The PAP’s evolving new media strategy

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave an interview with Channel NewsAsia on the topic of new media that was aired yesterday. The report, titled “Government building capabilities to tap on new media at next GE”, said:

The Singapore government is set to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election due in 2012.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government is already building up some capabilities. But he added there is still a place for traditional media to be the trusted source of information.

After giving his strong endorsement to the government-controlled traditional media, he made mention of new media:

Mr Lee said: “Well, there is a place called the Wild West and there are other places which are not so wild. And the new media – some of it are Wild West and anything goes and people can say anything they want, and tomorrow take a completely contrary view. And well, that is just the way the medium is.

“But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful. That is another range.”

It is interesting how his public statements on new media have shifted from just over two years ago. Back in October 2006, in a speech at the Asian-European Editors’ Forum, PM Lee declared that while the traditional or mainstream media is “reliable, verified and insightful”, the new media is “full of clever propaganda, inflammatory opinions, half-truths and untruths” which are “not always easily countered by rational refutation or factual explanation”.

In response, I had written in a blogpost:

This belittlement of the new media is a government line which has been repeated so often that many Singaporeans have started believing and internalising it. Some journalists, in particular, love to cite this in their commentaries about the new media without substantiating it with evidence.

I’m sure he was fully aware even back then that there were “more considered” blogs where people put their names down and identify themselves (not that this in itself is a requirement for “credibility”).

So what is the difference between then and now?

Well back then, I think the PAP did not plan to use new media in a big way to win over the electorate. It didn’t see a need to since it had effective control over the mainstream media (it still does) and few Singaporeans were getting their news from the Internet (that number has grown, and it includes not just young people, but retirees as well). However, seeing the effects of new media on elections in the US and Malaysia probably got them thinking that perhaps the Internet could — or should — also be harnessed to win a few more votes. Hence the “liberalisation” of the new media and legalisation of some types of political films.

So now that the PAP is hopping onto the social media bandwagon, they probably realise they can’t afford to rubbish the entire platform as being “full of” half truths and untruths. Perhaps they are now employing a “divide and rule” strategy: continue to discredit the unruly sites, and make positive mention of the sites that they either control (like REACH) or they feel they can live with (like TOC?).

Netizens on the “Wild West” sites will then get all riled up and shift the focus of their criticisms away the PAP and start attacking the moderate sites as being government-aligned, or worse, part of the PAP’s Internet arm. Then all the PAP needs to do is stand back and watch while Netizens slug it out among themselves.

In the meantime, George Yeo and Teo Ser Luck will continue to collect more and more Facebook “friends”, and REACH will continue to draw more members who are sick of the petty mudslinging among bloggers.

It’s a clever strategy, don’t you think? Will bloggers fall for it?

12 thoughts on “The PAP’s evolving new media strategy”

  1. While PM has effectively said that new media writers now are not just a bunch of rumour-mongers, he has forgotten the Readers.

    There are distinctly different groups of readers….some who are discerning and knows what to believe and what not to, some who naively believe everything they read, both online and offline.

    It is the education and hopefully expansion of the first kind of readers that will make whatever media (old or new) an effective one.

  2. Hi Gerald, haha, interesting post. Personally I don’t think I’ll fall for the ‘trick’. I’ll like to watch the mudslinging. It’s so much fun (: lol.

  3. Dear Gerald

    Could you kindly point out to me in which part of the report http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/410954/1/.html did it mention PAP?

    “Government building capabilities to tap on new media at next GE”

    Nah, nah, nah…I think our PM Lee has got everything mixed up. He is wearing too many hats and has forgotten his different roles in this CNA exclusive interview. Our dearest Debra Soon has also forgotten her most basic role as an editor just because she also played the dual role as an interviewer too. And what’s more, a Chief Editor of CNA. I really cannot believe CNA could allow such an incriminating piece of work.

    Yes, Lee Hsien Loong is the current Prime Minister of Singapore.
    Yes, Lee Hsien Loong is the current Secretary-General of PAP.
    Yes, PAP is the current Singapore’s ruling political party.

    But that does not mean you can use taxpayers’ money to contest in the General Election.
    In an election campaign, it is a contest between political parties; not Singapore government versus other political parties.

    “The Singapore government is set to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election due in 2012″

    “Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government is already building up some capabilities”

    Maybe this is not his fault.
    It was programmed into him by daddy.

    “I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP”
    – Lee Kuan Yew, Petir, 1982

    Instead he should be using PAP campaign funds to harness the power of the new media.
    Then the news from CNA would read:

    “PAP building capabilities to tap on new media at next GE”

    “The PAP is set to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election due in 2012″

    “PAP Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong said the PAP is already building up some capabilities”

    Further down the interview, he has the cheek to compare what he planned and intended to do to that of Obama.
    Shame shame!

    “Citing the US as an example, Mr Lee noted that US President Barrack Obama’s team not only put out messages on the Web during his campaign, but also operated on the Web as a means of working together, organising and raising money”

    Please remember!!!
    You go into an Election as a candidate, not as the Government of the day. Parliament would have been dissolved by then.

  4. Civic Advocator – It is your perogative to choose to use a pseudonym. However unless your employer specifically prohibits you from blogging or commenting on blogs, you should not feel afraid of using your real name.

    Choong Yong – I think the govt, PAP, opposition, civil society, the media and ordinary citizens all have a role to play in shaping social media (new media isn’t really “new” already) into a respected platform for civic discourse.

    fish n chips – Thanks for pointing this out. Yes, all instances of “Government” in that CNA article should have been replaced with “PAP”. However, technically in the Westminster parliamentary system, the winner of the election forms “the Government” with a capital “G”. The “government” usually refers to the non-political civil service. Although in S’pore media, they always capitalise Government, presumably out of deference to group of people who lead it.

    Btw, CNA spelt “Barack” wrongly too.

  5. Civic Advocator – Because you wrote on your blog: “I am writing to you using my pseudonym, because I am not paid a penny to do this, and because I need to think about my day job and other “concerns”.”

    Anyway, I say again that it is your right to use a pseudonym. I’m not criticising anyone for doing so. It’s better you use a pseudonym and speak out (hopefully with some sense, which you do), than to remain silent like the vast majority of Singaporeans.

    Personally I’ve found that using making my identity known helps me to straddle the online and offline world more easily without having to be two different people.

    But you’ve raised an interesting topic, which I think I’ll blog separately about. Thanks!

    FYI your “who are we” link is broken.

  6. Gerald:

    Thanks for pointing out the broken link. We’ve fixed it.
    See http://tankinlian100k.b1.sg/?p=227

    Arthur who wrote that article has his own concerns. We respect that.

    That are many of us who operate differently. We quote from another article http://tkl100kpetition.blogspot.com/2009/02/arthur-explains-how-petition-is.html, which says “people who openly show their support for our cause. Lee Chee Wai declares it. Kelly shouts on Twitter. Jas and her friend contribute logos and banners. RED-man argues his views. Sleepy Throat shares his idealism”

    Doing things “openly” and “transparently” does not mean people do not use pseudonym or proxy to do things that are non mentionable, or worst, wrongful. We know that because some of us are the types that like to hide behind anonymity.

    However, we do things quite “openly” in other ways. See http://tankinlian100k.b1.sg/?cat=31

    We have reasons why we want to operate the way we do, although we are not prepared to disclose these reasons now.

    Civic Advocator

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