Politicized Blogging in Singapore: Democracy and Community Elaine Tan Shek Yan Nanyang Technological University

doctorlanguidInternet and Web Development

Dec 8, 2013 (3 years and 10 months ago)

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Politicized Blogging in Singapore:Democracy and Community

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Politicized
Blogging in Singapore:

Democracy and
Community


Elaine Tan Shek Yan

Nanyang Technological University




The ease of
online publishing has resulted in an exponential increase i
n

blogs
’ (or
‘weblogs’)
,

“frequently updated [webpages] with d
ated entries, new ones paced on top.” (Blood
2002a, ix)

Th
is paper

looks at the
emergence and impact of

politicized blogs in Singapore. This
paper

identifies several

problems faced by Singapore, namely, restrictions on the exercise of
democratic freedoms,
political apathy, and the challenge of consolidating a sense of Singaporean
identity and community
, and argues
that politicized blogs have
the

potential

(as yet unfulfilled)

of mitiga
ting these problems.

Singapore
:

Media

and Politics

The US Dept of State’s

2005 Country Report on Human Rights
Practices
alleges that
despite
constitutional protection of the freedom of speech, “
in practice the
[Singapore]
government
significantly restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press.” (US Dept of State 2006
,
un
der

Section 2: Freedom of Press and Speech

)

Government

control of the media is
justified
by the perception
that control of information is of strategic importance.
(Rodan 2004, 51)

I
n
Singapore,
an “‘ideology of survival’ has served as the basic concept f
or the rationalisation of
state policies that extend beyond economics to other spheres of social life.”
(Chua

1995
, 4)

Singapore is
seen, or portrayed to be in
constant
danger of succumbing t
o racial or religious
tensions,
and as being vulnerable

due to its

reliance on foreign

trade and investment.
(Mauzy and
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Milne 1990, 175
; Eng and Stratton 1995, 183
)

Singapore’s leaders, perceiving a constant danger
of the disintegration of state and social order, see nation
-
building and the consolidation of a
strong sens
e of national identity and community as an important task.

D
issenting voices

in the
media

are portrayed as
endangering the nation
-
building project
, because politics i
s

a precarious
affair, and

best left to
professional

practitioners
. (Baber 2005, 63)

L
egal

restrictions on the

media
include the

Newspaper and Printing Presses Act
, which
requires newspapers and printing presses to apply for a license with the authorities, as well as t
he
Undesirable Publications Act
, which

“prohibits the importation, distributi
on and reproduction of
undesirable publications,”
including

“obscene publications
” as well as
publications that might
have a negative impact on Singapore’s racial and religious harmony. (Media Development
Authority
(MDA)
2004)

However, the restrictions on
press freedom in Singapore go beyond the
law.



‘Out
-
of
-
bounds markers’ demarcate the realm of acce
ptable commentary from that of
subversive

activism.

(Baber 2005, 62)

T
he exact
boundaries of acceptable
behavior
, though, tend
to be unclear
, leading to a ge
neral perception that
instead of risking violation of these sacred
boundaries,
it is better to refrain from political comme
ntary and activism altogether
.

This climate
of fear has resulted in self
-
censorship in the mainstream press.

(US Dept of State 2006,
under
“Section 2: Freedom of Press and Speech”)

It has

also resulted in
political apathy among the
wider population. This political apathy has become an increasing source of concern, as
evidenced by Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam
’s comments that

students should
challenge ‘out
-
of
-
bounds markers’ and that
“social and political apathy among the young posed
long
-
term risks to community cohesion.” (The Straits Times 2005).

Political apathy,
with its
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adjuncts of non
-
involvement in the community and ign
orance of societal issues,

is seen as a
threat to the nation
-
building project.

Singapore
: The

Blog
ging

Scene

It is in this political context that t
he Singapore
an

blogosphere has ex
panded rapidly
.

Singapore

has

seen

the rise of blog ‘celebrities’

such as

th
e brash and
controversial

Wendy Cheng (aka
‘Xiaxue

), a
s well as media darling Dawn Yang
.
However, while
bloggers

like Cheng and Yang

might, from time to time, venture into the realm of politics and social commentary, their weblogs
remain largely apolitica
l, centring
on

their personal lives and thoughts.

