Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gayle Goh, Mr Wang, and George Yeo

Lately, there has been a bit of a debate around whether those who blog over political issues should step forth into the mainstream media to exchange views with politicians in public.

The debate was sparked over a difference of opinion between Mr Wang and Gayle Goh about whether they should appear on BlogTV.sg's latest episode, "Big Boys Blogging." In particular, Gayle was rather critical of what Mr Wang said in his rejection of the invitation to appear on the show. Here's my take on the debate:

Gayle seems to have a soft spot for the mainstream media. She has participated multiple times on television shows and has written for local broadsheets. She also blogs with her real name, so, she really has little to lose by appearing on TV. In fact, it heightens her profile and helps her in her quest to promote 'engagement' between bloggers and the msm/incumbent politicians. She is also comparatively young, does not yet have a career and/or mouths to feed, and is waiting to enter college. Her life circumstances are very different from Mr Wang and other bloggers whom she critiques.

Mr Wang, in contrast, is a social commentator who prefers to preserve his anonymity. He has a career and a family to take care of. Being several years older than Gayle, he is conscious of the approach that the PAP has taken towards its critics and is cognisant of the risks he might be taking by stepping out into the open and revealing his identity. Given the approach that Lee Kuan Yew and family have taken towards outspoken critics of his regime, Mr Wang probably feels that it is more prudent for him to remain anonymous, rather than step out into the playing ground of the PAP.

As we can see, the two bloggers are in rather different stages in life and have rather different experiences with regards to politics. Gayle comes from a younger generation that is idealistic, optimistic, and has not felt the full force of the authoritarian rule of LKY, and probably does not fully understand the risks a salaried family man takes when becoming a government critic. Mr Wang, meanwhile, has observed the political scene in Singapore somewhat longer and is much more cynical that appearing on TV is worth his time.

Clearly, the two have vastly different experiences and points of view, which probably explains the great difference in opinion and response to the BlogTV invitation.

Interestingly, Gayle says that "[she] entirely disagree[s] with [Mr Wang's] take on this issue." Mr Wang himself has yet to respond to Gayle's post (as of this writing).

Gayle says,

"If we become blase and disinterested, distancing ourselves, then is it really the government's fault when we complain of an affective divide?"
However, she has not factored into her argument that CNA is a government owned media network that is heavily censored in favour of the PAP. While it may be all nice to engage in a conversation, that is only so if the exchange takes place on a fair playing field where both sides have the equal opportunity to make their points and where their statements are not skewed, censored, or misrepresented. The mainstream media in Singapore, however, has a reputation and track record of heavy censorship of anything that portrays the ruling party in a negative light. And because of this, Mr Wang probably has a very strong reason to turn down the invitation to appear on state-controlled television because of the ways he has been misrepresented and/or censored in the past.

Gayle also says,

"The right of reply is a wondrous thing."

And implies that by criticising the establishment from the comfort of his blog and refusing to engage them face to face, Mr Wang is denying them the right of reply. Yet in making her argument Gayle has failed to consider how the PAP have used their monopoly of the mainstream media in Singapore to shape public opinion and debate towards their agenda, without giving the opposition a genuine 'right of reply.' She has also failed to consider that George Yeo and PAP MPs have every opportunity to engage Mr Wang's posts on their own blogs or by leaving comments on Mr Wang's blog - on the internet they have a perfect opportunity to claim their 'right of reply,' an opportunity that they have yet to take advantage of. At the same time, the mainstream media is clearly a skewed playing field without the same opportunity for equal exchange that Gayle asks bloggers to give politicians. Time and again the local daily and its media cousins have not only censored but misrepresented opinions irrelevant to their agenda - critics are well justified if they decide that engaging on an uneven playing field is not worth their time.

Gayle does make several good points, though, one of which is:

"...the opportunity to quiz ministers directly on the issue helps the debate to evolve."
Indeed, few would deny that being able to converse directly with those in power is an exciting and valuable opportunity. Even Mr Wang acknowledged that he "was somewhat tempted." I doubt any would contest that genuine engagement with a minister would enhance political dialogue and citizen participation in politics.

But perhaps if she paused to consider why so many bloggers turned down the opportunity to converse with George Yeo (at least four or five did so, to my knowledge; even Bernard Leong nearly declined the invitation - which would have made Gayle the only participant), Gayle might find cause to temper her criticisms of these bloggers with as much criticism of the media machinery in Singapore.

However, this post may have too much Gayle bashing. Perhaps she is right, and the other "notoriously uncontactable bloggers" are all wrong. Perhaps her youthful idealism and optimism will pay dividends when she "ask[ed George] about opposition politicians and new media like podcasts and (tongue-in-cheek) sound amplification devices in public." If, and when, "these things... ..survive the cuts and edits," I will be more than pleased to have my arguments proven wrong, and for Gayle's efforts to herald a new era in political engagement between ordinary citizens and ministers in the mainstream media.

Your Danse Macabre
Talk of the Town
Teaser to "Big Boys Blogging"

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