Of untrue material, politicians lying and blogs which tell the truth

After reading channelnewsasia’s report about what Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said about new media, I will have to agree with Aaron that what the minister said is rather confusing.

It is good that the minister reiterated what Dr Lee Boon Yang had said before – that the government will adopt a “light touch” on what goes on, on the internet. It is also good that Dr Balakrishnan says the government will take “into account the evolution of society.”

However, what remains unknown and un-defined are one, what does the government mean by ‘light touch’? And two, what really does ‘evolution of society’ mean?

Perhaps the government is purposefully leaving these as vague as possible – for whatever reasons.

Lets look at Dr Balakrishnan’s words:

“We are not going in with our eyes closed. Generally, we adopt a ‘light touch approach’. Although there is much offensive and untrue material in cyberspace, there is no need, nor is it practical, to pursue each and every transgression.” (Emphasis are mine)

CNA then reports him as saying:

“Dr Balakrishnan feels the most potent impact the new media will have on politics is that politicians will find it hard to lie in future as there will always be citizens who will publish the truth in blogs or online.” (Emphasis mine)

In the same report, we see the minister saying there is ‘much untrue material’ on the internet but at the same time, the minister is also saying that the internet can prevent politicians from lying by publishing the ‘truth’.

The obvious question one would ask after reading that is: Have politicians lied or been lying to us all this time? And if so, who are these politicians? (I am assuming that the minister is speaking with regards to the Singapore context.) Further, if indeed they have been lying, why didn’t the mainstream media report it? Or is the mainstream media precluded from reporting lies by politicians?

But what is most interesting in Dr Balakrishnan’s remarks is that he tacitly admits that bloggers (and internauts) do know the “truth” and would not hesitate to publish it. This is indeed quite an admission.

Even more intriguing is also the tacit acceptance by the minister that blogs (and bloggers) do have a role to play in letting the truth be known. This is another somewhat momentous concession – even if it is not explicit.

But if we think that we understand where the government stands vis a vis the New Media, Dr Balakrishnan then goes on and confuses us all with this remark, as reported by CNA:

“Similarly, when it comes to alternative lifestyle, sex, nudity, violence or coarse language in cyberspace, the government will practise what is called ‘ceremonial censorship’ – drawing a line in cyberspace but taking into account the evolution of society.”

“Ceremonial censorship”? I am not sure what that means. But as usual, the government is vague on this too. Perhaps the answer can be found in another of the minister’s remarks:

“All we need is the government to selectively target those who pose a clear risk to the real world.”

Does “ceremonial censorship” mean “selectively target(ing) those who pose a clear risk to the real world”?

As far as I can make out, the government has not changed its stance. It remains one of giving out vague and un-defined definitions, and keeping the so-called “OB markers” invisible. The Minister of Home Affairs will have the ‘discretion’ to determine “who pose a clear risk to the real world”, no doubt.

It is therefore interesting to note that the CNA report ends with this:

“Despite the abundance of information in cyberspace, he said there is still a need for journalists in the mainstream media like television, print and radio, to provide the public with accurate, responsible and credible sources of information.”

What the minister is saying is alas nothing new: Cyberspace has ‘much offensive and untrue material” and the place for “accurate, responsible and credible sources of information” are “mainstream media like television, print and radio” – all of which, by the way, are owned by the government.

But well, at least the government now admits that blogs (and bloggers) can prevent politicians from lying. We can only wonder if Dr Balakrishnan has in mind any of those blogs “which will publish the truth”.

Read Aaron’s take on the issue as well here.

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March 2007
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