Yee Yong Cheong, however, points to a
n entirely different type of
blogger

in his study of
‘weblog journalism’
.

Such bloggers are self
-
consciously political, and “utilize the medium to
challenge the authorit
y of elites by disseminating counter
-
hegemonic alternative news and
commentary.” (Yee 2006, 2) This category of bloggers would include the immensely popular
Lee Kim Mun

(‘Mr Brown

), Benjamin Lee (‘
Mr Miyagi’
)
,
who collaborates with Mr Brown on
a popular p
odcast, ‘The Mr Brown Show’
, and

Mr Wang
’.
1

My subsequent analysis will focus

on

this category of

politicized

blogs and bloggers
.
2

Weblogs and Democracy
in Singapore

For the advocates of computer mediated communications (CMCs), such
technologies

“[hold] t
he
key to the enhancement of the democratic aspects of the political process and to the creation of
new opportunities for citizen participation in the local and national political spheres.” (Bryan et
al. 1998, 2)

According to these

advocates, the Internet
has “prompted less hierarchical discourses,
characterised by the prospect of more intense archical discourses, visible
-
ness, public
-
ness and
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open
-
ness.” (Malina 1999, 23).

Any person possessing the technology is able to publish his
opinions and engage with

other ‘participants’,
and
therefore, “passive reception of information
will be replaced by active discovery of it.” (Bryan et al. 1998, 7)

T
he Internet
can encourage

deliberative democracy
because it facilitates
the
publication
and discussion
of alternati
ve ideas.

If the
democratic potential

of the Internet lie
s

in

individuals’

(theoretical
ly
)

unhindered

ability to access and publish information and opinions
,
t
hen the blog

must b
e

the Internet’s
poster
-
boy for democracy
.

Recognizing the democratic potentia
l of the blog, Reporters San
Frontières
has published a handbook on blogs and activism
. (Reporters San
s

Frontières 2005)
Blogs fulfil a deliberative function (allowing democratic exchanges between individuals), as well
as an informative one (providing alte
rnative, often critical opinions and encouraging awareness
of hegemonic discourses).

The

structural
characteristic
s of a blo
g are conducive to deliberative democracy
.
A

blog
usually
consists of entries

in chronological order
, a list of archived entries, an
d a
blogroll (
a
list
of hyperlinks to the blogger’
s

favourite or most frequented sites/blogs
)
. Often, visitors
are able to

leave comments (
either through

a comment function for each blog entry, or a permanent
tagboard for the entire blog),
and ‘
trackback
s’

(
hyperlinks to entries from other blogs
)

facilitate
continued discussion
. These structural features allow a “democratic exchange of ideas and
opinions,” as bloggers are able to conduct lengthy dialogues with reference to each other’s
positions. (Yee 2006,

40
-
41; Lasica 2002b, 10)

Yee has
also
argued that

blogs’ characteristics of

decapitalization,
de
institutionalization,
and
deprofessionalization
are conducive to the establishment of a Habermasian deliberative
democracy
.
The low costs of publishing, freedo
m from the mainstream media’s “bureaucratic
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hierarchies”,
blindness to race, gender and class
, as well as the rejection of the superficial
objectivity of mainstream media for an “explicit subjectivity” have contributed to the democratic
credentials of blog
s. (Yee 2006, 36
-
40)

There is no need to
detail

Yee’s arguments
here except to
note
that the three characteristics listed by Yee give blogs the potential to break free from the
constraints

prevalent in the mainstream media
, and

to provide alternative point
s of view.

T
he utopian view of the Internet
, however,

has been criticiz
ed.

C
ritics
point to

factors
undermining, or even subverting the democratic potential of the Internet. These

include

the
existence of
digital divide
s
, citizens’ un
willingness to partici
pate in political discussion, the
potential for government surveillance and propaganda, and a lack of influence in the ‘real’ world.
(Rice 2002; Robins and Webster 2006, 92
-
100; Hague and Loader 1999, 11)

These criticisms
highlight the fact that c
onclusion
s about the impact of blogging cannot be drawn from an
analysis of the intrinsic characteristics of the technology itself. Hence, an examination of the
se

limitations on the democratic potential of weblogs in Singapore is in order.

Digital Divide

and Margi
nalisation
.

