Minibonds update: Singapore probes misconduct in Lehman bonds sales (Forbes), MAS investigates allegations of mis-selling of Lehman products (Channel NewsAsia).

As part of the introduction of our Youth Focus, TOC will be having a Youth Week here starting from Monday, Oct 20, to Sunday, Oct 26. If you are between the ages of 15 to 25, we welcome your contribution and participation in our new feature. Please email us at: [email protected] .

Terence Lee / Youth Editor

Recognising a need for youth voices to be heard, TOC will be starting a new column called “Youth Focus.” Observant readers will notice that many of the TOC writers are actually youths. So what makes the youth column different from the rest of TOC?

While TOC mainly concerns itself on issues that Singaporeans face in general, the Youth Focus column will zoom in specifically on issues that affect youths. With partisan engagement groups belonging to the various political parties already in existence here, there is still space on the Internet for an independent platform for youths to express their concerns.

Part of the purpose of this column is also to raise awareness on youth issues, and it is hoped that it will spark greater interest in current affairs among youths. Blame it on the PAP all you want, but youth apathy – it seems – is not just a Singaporean problem.

Even in democratic America, young people are notoriously nonchalant about political matters. A writer at YouthNoise – an American social-networking site for socially-concerned youths – lamented about how his attempt to interview youths about their political views turned into a frustrating exercise when many of them chorused: “I haven’t been keeping up with that at all or watching the news.”

Even for me, I faced similar experiences as an intern reporter at The Sunday Times – people simply do not care enough about political issues. Besides apathy, Singaporeans in general also fear expressing themselves freely. My attempts at getting quotes from the man on the street – especially on sensitive issues – turned out exasperating at times. Many waved me away, some do not want to be named, and yet others spoke to me, but proposing instead a fictitious name.

Governments worldwide have tried all ways and means to attract the attention of youths, from ‘lecturing’ them in the media to learning and executing hip-hop dance moves, as in the case of some P-65 MPs. However, the common refrain to these methods is this: they do not work.

But at least somebody had gotten it right. In the recent US presidential elections, Democratic nominee Barack Obama was credited with exciting and rallying the youth base to come out and vote. His methods: employing a massive army of volunteers, making full use of the Internet and social-networking sites like Facebook, and encouraging small donations from a massive base of supporters, rather than relying purely on fat cheques from top executives and elites.

Even the PAP is taking cautious steps towards this direction, with the Reach Singapore Facebook group and AIMS consultation paper coming to mind. These measures tap upon a well-known trait among the young generation today: our dependence on the Internet.

In the US, people are abandoning newspapers in favour of reading news off the Internet. While it is disputed whether such a thing is happening in Singapore, we can count on the fact the Internet has become an integral part of our lives. That is why people call us the Google generation, or Net generation, or something of that similar nature.

But perhaps the problem is not just apathy, but also lethargy. In a blog post entitled “Youth Activism in Singapore,” sociologist “Dansong” from Singapore Angle observed that “while young Singaporeans care, many of them see no point in acting because they see few opportunities to make a difference.”

He attributes this to a highly controlled civil environment in schools and universities here, where political activity is extremely limited and where red-tape threatens to frustrate us into passivity. A live illustration could be seen  here recently with the Chee Soon Juan censorship saga in NTU, where several of my fellow schoolmates took to the Speaker’s Corner to voice their displeasure about the school’s actions.

While it seems that the university is unlikely to budge in its position due to obvious political motivations, a bunch of intrepid students have decided to set up an independent online newspaper called “The Enquirer” to serve the student population in NTU.

This case study serves to highlight how it is a fallacy to think that youths have “few opportunities to make a difference,” especially with the Internet and the opening up of Speaker’s Corner. The censorship would not have attained international prominence (it received coverage from AFP and Reuters as well) had it not been for the openness of the Internet.

While we can be certain that red-tape will always exist in our endeavour to make change in Singapore society, we must recognise that such wrangling is a normal part of the process. It should not discourage us from seeking change. This is especially true when it comes to liberalising freedom of speech here in Singapore: once freedom is given, it is hard to revoke it again.

It is then quite understandable why the government is taking a cautious step towards freedom of expression. While we complain that the mindset of the PAP has not changed, we must also understand that no change comes without a struggle – and voicing out is a part of it.

It is my hope that youths will take advantage of TOC as a platform to effect change in Singapore society. Writing about issues is just the beginning; it should translate into action, be it by yourself or others.

TOC Youth Focus is currently looking for writers who are interested to write for the column.           

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