quite a few people. In my own private conversations with friends, even those who were pro-PAP or 'fence-sitters' were all unanimously frustrated.

The sad thing to me is that the media has not changed much at all in the last 40 or so years. There have been some commentators - such as Cherian George - who claimed otherwise. Perhaps they are not entirely wrong but if there were any changes or improvements, I would argue that they were minimal and inconsequential. Thus, generally, nothing much has indeed changed.

I fear for the negative 'tone of society' which such self-censorship creates. Many-a-time have we heard govt officials lamenting and then urging, encouraging Singaporeans to speak up, to have an opinion. Yet, when it came to something as crucial and important as the elections, we have regressed - as far as the media is concerned. Daily, nauseating one-sided news report in print and broadcast was the order of the day - for 9 days.

The incessant espousing 'of one particular sychophantic political philosophy', to paraphrase Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Couple this sort of unashamed, biased reportings with the ban on podcasting, videocasting, political films, and requiring blogs which are 'persistently political' to register, and we have a scenario where only one view is allowed to be propagated.

I would offer that this is a very dangerous thing indeed.

In a time when the world is a global village, where technology is always changing and improving, where a people is constantly exposed to the world at large, such blatant gagging of a national media - and alternative media - through crude laws and restrictions, spells trouble in the long term.

What are these problems?

One, only allowing one official view to be propagated gives the impression and perception that only this one view is the 'right' one.

Two, for censorship to take place, it must mean that there are some - a group of, a committe of, or otherwise - people who dictates and decide what is allowable.

Three, it casts a shadow of fear amongst the electorate. A fear that any other views outside of the official one is perhaps tantamount to open dissent.

Four, the very act of censorship itself means that there are those in the media who are powerless and unable to speak up against it - even though their members may be truly frustrated and who are against such controls. (There have been stories of journalists and reporters who are alleged to have said that they were thinking of quitting their jobs because of such censorship during the elections.)

Five, censorship laws are too vague, too wide and too ambiguous. This is on purpose, I suppose, so as to allow the law to be 'flexible' to accomodate any future 'unforeseen, undesirable' forms of communication and communication tools.

Six, censorship controls by the few means that the citizenry is not allowed to participate in vibrant, dynamic and necessary exchanges of views, ideas and opinions. This may - and can - lead to disillusionment, apathy and frustration - especially among the young who are increasingly more outspoken.

The next 5 years therefore will be of immense importance. How the govt deals with such issues will decide the entire tone of society, including the fear factor.

I would hate to see us regress further.

The govt has to realise, and do so quickly, that this is a time where immense opportunities for our society to open up is taking shape. To try and curtail, cage and control it with crude, vague and blunt laws and regulations will result in a stagnant and dull environment.

We are now in the 21st century.

It is time to rid oursleves of ways of thinking which clearly belongs to the Dark Ages.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bloggers..

Gayle Goh. It's a little strange to me how a simple letter of exchange between two people can generate such huge interest. The exchange between Gayle and a govt official has sparked a lot of talk - especially on the internet. It is both refreshing - and worrisome.

It is refreshing because it is heartening to see someone as young as Gayle (who is 17) go head to head - as it were - with such a senior member of the establishment. However, she is not the only one. I've been attending some public forums and what I have seen are young students engaging issues with senior people in govt departments. The recent NUSS Forum at Guild House is one example. Two students from Raffles took PAP MP-elect Denise Phua to task for some the remarks she made. It was quite an insight to be witness to the sharpness of the students in putting their points and questions across. (However, I do think they were a little emotional at times - the students, that is.)

So, what is so worrisome about students or young people becoming more engaged in national issues? It is worrisome for a few reasons:

1. The fact that Gayle has generated so much attention shows that political discourse among the young has been non-existent before despite what the govt has been saying and trying to do which is to engage the young. If it were not, Gayle would not be so 'special', right? So, the question is: What exactly has the govt been doing?

2. Another worry is that these students and young people might be too focussed on the theorical side of issues. How many of them are or have plans to be active in community work, for example? They must realise that blogging and presenting their views are all well and fine. Indeed, it is important. But at the end of the day, one's view must be tampered by one's own personal experiences and one's personal contact with the people who are affected by policies. I am therefore hopeful that bloggers like Gayle will take their activism beyond cyberspace and consider their pariticipation in the 'real' world. I am sure they will write with much more credibility, depth and conviction.