Without access to a computer and the internet, a section of
the population is excluded from
the
democratic participation

made possible by the Internet
.
In
January 1997, there were
139,000
residential
internet dial
-
up subscribers

in
Singapore
,

b
ut by
September 2006,

this figure had increased to
1,495,500
.

(IDA 2006)

Singaporeans, therefore,
have
been quick to embrace

the Internet.

However, the IDA also
estimates that
14 percent of
households

with school
-
going children do not
have computers at hom
e
,

indicating

a digital
divide in Singapore
.

(IDA
2003)

Fortunately, th
e government has been

pro
-
acti
ve in
bridging

the digital divide
, aiming
to
provide internet access and
a computer to

all household
s

with school
-
going children by 2015,
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and
getting the d
isabled and the elderly connected to the Internet.

(IDA 2
003
)

Moreover,
Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has launched a Master Plan for IT in Education that
aims to provide “access to an IT
-
enriched school environment for every child,” and achieve a

pupil
-
computer ratio of 2:1. (MOE 2004)
I
t is likely that youths will be increasingly exposed to
the Internet in their schools.
The government’s efforts in this area seem sincere,
for, as
Baber
argues, Singapore perceives the need to “gear up for the chal
lenge of tapping into manufacturing
with a sophisticat
ed technological base,


and technology “is seen to be the key to economic
survival and social stability.”
(Baber 2005, 63
; Lim 2005, 55
)

It is
unrealistic to e
xpect
government policy to solve the proble
m of the digital divide
.

Internet technologies
evolve too
rapidly for policy and social change to keep up
.

It is, however, reasonable to expect further
penetration of the

Internet into households and
greater access to
blogs

by a larger section of the
popul
ation

in Singapore
.

Another type of digital divide

is
characterized, not by differences in access to technology,
but
by
differences in technical knowledge.

Traditionally,
usage of
the Internet has been

dominated by
“adept users.”

(Archee 2000, 216)

The lau
nch of the
user
-
friendly

platforms like
Blogger
, however,

allows

individuals without any technical know
-
how to publish their thoughts
easily. This mitigates the digital divide between ‘techies’ and ‘newbies’, since extensive (and
expensively acquired) tech
nological know
-
how is no longer a barrier to ‘entry’ on the Internet

and to democratic exchanges online
.


Surveillance and Censorship
.

The presence of government surveillance and censorship
limiting
freedom of speech online
would constitute

a significant o
bstacle to
the fulfilment of the
democratic potential of
politicized
blogs.

Censorship and self
-
censorship, as argued above, are
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prevalent in the mainstream media

and Singaporean society

in general
.
However, this section
argues
that
politicized
blogs

are n
ot overly constrained by censorship, and instead,

can play

an
important role in reducing the
negative
impact
s

of surveillance and censorship.

While filtering of ‘undesirable’ sites is minimal, the
Singapore
government makes use of
“access controls (such as

requiring political sites to register for a license) and legal pressures
(such as defamation lawsuits and the threat of imprisonment) to prevent people from posting
objectionable

content.” (OpenNet Initiative 2005,
3)

The
presence of such controls

has

res
ulted
in

(perhaps overly paranoid)

self
-
censorship
by
the majority of
bloggers
unwill
ing to test the
waters at

substantial

personal risk.


T
he perception of blogs as mere ‘internet

chatter’

though,

seems to have protected
bloggers from strict media control

by the government.

(
Ng

2006)

That there is significant
freedom on the Internet in general and
on

blogs in particula
r is evidenced by
the
activity in the
Singapore
an

blogosphere during the 2006 elections. Lee Kim Mun continued to put up
tongue
-
in
-
cheek
“pe
rsistently non
-
political po
dcasts
,


and online discussion of local politics and the
elections boomed
despite
the Parliamentary Elections Act regulating political campaigning
during the elections
. (The Straits Times 2006
d)

The lack of prosecution seems to
s
ignal the
government’s “lighter touch” towards
bloggers
.
(Ng 2006)
Now that a few bloggers have proven
that they can
get away with pushing the boundaries
,

it is likely that

more would be enc
ouraged to
relax their self
-
censorship
.
Hence
, much has to be said

for
outspoken
bloggers doing much of

what alternative
media

web
sites

like Think Centre does,

“clarifying the political boundaries” by
“[opera
ting] at the edge of the system

and reporting the results
.
” (George 2006, 137)

