Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bloggers, poetic license and regulating Singapore’s social media


Bloggers have it easy. Bloggers can stir up a mess without really getting all the facts correct. Often, bloggers provide only that data which supports arguments put forth. Conflicting data can be ignored or, at worst, misrepresented.

Moreover, readers typically only read ideas which are supportive of existing beliefs. Few readers have the academic courage to regularly read ideas contrary to their personal beliefs. Thus, bloggers 'preach to the converted,' often without much substance.

Few blog posts receive 'academic' scrutiny. Nor should they for they are not academic papers but blog posts.

I take advantage of my 'bloggers license' regularly. ('Bloggers license' is as empowering and useful as 'poetic license!') However, most good blog posts contain the germs of ideas which, if adequately researched, contain more than a kernel of truth. In this context, good posts are not intended to mislead but, more likely, to question existing paradigms.

On the contrary, there are many in the blogosphere who are 'one trick ponies.' Such bloggers propagate the same idea almost like a broken record. The opinions may vary but the level of intellect at display seldom does. For some, foreign talent is to blame for everything. For others, the government is always at fault. On more global sites, broader themes including China versus the US, Islam versus the US, etc. are commonplace.

In light of irresponsible, often criminally irresponsible, commentary it is with some justification that Singapore's authorities suggest Singapore's social media requires tighter controls. However, an 'authoritative' top down approach misses the critical fact that much of Singapore's 'anonymous' cyber world radicalism is in large part due to the limited size and nature of the domestic mainstream media.

For the most part, Singapore's media is owned and controlled by the government. Most independent observers believe there is self-regulation taking place within the media. If US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks are to be believed, Singapore's print media is more akin to the former Soviet Union's Pravda or Izvestia than an open forum for debate.

Singapore may pride itself on having outpaced Malaysia in most things. Ironically, in the media space Singapore has much to learn from its Northern neighbour. It is not just online websites like Malaysiakini but also the proliferation of other print media news sources which give Malaysia an edge in fostering open debate on important national issues.

Multiple points of view are freely accessible – from the regulated mainstream media sector. Consequently, the 'unregulated' sector tends to either 'self-correct' to maintain credibility – or it becomes irrelevant and fades away over time.

In Singapore, there are more reasons to deregulate the mainstream media than reasons to regulate the social media. As far as the social media is concerned, Singapore's traditional top down regulatory approach is not in the country's long term interests. Instead, more independent mainstream forums for debate might well be the right medicine.

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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com.

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