3. There is a tendency also to be focussing on the 'demerits' of govt policies at the risk of ignoring altogether the merits. After all, who wants to read about how good the govt is, right? We already get that 24/7 from the local media.

Although these are worries and concerns on my part, the wonderful advantage that these young bloggers have is time. They are young, eager, creative and outspoken. Not to mention they are also intelligent and incisive.

How they progress from cyber world into the real world will depend on how the govt 'manages' (to use Denise Phua's word) such a proliferation of anti-PAP blogs or at least blogs critical of the PAP govt.

I would urge the authorities not to have knee jerk reactions and - again - use a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Allow this cocoon to develop and turn into a beautiful butterfly, this is what I think the govt should do. The reason is simple: Technology cannot be stopped and in the years to come, technological advances will avail us to even more influential tools online.

To try and control this with outdated mechanisms will and can only backfire.

So, please let bloggers like Gayle to continue to voice out their opinions. The govt may want to engage the young through official, proper, neatly-organised forums or channels. The question is however : "Do young people want to be engaged in such a fashion?"

I hope not.

I prefer that opinion be allowed to be expressed in any way (except illegal ones) which the individual feels is most appropriate.

PM Lee has called for the young to 'speak up'. Well, they are! Is the govt ready to hear their views? Is the govt ready to accept that not all of them will agree with the govt's policies or stance? Is the govt ready to accept robust criticisms?

We shall know the answer once the report on the influence of the internet during GE 2006 is out.

I hope we will not be taking another two-steps back - especially when the young themselves have taken one step forward.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ultimately, It's The Mind That Gets Numbed

Freedom of expression. This phrase has been misunderstood by many. I guess it might just be an abstract, even esoteric, idea to them in their minds. It has no relevance whatsoever to their daily living, their struggle with bread and butter issues. This is because we do not have a culture where we can express ourselves freely. When one does not know a thing, one intend to doubt it - and its benefits.

I am one who fully support freedom of expression. This, to me, is not just an abstract ideal but an ideal which has pratical and pragmatic benefits - and yes, it can provide bread and butter as well.

Allow me to explain.

Everything that we have created in this world - from the chair you are sitting on, to the the paint on your walls, to the beautiful buildings you see outside your windows, to the satellites floating out there in the stratosphere - all started as just an idea in the mind.

They become 'real' in the physical world because someone made it real. Someone took it out of his mind and made it a physical reality.

Someone expressed his ideas.

We can hardly name one thing around us that is not man-made, which therefore started out as just an idea in the human psyche, the human mind. This is what expression is. Expression is not just about speaking, which most people mistake it to be. Expression is not confined to this. Indeed, it is more, much more, than just speaking what is in your mind.

When the mind is allowed to express itself, miracles can happen - and miracles have happened. Just look around you. Don't you wonder at the limitlessness of the mind to create and express itself? It's the most wondrous thing, in my humble opinion.

For the mind to be free to express itself, of course there is a need for a free environment. You cannot cage a bird and asks it to fly at the same time. Which brings me to freedom of expression in Singapore's context.

There is an urgent need, now more than ever, for Singaporeans to be allowed to express what's in their minds. It is a strange thing to say that - that "Singaporeans be allowed to express themselves". It is rather sad too because it means that our minds have been 'caged' for the past 40+ years. I do not think many - except the PAP govt - would dispute this. Indeed, this is why the govt had called for Singaporeans to be 'spontaneous', 'creative', 'to dare to do', 'to be non-conformists', 'to be 'mavericks', 'think out of the box'.

It is all very well to encourage all this - but the govt has to go beyond mere cheat-thumping rhetorics. PM Lee himself called for the youths, especially, to not be afraid, to 'just do it'. Indeed, I myself was quite impressed with his words and thought to myself that at last, this govt is growing up and letting go of the apron strings.

However, this expectation, this joy was dashed just before the general elections when the very same govt calling for such gung-ho spirit did an about-face and banned podcasting, videocasting, required blogs to register - besides the already-declared ban on 'party political films and videos'.

Suddenly, the mind became closed again - the minds of the govt and the citizenry.

It is extremely disheartening that the govt has gone back to providing this 'cloud of fear' over our society. How can the human mind be free to express itself when it is constantly being thumped down?

Allow me at this point to explain - in pragmatic terms - why freedom of expression is important and how it does relate to bread and butter issues.