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One of the early pioneers of
online

activism in Singapore
, Think Centre
adopted

the

practice of using t
he

internet

to publicize all their correspondence with officials, with the aim of
increasing various agencies’ levels of public accountability.” (George 2006, 126
-
7) This practice
of putt
ing
government

actions

under the surveillance of the online community
has been
continued by bloggers. In two articles criticizing the MDA’s censorship of art, the site, Yawning
Bread run by Alex Au, detailed the difficulties artists had to face to exhibit
their works.
(Yawning Bread 2006; Siew 2006)
Surveillance is not a one
-
way process, because surveillance
of the government is made possible by th
e publishing technologies
.
Cherian George argues that
this “[demystifies] the process” of organizing public eve
nts, and turns the entire process into a
“spectacle.” (George 2006, 127) This then,
empowers people, and
has the potential effect of
making people less

fearful

of
engaging in activism

The activi
ties of bloggers, therefore, have

done much to clarify
‘out
-
of
-
bounds
’ markers
.
This
mitigates

the climate of fear

in Singapore
, and can result in a more politically active
citizenry
.

Bryan et al. suggest that a possible reason for political apathy is the lack of “a public
sphere in which citizens could freely engage

in deliberation and public debate.” (1998, 4)

Iron
ically

therefore
,
politicized

blog
s
that are highly critical of government policies

might

not
only contribute to democratic consolidation, but might also

be part of the solution to the political
apathy tha
t Singapore’s government finds so disturbing.

T
he Influence of Weblogs
.

A major

question revolves around the potential
and actual
impact of
weblogs on
society
.

Lasica claims that “[weblogging] will drive a powerful new form of amateur
journalism as million
s of Net users


young people especially


take on the role of columnist,
reporter, analyst, and publisher while fashioning their own personal broadcasting networks.”
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(2002a, 163
-
4) However,
Singaporean

bloggers who
self
-
consciously engage in

consistent
po
litical dialogue are a small minority.

The majority of Singapore’s bloggers
tend to be inward
-
looking,

[
us
ing]

the blog as an online journal to document their

everyday lives.” (Yee 2006, 2)

Presumably, such blogs do not have much democratic potential
, for

they neither contest
hegemonic discourses nor encourage discussion about political issues
.
The apolitical nature of
most blogs means that
the debates and exchanges so central to deliberative democracy are
restricted to only a small minority. However, a
re
blogs
still

able to play the role
s

of
provid
ing an
alternative

to mainstream media

and rais
ing

social awareness
?

Lin and
Webster, surveying
the top two hundred sites in Nielsen/NetRatings,
find
that
“[internet] audiences are highly concentrated in a relati
vely small number of sites.” (2002, 10)

This suggests that
a small number of websites can have
a disproportionate impact on an

e
-
audience.

Without an extensive offline survey, it is difficult to de
termine the
level and domain
influence of
the

small minorit
y of poli
ticized bloggers
.

However, the
local and international
media a
ttention
given to a few prominent

politicized
bloggers

is an indication that such
blogs are
not entirely without influence.
4


Popular politicized

bloggers
tend to
combine humour and sat
ire with politics in their
blogs.

Unlike the rather staid and serious tone of the ‘professional’ mainstream media,
these
bloggers present news and opinions in a colourful and entertaining way
, often using Singlish and
dialects to great effect
.

They also ma
ke
use of
advances in
publishing technologies, putting
visual and audio clips online.
The entertainment value
and accessibility
of such blogs allows
them to
draw

a wider, less politically aware
Singaporean majority

to political issues, sometimes
self
-
consc
iously
.

Lee Kim Mun comments

that
while politics might be serious business
, “
if a
side effect of our humour is that it gets young people interested in what’s going on, that’s good.”
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(Straits Times 2006
a
)

An indication of the success of the use of humour is

the

popularity of the
bak chor mee

podcast by Lee Kim Mun and Benjamin Lee satirizing the James Gomez saga.
3

(The Straits Times 2006a)

The attainment of ‘celebrity status’ means that
politicized
bloggers

can exercise influence

disproportionate to their nu
mbers
. Apart from being an indication of popularity, attention from
the mainstream media is also a causal factor in itself, and is likely to spur greater
popular
interest
in

the blogs in question
. C
elebrity
bloggers are, therefore,

in position to become no
rm
entrepreneurs

and promote

views

and perspectiv
es
; t
hey

have the potential ability to mobilize
public opinion, overcome political apathy, and set the political agenda.

