Malaysia govt reaching out to bloggers, will S’pore do the same?

Malaysia govt changes policy, reaches out to bloggers
from Channel NewsAsia

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s government has said it will reach out to bloggers, dropping threats of arrest in a major change of policy triggered by a shock election loss that has raised calls for reform.

The nation’s mainstream media is mostly part-owned by parties in the ruling coalition, and what was seen as biased coverage in the run-up to last month’s vote has boosted demand for alternative news sources including blogs.

After being hit with the worst results in its half-century history, including the loss of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition now says it wants to listen to dissenting voices.

Newly appointed Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said he is keen to meet bloggers.

“I am trying to build a bridge between the government and the people so that we can have a two-way dialogue — and bloggers are a key part of this,” he told AFP.

“I am planning on meeting them soon,” he said.

But prominent bloggers have questioned the commitment of the government, which until recently had accused them of spreading lies and threatened severe punishment including detentions without trial.

“We welcome the government’s move to engage bloggers but we are not in any hurry to meet them,” said National Alliance of Bloggers president Ahiruddin Attan.

Ahiruddin, who met with Ahmad Shabery on Friday, said the offer of talks with bloggers needed to reflect the political will of the government.

“The success of the talks will depend on what kind of mandate he has from the Cabinet,” he said of Cheek’s proposal.

“He is going to be acting against the popular stand of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that bloggers are a nuisance.”

Media analyst and blogger Nuraina Samad said bloggers have changed the face of Malaysian politics, becoming a vocal group that the government has to deal with.

“Many bloggers who turned to opposition politics before the last elections won the seats they contested,” she told AFP.

“You look at the issues people were talking about before and during the elections — many of them were raised by bloggers, and you did not see them raised even once in the mainstream media,” she said.

“Despite this, the points raised became major issues among the people during the election campaign, with the government parties forced to address these issues that had been blacked out in their media.” – AFP/ir

This is an interesting, though not totally surprising development. Following the unexpected opposition inroads made in the recent General Election, the Malaysian government has realised that it can no longer afford to just ignore bloggers, as they have proven their ability to swing votes away from the ruling party. (Some like Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua have even run for office and won.)

In Singapore, while the government-controlled media has occasionally interviewed bloggers for their opinions, there is still a reluctance on the part of the government to acknowledge the credibility of bloggers. Will we, for example, ever see political leaders granting interviews with citizen journalists? Or will citizen journalists be given press passes to cover events first hand, instead of having to rely on reports from the mainstream media? So far, the government has never responded to articles published on blogs, as if to do so would lend them more credance than they deserve.

My guess is that the reason why the Malaysian government wants to engage bloggers is so as to tone down their rhetoric. Once bloggers are invited to tea with the minister, it will be much harder for them to make strident, personal attacks on that minister. For now, Singapore’s political leaders feel comfortable letting the mainstream media do their bidding. But this may not be enough not too long from now, with the influence of online media increasing day by day.


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

17 thoughts on “Malaysia govt reaching out to bloggers, will S’pore do the same?”

  1. There is no point in talking about politics when censorship is so rife here, thanks to conservatives like you.

    Seditious speeches, offensive speeches……all these are banned. How then, can change happen? No way.

    As long as the same conservative rules remain, nothing will change.


  2. Hi Gerald,
    I think when govts realise that blogosphere cannot be constrained or controlled ( unless we want to become like North Korea or Burma), they will try to soften bloogers’ views by dialogue and accomodation.

    S’pore govt still feels that with their “No political video” laws etc, the blogosphere can be controlled to their advantage.

    They will try it for the next GE and we will know if they open dialogues. If they do it means that cyberspace is uncontrollable.


  3. Beast:

    Whoa thats a rather harsh comment. While Gerald may be conservative in some aspects, it does not mean he is conservative in all aspects, and even if he is, it should not matter for the sole reason that u need to have all grps in a democracy. The problem comes when the institutions of the state are wholly dominated by people from the same grp, conservative, liberal etc.

    To Gerald and Dr Huang
    I must say that i dont see the govt toning down anytime soon. The Msian context is different; the ruling party only extended a hand after being humiliated and roundly trounced; this is attributable to the Msian blogosphere. This is unlikely to happen in Singapore in the near future; i only foresee such an incident if the PAP suffers some set back. This is a rather unlikely proposition at this point in time.

  4. Beast – whether we like it or not every society on earth has a degree of censorship. Even when anarchy rules each person has a certain self-censorship. I live in a country were people are increasingly saying we have a need for a Singapore style strong-man for a period of time to bust past the political correctness in which we suffer. I think there is ample evidence to suggest Singapore is changing. The question is whether it is changing for the better or not. Who decides what change is good and what is not? It is interesting that you blanket all things conservative as anti-change and by association – bad.

    I think the Singapore government has nothing to fear from bloggers. They are an irritation rather than a real threat at this point of time. As long as this remains simply an irritation they have no reason to dialogue with anyone.

  5. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
    -US Constitution

    -“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
    -Gerald Ford

  6. All things conservative tend to die out and fail bitterly in the end.

    Like evolution (Which Gerald obviously doesn’t believe in since I think he is a fundie Christian), life forms that resist the tide of change only suffer from one fate: That of the dodo.

    We have seen conservative governments fall bitterly: The Manchus were repeatedly clobbered by the seven powers because they refused to embrace technology, fighting armies armed to the teeth with cannons and guns with horse riders and swords. Coincidentally, it was also the conservatives who lost the American civil war.


  7. Dr Huang – interesting theory…If PAP engages bloggers, it means they think blogs are uncontrollable. Perhaps, perhaps…but won’t it be more shrewd to try to engage/control bloggers before they become uncontrollable? Actually they have been successful so far. They’ve shut down one blog by making them register (Sintercom); and shut down another by offering the blogger a scholarship.

