“He takes comfort from the fact – culled from Mica’s internal survey and corroborated by independent external surveys – that Singaporeans, by and large, are discerning and ‘look at a variety of news sources’” (Mixed Report Card For The New Media, Mr. Loh Chee Kong).
The feature “Mixed Report Card For The New Media” (November 13, 2010) by Mr. Loh Chee Kong: it is interesting for Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) Lui Tuck Yew to opine on international and regional new media instances, though he should be cognisant that Singapore is unique with its new media and socio-political approaches. The absence of viable political engagement, feedback mechanisms, as well as the perceived restrictions on the freedom of speech – coupled with the accessibility of the Internet – has served as fodder for the exponential growth of our online community. The true question now is whether the administration has its ears and feet on the ground, actively gauging sentiments beyond its own established channels.
Minister Lui should be aware that many new media platforms – most commonly in the form of socio-political websites – function as echo chambers; as struggling or disgruntled citizens seek to find solace in the assortment of sentiments. Furthermore, online commentaries are certainly invaluable sources of feedback; with articles constantly providing perspectives in the form of constructive criticisms or policy recommendations. Complementing traditional media, new media encourages Singaporeans to take a more wholesome view on particular national issues, and can have the potential to act as an informal check and balance on the roles and responsibilities of the administration.
The key is not to dismiss online views, or to speedily and pedantically discount their significance in influencing the general populace. Instead, the ministries should be working actively to integrate these opinions so as to better outreach measures and policy implementation. At the same time, the onus is also on readers to discern between fact and fiction, and not take information presented – on-line or off-line – at face value.
In the bigger picture, the proliferation of the new media and its subsidiary elements is a natural response to the Government’s lacklustre approaches in public engagement and gathering feedback. The national feedback agency, Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH), has failed to empower its community of contributors to move beyond mere complaints, and to develop more cogent suggestions. Its affiliation with the administration has stifled many voices, and its occasional passivity has only increased controversy over its accountability and effectiveness. Respective public agencies also need to be more genuinely engaged with on-the-ground concerns to move beyond the status quo, rather than relishing in the comforts of conservatism.
The administration and Mica must keep pace with the new media developments; otherwise, they will ultimately be at the losing end.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.