While there has been no survey documenting the impact of politicized bloggers on
socie
ty,
o
ne can
already discern

the
impact of the blogging community

in the recent ‘Wee Shu
Min saga’
.
5

Wh
at is interesting is

how t
he entire episode started on the Internet
, and how
subsequent developments were heavily influenced by public opinion expressed o
nline.

Derek
Wee’s original

letter

expressing the worries and uncertainty

of

Singaporeans

was

rejected

for
publication

by the mainstream media,
but
fou
nd a voice through his blog.

(Derek Wee 2006)
Wee Shu Min’s
blog entry was

first
brought to popular atten
tion
on
an

online forum,
and then
linked to
and reproduced
by
outraged
bloggers
.
(
chenghuwului 2006)
Subsequently, the debate
spilled over to the mainstream media, and
Wee Shu Min’s father,

MP Wee Siew Kim
,

has since

had to apologize twice

after bloggers d
eemed his first apology insincere. (The Straits Times
2006b)
The
incident
even merited an indirect reference in

the
2

Nov
ember

2006
President’s
Address
, which acknowledged concerns about
social and economic inequalities
, and justified the
government’s deci
sion not to pursue welfare schemes. (The Straits Times 2006c)

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It is too ambitious to expect a turn
-
around in government policies as a result of online
activism; such a development might even endanger democratic consolidation by pu
tting policy in
the hands
of the loudest mouths on the Internet
. However, t
he ‘Wee Shu Min saga’ seems to
demonstrate the democratic potential of weblogs as both a way in which the marginalized can be
heard, and a method of mo
bilizing public opinion. Nevertheless
, caution is needed
, for the Wee
Shu Min saga
is a rare case, and it
was a case in which a blog clea
rly offended public
sensibilitie
s. Similarly, Mr Brown’s
bak chor mee

podcast was but a reflection of

the sentiments
of a

public fed
-
up with the James

Gomez incident
. Certainl
y, that weblogs are able to reflect
public sentiment back to society and government is a po
sitive development
. However,
a true
indication

of a mature

democracy
, however, is the serious discussion, both on
-

and offline, of

controversial

issues that might of
fend public sensitiv
ities
.

At present, the spill
-
over from blogs
into the mainstream media has been limited to cases in which the public
wa
s generally united
.

Again, we see that t
he
presence

of blogging technology
alone is insufficient in democratic
consol
idation. Much

is contingent
upon the technology’s

situation in a society that has a strong,
embedded culture of democratic debates and tolerance. This is, unfortunately, not the case in
Singapore.

Weblogs

and
Community

in Singapore

Early communication theo
rists’ concerns about

the de
-
territorial
izing potential of the Internet are
typified

by
Ray Archee’s worry that “when we are creating a community with our associates
across the other side of the world, we are ignoring our neighbours, our families and our f
riend
s”
.
(2000, 212)

Thi
s concern is unfounded, at least amongst the vocal, politicized bloggers that we
have been talking about.

Politicized

blogs
not only discuss local politics, but also
tend

to

self
-
conscious
identify with the Singaporean nation
.

A qui
ck survey of
the

blog titles

of politicized
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blogs

suggests
a
n explicit Singaporean identity
.
6

This self
-
identification manifests itself not only
in blog titles, bu
t also in the consciousness of the existence of a

Singaporean blogging
community.

The blog ‘T
he Intelligent Singaporean,’ for example, describes itself as ‘Powered by
the Singapore
an B
logosphere,’ and
its ‘daily reads’ posts feature hyperlinks

to other Singaporean
blogs.

Politicized

blogs

highly critical of Singaporean

society and government

seem
,

i
ronically

but unsurprisingly

(since the focus on local politics presupposes a deep concern with
Singaporean issues)
, to have a strong sense of
Singaporean
national identity.

