From TODAY, May 23, 2008:

Alicia Wong
[email protected]

THERE is Reach, then there is Rap. But where is the all-important Response?

It was a civil servant who put that sharp question to a minister at a new media conference yesterday, wanting to know what is the result of the public response to government policies that go to the feedback agency.

Implicit in the question from Ms Kathryn Ng, director of market development at SingHealth, to Minster for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan was this: Does it all end in a big, dark hole?

She followed up by highlighting two things:

If the public is told what happens to their feedback, it will go a great way in building better trust between the ruler and ruled.

And with the proliferation of new communication technologies and techniques, what better tool than the new media to show that the citizens’ views are being listened to and acted upon?

Conceding the point, Dr Balakrishnan said: “The glass is not full, but it is filling up.”

He said: “We are trying to share information … decentralise decision making.” It is easy to say “no” but to get to “yes” requires imagination and ingenuity.

Responding to another comment that young people want the Government to listen to them and not convey messages with rap videos, Dr Balakrishnan said “the key is authenticity” and people will see through a “contrived performance”.

While he personally will not do a rap video or karaoke because it is “not me”, he said, it was up to the organisation to decide if the action was authentic.

“Leadership can’t be hostage to every idea expressed or every view or every solution offered. But at the end of the day, leadership still needs to convince people that … an honest credible decision (across suggestions) was made,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

It is natural for young people, on their way to establishing their individuality, to be skeptical, but at least it shows they care, he said.

When it comes to using the Internet – which presents a myriad of fragmented views – to engage people, both the Minister and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani believe that that is the route to be taken.

Prof Mahbubani, who spoke on the declining trust in institutions the world over, said Governments have to revert to the “time-tested ways” of integrity, ingenuity and imagination to reach citizens.

“Never lie, always be credible and listen to honestly-held views of responsible people, especially when they are different from yours,” said Dr Balakrishnan making the point that that was his credo on online communication.

Be it traditional or new media, certain “key considerations” remain, added the Minister.

Both forms of media offer great economic and social opportunity, but the government will not tolerate threats that may compromise security or public order.

The Government also wants to nurture a “cohesive population,” with Singaporeans taking co-ownership and participating in the challenges and solutions to Singapore‘s future.

Netizens Today spoke to offered their views on how the Government could engage with citizens online.

Saying that the Government is “trying extremely hard,” Mr Leong Sze Hian, regular contributor to local blog site The Online Citizen (TOC), suggested inviting criticisms on Government or Government-linked websites.

Co-editor of the TOC, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, urged the Government to join the debate in not just the mainstream media but also in the new media. He pushed his point by saying: “Don’t just speak to the converted.”

By taking a more all-embracing approach, he said, the Government will be able to reach a far wider audience.

Senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies Tan Tarn How suggested the Government be more proactive in pushing out information through Really Simple Syndication or email.

The government also needs to talk to bloggers, he said, perhaps invite the more credible ones to press conferences: “There is some frustration because they are ignored.”

Award-winning film director from Malaysia, Ms Yasmin Ahmad and a speaker at yesterday’s 7th annual conference organised by the PR Academy, had this to say. If she had to market Singapore to skeptics overseas, she would first handle Singaporeans’ perception of their own country.

“Firstly, once you feel good about yourself, chances are the world will see you in the same way. Secondly, you won’t care (what they think.)”


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