That ‘ghettoising’ comment

~by: Ravi Philemon~

The speakers at the recent IPS seminar highlighted that of the 1092 Singaporeans polled in 2010 (before the last General Election), 87.4 per cent of Singaporeans, being older, less educated and hence not as savvy, find themselves relying on traditional media for their political news.

What remains uncertain though is the phrasing of the survey questions. Content that is consumed from the alternative news websites like TOC, that is sent to those surveyed via email (which could be quite substantial) could have been under-counted by the surveyors. This form of consuming alternative news could be quite prevalent especially among the elderly, who may have an email based ‘social networking’ circulating all sorts of alternative stuff.

The Straits Times article ‘Most Singaporeans still rely on traditional media: survey’ (see HERE) which reported on the findings of the survey was quite objective except for the last part, which said:

“But, he added, the survey shows ‘firstly, there are not that many people who are indulging (just) in the Internet, secondly, it is complementary’.

‘These people are not ghettoising themselves,’ he said.”

The ‘ghettoising’ comment inserted at the end seems to imply that alternative news and views are ‘ghettos’, and hence people who read them ‘ghettoise’ themselves.

The word ‘ghettoise’ was used in the seminar to highlight something positive. The people who got their news from online sources were not cutting themselves off from mainstream media. And more importantly, they are not hearing only one side of the story.

Mr Tan Tarn How who spoke about this finding of the survey said that the fear of some, that those who consume news exclusively online “are ‘self-radicalising’ in some corner of cyberspace unreached by mainstream media is not happening, or is not happening as a result of their lack of exposure to mainstream media”.

This comment by Mr Tan actually debunks the widespread belief especially among those from the establishment, that the internet has been the instrument of ‘self-radicalisation’. The fear being those that get their news from the alternative websites, will not get to see the views as expressed in mainstream sources.

The survey actually proves that those who consume news from the alternative websites, also consume the mainstream ones. And so in that sense, there is little to worry that Singaporeans who consume news from alternative sources are ‘ghettoising’ themselves. And this was the view expressed by Mr Arun Mahizhnan the moderator at the IPS seminar.

When TOC requested Mr Mahizhnan to clarify his comment, he said:

“The increasing prevalence of online alternative media is a welcome and important development for Singapore media: it increases choices and promotes diversity, debate and hence democracy.

The context of “ghettoising” is that many tend to think that people who visit certain kinds of websites read only those and do not visit or read other sources of information so as to get a more balanced view. There have been public statements by some government leaders that internet has been the instrument of self-radicalisation of some terrorists or extremists. There have also been statements about how readers of certain critical websites will not get to see other web or MSM sources.

Our survey clearly shows that many who browse the internet are also MSM consumers.

Furthermore, I would point out the those who read ONLY the mainstream media are also ghettoising themselves! Because for decades, MSM had severely limited alternative discourses.

Therefore, “ghetto” is not necessarily a bad thing or good thing in itself but just a term to refer to the narrow consumption pattern.

However, in the current context, there is no need to fret too much about Singapore netizens ghettoising themselves on the web because our survey shows otherwise.”

Ethan Zuckerman, Harvard University senior researcher, blogger, and technologist recently said at a lecture, “we know what we want to know, but we don’t know what we don’t want to know. And that’s the biggest problem. We need to know what we don’t want to know”.

‘Ghettoising’ actually happens when we limit ourselves to only that which we wish to know – whatever the medium may be.

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