The

Singaporean blogosphere
, given its influence and self
-
identification,

might
have a
role to play in
the government’s nation
-
building project.

One way in which the blogging
community has already
contributed to the nation
-
building project

is through the patriotic
g
estures
by influential bloggers that appeal more than the ‘manufacture
d’ patriotism associated with
National Day Parades

and other government
-
sponsored initiatives.

The ‘I am Singaporean’
p
odcasts posted on the Mr Brown S
how site, for example, invited
Singaporeans to post their own
podcasts onlin
e, and to track
back t
o the si
te
. (
the mrbrown show 2006
a, 2006b
)

A search on
Technocrati
conducted on 9 Nov 2006
lists 108
blog entries using the

‘iamsingaporean


tag,
including entries

inspired by the original podcasts on the Mr Brown Show
.
7

Educati
on Min
ister Tharman has argued that


[o
ne
]

does not develop a conviction and
commitment to a society without first questioning and pushing the boundaries.” (The Straits
Times 2005)

This statement suggests a link between democracy and nationalism.

By this logic,
the

politicized
blogging comm
unity,
by
“questioning and pushing the boundaries” would have
fostered
a strong

sense of Singaporean identity.

T
hrough the impact of blogs on social and
political awareness

of Singaporeans, this effect can
also
spill over to non
-
bloggers.

The increase
d

awa
reness and sense of empowerment in pushing the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ debate and
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behaviour in Singapore fostered by the blogging community

(discussed above)

can develop a
sense of belonging to the community, and this is perhaps, the area in which the b
logging
community
has

the greatest potential
role
in the nation
-
building project.

The role of the
blogosphere in eroding political apathy is therefore linked to a potenti
al role in fostering a sense
of community
.

However, this paper refrains from suggestin
g that the Singaporean blogosphere
has an inevitably positive or significant impact on nation
-
building
.

B
ecause of the critical nature
of politicized blogs, there is a high possibility that such blogs could foster disillusionment with
(instead o
f greater c
ommitment to) Singapore
.

Also,
there has been too little research to
determine
the impact

of the Singaporean blogosphere on
the consciousness of Singaporeans.

Government
and
Mainstream Media Response
s

Despite the continued

overwhelming

dominance of mainstr
eam media, blogs

have been viewed
as a challenge by both a government seeking to defend its policies against criticism and
a
mainstream media seeking to protect its share of the market. (
The Straits Times 2006f)

Apart
from surveillance and censorship (disc
ussed above), o
ne response by the government and the
mainstream media has been to relegate weblogs to a secondary, trivial form of communication
that lacks credibility.

The type
-
casting of online discussion as ‘internet chatter’,
has protected

bloggers
fro
m censorship (as discussed above),
but has also
the possible effect of undermining

the credibility of online discussion and sources of information.
Minister of Information,
Communication and the Arts Dr Lee Boon Yang’s comments that the mainstream media ha
s an
important role in nation
-
building
,

and must
therefore
“report accurately, objectively and
responsibly” suggests that alternative media like blogs are marginal, inaccurate, subjective, and
irresponsible.
(
Ng

2006)


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However, the popularity
and influence

certain blogs

enjoy

makes attempts to marginalize
blogs as
‘internet chatter’

unsuccessful. In addition,
politicized bloggers tend to have
in
-
de
pth
knowledge of local politics.

In some cases, an amateur interest in the subject fuels research. In
others, t
he interest is professional, as well
-
known academics like C
herian George and Tan Tarn
Howe
and lawyers like ‘Mr Wang’

draw on their specialist

knowledge in their bloging
.

Yee also
finds that in contrast to the
stereotyping of bloggers as lacking objectivit
y
, irresponsible and
inaccurate, many Singapore bloggers have “a conservative preference for a blogging style that
espouse the hallowed neutrality of mainstream journalism.”
(2006, 55)

Furthermore, the
structure
of the
blog allows long
, substantive

entries

that link to other sites to substantiate arguments or
elaborate on points.
Dialogue is productive because comment functions
and trackbacks make it
poss
ible for individual to post extended
, considered responses to blog entries.

Politicized

blogs
therefore
have the space and time to explore and explain issues that the commercial mainstream
media, struggling to keep up with the latest news, does not.
Given all these
, i
t
is
difficult to
dismiss

politicized

blogs as mere ‘internet chatter’
.

