Noticed that Here Comes Everybody includes a brief mention of Singapore in pgs 209/210.

“Many countries place restrictions on the media in the run-up to elections, but this raises the question of who “the media”is today and what controls should be put on them. Different countries are coming up with different answers — Singapore banned blogging during the last few weeks before a 2005 election but couldn’t control Singaporeans blogging overseas …”

First, a couple of clarifications.  The said events actually took place in April 2006, and the ban was actually against podcasting of political content.

Singapore has Election Advertising Regulations which allow only political parties, candidates and election agents to advertise. The prohibition announcement was the government’s (somewhat less than adroit) attempt to ensure that netizens conform to this regulation.

Blogging on politics per se was not prohibited, although the government did announce that individual bloggers “have to register with the Media Development Agency if they persistently promote political views.”  The government’s view was that individuals should not hide behind the anonymity of the internet to manipulate public opinion.  Such a move, of course, led to vociferous responses from the local blogging community.

And from my own observations, Singaporeans bloggers, at home and abroad (who knows, really?), continued to post regularly on the campaigning. (For more details, see the news article appended below)

Clarifications notwithstanding, I agree with Shirky on how the freedoms which the digital age brings can damage current social bargains (described as the second kind of loss under Solving Social Dilemmas). For Singapore politics, this is a particularly relevant point.

You see, the press in Singapore is not seen as a watchdog, but more as a nation building tool. The dominant media companies are government-linked corporations, and consequently, local journalists observe out-of-bound markers in their reporting.

All fine and good, but as Shirky points out, the Internet (and blogosphere in particular) has blurred the definition of what a journalist is.

The government believes that citizens are entitled to their views, but must be prepared to defend them.  On the other hand, local netizens are aware that government leaders have taken some opposition politicians and (foreign) journalists to court for libel/slander, and some remain behind the cloak of anonymity that the medium allows.

The next general election in Singapore will have to be held in the next 18 months. What will be rules of engagement be this time? I am not sure. The one thing that is clear is that with new media like Facebook and Twitter, the rules may have to be updated with every election.

Afternote:
Just listened to Ariana Huffington (of the Huffington Post) at the Shorenstein Center today (14Sep). She highlighted the importance of trust in new media and shared how the Huffington Post had pre-moderated all its comments despite having meagre resources in its early days so as to ensure civil discourse.

The issue of trust is in fact central to online political debate in Singapore.  The government believes that political commentary should not be anonymous, but some bloggers continue to hide behind pseudonyms.  This said, there are many Singapore bloggers who put their names (and faces) behind their words, and in fact, there are already contenders for Singapore’s version of the Post, such as The Online Citizen.

The issue, it seems, is whether trust can exist alongside anonymity in the political blogosphere.

______

Podcasting is not allowed during elections
By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia
03 April 2006 1806hrs (GMT +8hrs)

Podcasting will not be allowed during elections as it does not fall under the “positive list” which states what is allowed under election advertising.

Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan added that streaming of videos during campaigning would also be prohibited.

He was addressing a question in Parliament on Monday about the use of new technologies on the internet during hustings.

Pictures of candidates, party histories and manifestos are on the “positive list” and are allowed to be used as election advertising on the internet.

Newer internet tools like podcasting do not fall within this “positive list”.

Dr Balaji said: “There are also some well-known local blogs run by private individuals who have ventured into podcasting. The content of some of these podcasts can be quite entertaining. However, the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations. A similar prohibition would apply to the videocasting or video streaming of explicitly political content.”

The Parliamentary Election Act was amended in 2001 to allow political parties to advertise on the internet.

This was to ensure responsible use of the internet during campaigning as the free-for all environment of the internet is open to abuse.

Dr Balaji added that individual bloggers can discuss politics, but have to register with the Media Development Agency if they persistently promote political views.

When registered, they’re then not allowed to advertise during elections – something only political parties, candidates and election agents are allowed to do only.

Despite new internet technology, there’re no plans to change the law on campaigning on line during an election.

The government’s view is that people can have diverse views, but should not hide behind the anonymity of the internet, to manipulate public opinion.

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