Bill Gates. A genius, no doubt. How he started out is the same as any other human being - with an idea in his mind. The difference is that he was in an environment which allowed him to express himself in the way he preferred - leaving school and going into enterprise. He took the idea of out his mind and expressed it in real, physical, pragmatic terms - and Microsoft Windows was born. It changed the world, or at least how the world communicated, which is no small feat.

Microsoft was set up, a new industry was born, new business opportunity sprang up everywhere. Millions suddenly had jobs. With jobs come income. With income, you put food on the table. You raise a family.

An idea that was just in someone's mind has now become a physical reality and one which has real, pragmatic benefits.

This is how the world has always operated - through the creation of physical reality from ideas first formed in the human mind.

Is it any surprise then that the world looks towards the US and countries with established freedom of expressions tradition?

What then should Singapore do? What then can Singapore learn?

The problem we have in the composition of those who make up our govt is that they are mostly people who are theer because of their coldhearted, pragmatic sense and views of how to run a country. There is no thinker among them. There is no idealist among them. There is no poet, no artiste, no philosopher.

There is no humanity among the PAP govt.

What we need is for the govt to realise that the human being is made up of many facets - especially the spiritual aspect. I am not talking of religion here. I am talking about that part of the human being which essence is 'freedom'.

The human spirit is a free spirit.

Caging it, restricting it, controlling it, disempowering it leads to dullness, sloth and dependency. It is time we realise this.

It is said that "If you do not let go of fear, fear will not let go of you."

In this case, it is not the people who are fearful. Indeed, it is the people who are calling for the govt to let go!

The fear resides in the govt.

If the PAP has the interests of the country - and Singaporeans - at heart, then it should - MUST - overcome this fear of losing control and allow the human mind to express itself freely.

For if the govt continues to stifle and restrain and restrict such free expression, it will only bode ill for the future of Singapore.

Freedom to express oneself can and will result in new ideas for industry and enterprise.

Continuation to curtail and control expression will lead to the numbing of minds... as even Lee Kuan Yew himself once believed:

"Let us get down to fundamentals. Is this an open, or is this a closed society? Is it a society where men can preach ideas - novel, unorthodox, heresies, to established churches and established governments - where there is a constant contest for men's hearts and minds on the basis of what is right, of what is just, of what is in the national interests, or is it a closed society where the mass media - the newspapers, the journals, publications, TV, radio - either bound by sound or by sight, or both sound and sight, men's minds are fed with a constant drone of sycophantic support for a particular orthodox political philosophy?

(Lee Kuan Yew, Before Singapore's independence, Malaysian Parliamentary Debates, Dec 18, 1964 )

Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Form Of Journalism.. ?

The just-concluded general elections has thrown up some interesting questions about the local media. Questions of bias-ness, unfairness, govt control. Also, questions of alternative sources of information, particularly the internet.

Criticisms of the media has been fast and furious - and numerous. So, I shall not dwell on that aspect. Instead, I would like to speak a little about the alternative forms sources of news and information.

The govt's attempt to gag the internet during the elections - as everyone knows - has failed, and failed miserably. Bloggers, especially, continued to post pictures, videos, audio files and news reports on their blogs during the GE. The govt (to its credit) did not do anything about it. I suspect it is more because they cannot do anything about it. It would have cast a huge clooud of darkness over the country if the govt had hauled up any of those bloggers - during the GE.

I am sure the govt was aware of the backlash at the polls if they had taken such a step.

Which birngs us to the interesting question: What will the govt do next? It is indeed caught between a rock and a hard place. They have set a precedence of sort - by omission. Not hauling up any blogger during the recent GE has set a precedence for future GEs. They - the govt- would have a weaker case, surely, if they charged any blogger in future elections for contravening the law.

If one takes a broader view of this whole issue, one realises the petty and insecure nature of the PAP govt. To try to micro-manage of all things, the internet, smacks of ignorance and desperation. In the next 5 years, I am quite confident that new technologies will emerge which will be even more powerful than blogs and podcastings. What then will the govt do? What then can the govt do?

Imagine this new technology:

Your cell phone is able to broadcast 'live' streaming video to your friends. You are at an election rally, your friend or family is at home. You whip out your cellphone, switches it to video-streaming mode and you start broadcasting the event to your friend's phone. Your friend, who is at home, plugs his phone in to the computer or tv, and voila, they have 'live' pictures of rallies - right in their own home - with sound and all.

What are the consequences of such a revolution. (Make no mistake, this will be revolutionary!)