In fact, one suspect
s that even if blogs are
successfully type
-
casted as marginal and unreliable sources of information, the entertainment
value of politicized blogs would ensure their continued influence.

Another response by government and mainstream media has been to
recogn
ise the
potential of blogging, and
to
attempt to use the concept and technology of blogging to compete
with

politicised

bloggers

in order to further their political or economic aims
.

A group of
government workers ha
s banded together to form the ‘G
ahmen blo
ggers’

on their own initiative.
(
The Straits Times

2006
e
)

More significant are corporate initiatives like Youth.sg, a site created
by the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports targeted at youths,
and
STOMP

(Straits Times
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Politicized Blogging in Singapore:Democracy and Community

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15

Online Mobile Print)
, a site crea
ted by
Singapore Press Holdings, which includes a ‘Star Blogs’
section featuring

blogs on weekly topics
written
by

local celebrities
.

It is not impossible
for corporate or government

blogs to

achieve some degree of success

in reaching out to
the people

and

promoting corporate discourses
. However,
p
oliticized blogs
and
other alternative media
tend to command
a niche

market

that mainstream media and
governmen
ts would
have difficulty

break
ing

into
.

Cherian George posits that members and
supporters of Think Cen
tre “probably get a sense of empowerment from their irreverent method
of responding to critics.” (George 2006, 133)

Similarly, a large part of the attraction of
politicized blogs is probably the irreverent
and critical
at
titudes of such bloggers that gover
nment
and mainstream media would find difficult to imitate.

Furthermore, “[a] huge part of blogs’
appeal [to readers] lies in their unmediated quality.” (Lasica 2002b, 171)

Corporate blogs are
unlikely to

possess the same

appeal, as they

are likely to toe
the official line, and
might be
subject to editorial censorship.

STOMP, for
example, limits its ‘star blog
s’ to discussion of pre
-
set weekly topics,
thus
detract
ing

from the spontaneity and creative freedom usually associated
w
ith blogs.

After PM Lee menti
oned the site during his 2006 National Day Rally speech,
TalkingCock,
‘Singapore’s Premier Satirical Humour Website’,
published a tongue
-
in
-
cheek
article lamenting a “massive shrinkage” and “loss in street cred”. (2006)
It seems that a
significant appeal o
f politicised blogs or alternative media websites

is precisely that they are not
endorsed by the ‘authorities’.

The mainstream media and th
e government
bloggers
cannot hope
to

win a ‘personality cult’ show
-
down with politicized bloggers
. Richard Sambrooks
argues that

[it] would be a big mistake for MSM [or mainstream media
] to try to

match the blogs.


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Politicized Blogging in Singapore:Democracy and Community

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(
Reynolds

2006)

The same holds true for governments. Neither the big media corporations nor
governments have the same flexibility, freedom and appeal as
indi
vidual
bloggers.
N
or do they
seem to be able to marginalize bloggers altogether.

I have argued above that given the right conditions, a politicized blogging community has,
not just democratic potential, but also the potential to overcome political apathy a
nd create a
sense of community amongst Singaporeans.
Unless

the

government
is prepared to give up the
potential benefits from an active blogging community
and
endure the negative

international

attention to impose

drac
onian censorship of
blogs,
the

governme
nt’s

best option would be to
learn to be comfortable with
politicized blogging in Singapore.

Conclusion

W
hile blogs have made their impact on the media and social consciousness
, academic research
has not kept up with social and technological developments.
There rema
ins a dearth in literature
on

blogs in Singapore, and large
-
n quantitative studies of Singapore
an

blogs and
e
-
audiences are
sorely needed.

The lack of statistics means that t
his paper
can only be

a preliminary study

of
politicized blogging in Sin
gapore
.
R
ecent events
seem to
suggest

that while only a relatively
small number of individuals might make use of the deliberative function of blogs, blogs can

still

have

an impact on the social agenda

and inspire
interest in politics
.

A
t the moment,

though
,

the
democratic and nation
-
building potential of politicized bl
ogs remains
that


mere potential
.

The
presence of blogging technology
alone
does not inevitably lead to democracy or community.