  8. Dear Gerald,

    Our goverment operate on a “paranoia” model. Though I have never serve in the civil service, yet I am certain that they had probably played out countless “what-if” scenarios.

    The only way the goverment will engage the bloggers is when they realise the demography of the population has shifted from reading MSM to online news or blogs. At present, I am certain the goverment is monitoring the results up north with concern as one factor for the opposition’s gain was the disillusion with their MSM. Has Singapore become disillusion with MSM? Frankly, I doubt so. I still find many of my peers whom we can consider the intellectual of the society being unaware of the going-ons in the world. To them, The Straits Times is the bible for their window to the world and it can do no wrong. Frankly if they had taken time to pore through IHT, Reuters, Washington Post …etc. only then will they see news report written to the contrary of the news here (especially in light of the Mas Selamat escape).

    It is likely that the goverment will try to rein in the bloggers via both the hard and soft means prior to the next election. Soft means is executed via a “constructive” dialoge with bloggers and getting them onboard. Hard means i executed via lawsuit, defamation, harsh rebuttal…etc.

    Will what happen up north take place in Singapore? In my naive opinion, unlikely. A combination of political apathy, naiveness and GRC can severely limit the chances of even the most sincere and upright opposition.


  9. Hi
    The govt thinks we are easily cowed and hence can be counted to stay in line.
    I don’t know whether to believe that Singaporeans have evolved to become a different species from the rest of Homo sapiens.
    We are Homo domicile?
    Catherine Lim alluded to the loss of Singaporean instinct to stand up ( or something to that effect). We have been trained to listen and not speak up. Obey and not lead.
    God help our species when a really smart crook or demagogue gets into the PAP under the guise of a sheep!


  10. Beast
    All things conservative tend to die out and fail bitterly in the end.

    Thus we see religion still strong down the millenia. Religion by it’s very nature is conservative and yet after all this time we still have it. Amazing huh?

    We have seen conservative governments fall bitterly

    Thankfully ALL anarchist governments have fallen by the wayside. That’s right there is not one still remaining.

    Dr Huang
    “We have been trained to listen and not speak up. Obey and not lead.”

    Is this actually possible in just 2 generations? My experience of Singapore (however limited) was a carrot and stick approach. Bitter medicine is sugar coated and you better take it or else! I wonder if it is not a training so much as a carefully calculated keeping everyone happy enough so that they will not want change? If I am 80% happy with my life and I can see enough good things happening that may improve my life then I can grumble about the 20% but not be bothered to get off my butt and do anything about it.

  11. “Thus we see religion still strong down the millenia. Religion by it’s very nature is conservative and yet after all this time we still have it. Amazing huh?”

    If you study anthropology, you will realize that Man is still in his infancy: We have had science for a better part of, say, three hundred years beginning with the Industrial Revolution, and the Renaissance for like 500-600 yrs.

    As we become more and more advanced, Science will expose the more of the mysteries that have befuddled us since antiquity. But it doesn’t mean we are going to stay ignorant all the time, and the more we know the less we have any need of a religion (save the charlatans and the politicians who need a mass of serfs for their devious needs and deeds).


  12. Hi all,
    I just remembered a certain quotation by JSMills.

    It’s probably not related to what you guys are talking about but here goes.

    John Stuart Mill, letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March, 1866)

    “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.”

    Huang- I don’t know if Mills meant Conservative as in Tory party or as in outlook.

    Beast: I don’t think Gerald is conservative when compared to majority of Singaporeans. Maybe compared to yourself he is.
    Anyway like Homer Simpson too.


  13. ned stark, byleduct, Dr Huang – Thanks for coming to my defence. Beast is hoping I’ll take offence to being called a conservative. But I list myself as ‘conservative’ on Facebook. Unlike Beast, I don’t think that’s something to be ashamed of.

    I believe that Singaporeans have a right to speak out against the govt if it performs badly. I believe there is a need for more political competition. Is that being a liberal? Most Singaporeans will think so. But I don’t. I see that as a conservative value too. In fact it is neither conservative nor liberal. It is the right thing for a developed country like Singapore.

  14. Again, folks:

    The problem with folks like Gerald calling out for more liberalism is that while they want their rights to speak out against the govt, they want to deny the rest the rights to speak up on just about everything else.

    If you wish to set up OB markers and yet cry for more freedom of speech, it is very hypocritical, considering that freedom of speech is a universal suffrage.

    While conservatism is nothing to be ashamed of, the problem I have with this kind of closeted mindset is that it leads ultimately to extermination.


  15. Dear Beast,

    From my conversation with Gerald thus far, I had yet to detect any means or measures by which he employs to prevent others from speaking out in just about anything else.

    Granted, Gerald is often firm and clear about his views. Gerald has also been known to engage in debate with others on contrarian views (the issue of Taiwan is one of them). Yet at no time did I detect a condescending or OB marker place on me. In fact it was more a “you have your views, I have mine, lets agree to disagree but we all have a common objective, that is the good of the nation”.


  16. Newcastle:

    Here’s his words, straight from the horse’s golden mouth:

    “All writings on this blog are my personal opinions. They do not represent any company, organisation, individual or group of individuals I am associated with.

    Comments and critiques are most welcome, as long as they are not slanderous, racist, seditious or vulgar. If you are commenting anonymously, please give yourself a pseudonym to make it easier for me to respond.”

    And he did censure me once.


  17. Dear Beast,

    I am certain on how I had size up Gerald’s position. In any case, I am not sure where had he censured you and on what basis.

    Perhaps, this is not the platform to discuss on the censure with the author of the blog.


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