Perhaps, I am thinking too far ahead. Even so, with the internet much can be done and much can be achieved vis a vis the issue of new sources for information.

To be objective, the blogs online are still a disparage group, disorganised as a unit. It will still be some time before the internet truly challenges the mainstream media as a popular choice for news. However, having said that, it would be wrong to dismiss its influence. YawningBread's picture of the Workers' Party rally in Hougang has become the iconic picture of GE 2006 - and has further shot Yawningbread higher into the blogosphere's Hall Of Fame.

And that's just one picture.

Imagine a good-quality, sleek video - of say, the WP's recitation of the National Pledge at Serangoon Stadium. It's reach could be phenomenal.

The only way the PAP can ever hope to counter all these is actually quite simple: Free the mainstream media. Allow them to be independent, free and fair. There have been stories of journalists breaking down during the GE after being booed by the crowd, stories of journalists who were thinking of quitting their job because of the derision of their professionalism.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - whom I believe wants to open society up more - should be steadfast and proceed to do so. To try and gag, ban and restrict the flow of information will result in serious consequences for the country - the main one will be to further reinforce the fear factor in our society, and also further drive citizens into political apathy.

No one wins in such a scenario.

So, I urge the govt to look at the wider picture. Bloggers are not out to dismantle our society or to topple the govt. No blogger is calling for bloody revolution, or chaotic demonstrations in the streets. (At least, I've not come across any such blogs yet.)

Citizens will continue to push for more freedom - especially with a people who are highly educated and constantly exposed to the rest of the world.

I urge the govt to allow the free flow of expression.

If we are still being forcefully tied to the apron strings of a petty, insecure nanny, we will never become what the PAP govt hopes we will become - creative, non-conformists, and mavericks.

And these are their words.

Not mine.

So we shall see, the next 5 years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Workers' Party AMK "Suicide 6"

I had the privilege of being part of the Workers' Party team which contested Ang Mo Kio GRC in the last elections.

My role was basically to keep a video & photo record of what they do, help them out in their daily activites (like distributing flyers and going on walkabouts) and also to be the election agent of one of the candidates, Melvin Tan. (I was also suppose to be polling agent but the administration screwed up.)

The team consisted of team leader Yaw Shin Leong, Abdul Salim, Lee Wai Leng, Gopal Krishnan, Melvin Tan & Glenda Han. I must say honestly that I was very impressed by the level of commitment of each one of them - especially when we're going up against the PM in his home turf.

In those months before and during the elections, I did not hear any one of the 6 complained at all. That is a testament to the way the team worked. It is, in my opinion, due in no small part to the tireless planning of Yaw Shin Leong. Shin Leong is someone who inspires with his boundless energy. You never see him being still! He's the human equivalent to the energizer bunny.

During the GE, I mostly work with Melvin and Glenda - two of the most hardworking people I know. Melvin is a 'lone ranger' as he likes to accomplish tasks on his own - and he does it truly well. He's a man who wears many hats - which is actually a sign of the trust and faith that the party has in him. Another tireless worker, he once distributed the party's leaflets door to door until 5am in the morning! If anyone has any doubt about the AMK Team's commitment, Melvin's actions will dispel it immediately.

Glenda is a surprise to me. Honestly, I had my doubts if she would be able to have the energy to last such an intense 9-day campaign. Man, was I proved wrong! From the daily door-to-door distribution of leaflets (which is not an easy thing at all), to driving from one place to another ferrying other members of the team, to writing her own speeches and finding time in between to do her laundry and attend to her pub, Glenda showed multi-tasking under such a situation is not a problem at all.

Only thing is, she does not seem to do as well with the condition of her car! LOlzz..

We had another member helping us in all these - his name is Ernest. Everyday during the GE, Ernest is always around. He's the appointed election agent for Glenda - and he does a wonderful job. Glenda can attest to that. Glenda can also attest to Ernest's ability to feed her. LOLz...

The 9 days went by in a hurry and I suspect all of us kinda miss being together and working together everyday. How I wish the elections happened every year. 5 years is a long time to wait to be able to work with such wonderful people again.

We are all very very happy with the result which the team achieved - 33.87% of the vote. It's more than what we had expected - although I personally am not that surprised as I have always believed that the PM's support in AMK was not as strong as some may think. Also, walking the ground in AMK, it is quite easy to decipher the ground feeling.

In any case, we did an extremely good job.

I am immensely proud of the AMK 6.