W
hether the potential of blogs is fulfilled depends on the acti
ons and attitudes of bloggers,
regulators, as well as the larger Singaporean society.

It should
also
be appreciated that blogs are,
on their own, insufficient i
n fostering a democratic culture, strengthening democratic institutions,
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or building a sense of
community
.
Blogging
technology alone is no substitute for
political and
social change

to protect civil liberties and inculcate a strong democratic culture at all levels of
society.


Notes

1.

Lee Kim Mun publishes a blog under the pseudonym ‘Mr Brown’
(
http://mrbrown.blogs.com/blog/

) as well as a podcast blog in collaboration with Benjamin
Lee (
http://mrbrownshow.com/

). Benjamin Lee, or ‘Mr Miyagi’ has a separate blog
at
http://miyagi.sg/
, while ‘Mr Wang,’ a pseudonym, is a lawyer who blogs at
http://commentarysingapore.blogspot.com/
.

2.

I have elected to use the term ‘politicized blo
gs’ instead of Yee’s ‘weblog journalism’ to
avoid the debate over whether bloggers who do not necessarily uphold professional
journalistic standards of objectivity are in fact journalists. The debate, while interesting, has
been

already

analysed in

Yee’s p
aper (2006)
. The description of such blogs as ‘politicized’
should be sufficient to convey the idea that such blogs are self
-
consciously political and
critical.

3.

The James Gomez saga refers to the 2006 elections controversy surrounding opposition
politician
, James Gomez’s failure to submit his minority candidate registration form for his
candidature. Gomez had insisted that he had submitted the form until CCTVs showed
otherwise. While the mistake was Gomez’s, PAP officials’ insistence on harping on the issue

turned p
ublic opinion against them. (Channelnewsasia.com 2006)

The
bak chor mee
podcast was so popular that it was downloaded 30,000 times in three days,
and was even mentioned during PM Lee Hsien Loong’s 2006 National Day Rally
speech
.
(The Straits Times

2006a; Forss and Loh 2006)

4.

Lee Kim Mun, Benjamin Lee and Wayne Soon (who contributes to the collaborative blog,
Singaporeangle) have written columns in Today, a free newspaper. Reporters Sans Frontières
has also criticized Today’s decision to end Lee Kim
Mun’s column after an offending article
drew criticism from the government. (Reporters Sans Frontières 2006)

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5.

A recent public debate was triggered by a blog entry written on 19 Oct 2006 by Wee Shu
Min, a student at a top school and daughter of MP Wee Siew K
im. Her remarks were
directed at a fellow blogger Derek Wee who had posted a letter rejected by The Straits Times
forum on his blog expressing worries about the future of Singapore. Wee Shu Min’s remarks
were widely regarded as insensitive and uncaring, an
d
they spurred

a discussion on elitism
and inequality in Singapore. (Paulo 2006)

6.

Such blog titles include ‘From a Singapore Angle’ (
http://singaporeangle.blogspot.com
),
‘Singabloodypore’ (
http://singabloodypore.blogspot.com/
), ‘Diary of a Singaporean Mind’
(
http://singaporemind.blogspot.com/
), ‘Singaland’ (
http://singaland.blogspotlcom

), ‘A Xeno
Boy in Sg’ (
http://xenoboysg.blogspot.com/

), ‘Useless rantings of a few disgruntled
S’poreans’ (
http://disgru
ntledsporean.blogspot.com/

), ‘No political films please, we’re
Singaporeans’ (
http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com/

), ‘Singapore Media Watch’
(
http://me
diawatchsg.blogspot.com/

), ‘Singapore Patriot’
(
http://singaporepatriot.blogspot.com/

).
These

blogs were found simply by following the
links on blogrolls.

7.

A sample of such spin
-
offs include posts on

‘neither a bird nor a fruit’
(
http://kiwie.wordpress.com/2006/07/09/i
-
am
-
singaporean/

), ‘Ronnie & the Right Track’
(
http://crumpiteer.blogspot.com/2006/07/i
-
am
-
singaporean
-
ronnies
-
version.html

), ‘earthdust
and stardust II’ (
http://earthdustandstardustii
.blogspot.com/2006/07/i
-
am
-
singaporean.html

)
.

This is not an exhaustive list of entries inspired by the original podcast.


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