The Online Citizen’s editor Mr Choo Zheng Xi said, “There is a need for this physical protest because numerous dialogues with the government over the last five years about liberalisation and deregulating the Internet have actually concluded in the opposite.”
Calling themselves #FreeMyInternet, the group is organizing a protest on the 8th of June 2013 at 4pm at Hong Lim Green. They have also planned a “blackout day” on Thursday 6th of June where their blogs will be blanked for a period of 24 hours.
#FreeMyInternet is carrying on with the protest despite the government’s assurance that blogs are not affected by this new regulation.
“We want the government to know that the people need to be consulted, and that parliament needs to be consulted before sweeping changes are made to legislation,” said Choo.
There also seems to be some disagreement about whether the new ruling is a regulation or legislation.
A regulation is the manner in which a particular legislation is enforced. In this case, the new Internet regulation seems to be the enforcement of NPPA online. MDA said that it wants to create the parity between traditional and online media.
Pre-emptive strike on aspiring media companies
Some media watchers in Singapore, however, view this new regulation as a pre-emptive strike on aspiring media companies.
Currently, the media landscape in Singapore is dominated by two government linked companies – The Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Mediacorp. According to an earlier report in The Independent Singapore, SPH’s latest quarterly results showed a double dip in readership and revenue of its papers, “including The Straits Times, declining by S$2.4 million and advertising dollars going down by S$13.9 million.”
Some Singaporeans feel that there is some fatigue among Straits Times consumers and they are seeking alternative online news outlets.
While self-styled blogs have had a lot of traction recently, Dr Cherian George says that existing online players, often run by volunteers, have yet to develop into a viable alternative news outlet. They also do not have the broad base news that is currently offered by the traditional media. At best, online blogs are good supplements to traditional media in Singapore, he says.
That leaves a yawning gap between what is demanded and what is currently available in the media landscape in Singapore. Given the shift in readership and the desire to consume news from non-state media, the online space is left vacant for an upstart news media.
Climate of fear
The latest move by the government has created an environment of fear. #FreeMyInternet seems to be of the opinion that government is out to get them, to effectively shut them down and to silence them indefinitely.
The government does have a history of clamping down dissent though. In 2001, a popular socio-political site, Sintercom.com was asked to apply for a media license with Singapore Broadcasting Authority and ten years later, The Online Citizen was gazetted as a political association.
One PAP grassroots member said that strategy now is to give the netizens the rope; “Let them protest and overreact about the new Internet regulation. The people will soon know that they are just crying wolf!”
Their fear and anguish is not unfounded – the new Internet regulation’s rules are so broad that most blogging platforms like TOC, TRE and TRS fall into this new regulatory framework. The government has not made its intentions clear and has left much to be speculated, creating an environment of fear and anguish.
We do not know what the government’s real motivations are, whether their real target is the aspiring media company or the blogger sphere. As for now, we can only speculate – but one thing for sure, the government moves-in to not only protect its monopoly on the media; they also want to shape public opinion by controlling the mass media and most importantly hold their grip on power.
But who is the real target?
Netizens told to put their money where their mouth is
Singapore’s new internet rules
MEDIA STATEMENT – 1 JUNE 2013
The blogging community – collectively called Free My Internet, will be organising a protest and online blackout next week against the new licensing requirements imposed by the Media Development Authority, which requires “online news sites” to put up a “performance bond” of $50,000 and “comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards”.
We encourage all Singaporeans who are concerned about our future and our ability to participate in everyday online activities and discussions, and to seek out alternative news and analysis, to take a strong stand against the licensing regime which can impede on your independence.
We urge Singaporeans to turn up to send a clear message to our elected representatives to trust the Singaporeans who elected them.
Singaporeans can support us in three ways:
Join us at the protest.
Date: 8 June 2013
Time: 4.00pm – 7.00pm
Venue: Speakers Corner, Hong Lim Park
- If you are a blogger, join us in an online blackout by closing your blog for 24 hours, from Thursday 6 June, 0001 hrs to 6 June, 2359 hrs. You can choose to create your own blackout notice, or use www.freemyinternet.com we have created for your convenience. When you reopen your blog, write your account of the protest, about the new regulations and censorship, or anything related to media freedom in Singapore. Share your thoughts. Share your hope that the light that free speech provides will not go out on us.
- Sign our petition and read our FAQ at this link to call for the Ministry of Communications and Information to completely withdraw the licensing regime.
We invite media to cover the protest at Hong Lim Park. To indicate media attendance and other media queries, please contact Howard Lee at email@example.com.
Signed off as: Free My Internet
Talk used to be cheap but not anymore. It will cost you $50,000, no less, to express your point of view on the Internet. Even if you had a great idea, or a better way of doing things or a feedback to the government, the Internet is not the place to raise it.
MDA announced a new Internet regulation to rein-in free speech on the Internet. The new regulation apparently applies to all socio-political “news” sites. However, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity over what that means and how it will affect websites like TRE and TOC. According to the latest MDA press statement, “the content guidelines apply to all content on the news sites, including readers’ comments on the news sites.”
Leading bloggers in Singapore are up in arms over the new Internet regulation. They are concerned as voluntary based organizations and free news site, they will not be able to operate in such an oppressive environment and to raise the $50k performance bond would be too onerous.
There also seems to be a wider concern that this is used as an effective tool to stifle dissent and to clip the wings of opposition political parties on the rise. Both NSP and SDP have made their press statements expressing their concerns and regret.
According to media observers, the PAP hardliners have won over those who have championed for a more open and consultative society.
Nevertheless, the latest move did not come without warning. Kishore Mahbubani, the current Dean of NUS’ LKY School of Public Policy recently said:
“I am extremely worried about the cynicism that the Singaporean blogosphere is developing towards these public institutions. Over time this cynicism could act like an acid that erodes the valuable social trust accumulated.”
On the contrary, a leading blogger in Singapore Alex Au argues in his blog that the best way to counter cynicism and irresponsible speech is for the community to build immunity. He says,
“The best defence a community has against irresponsible speech is to firstly acquire an immunity to it and secondly for many individuals to feel empowered to speak up against it. Government playing nanny again is the surest way to thwart this maturing process. A government that puts on iron gloves disempowers citizens from doing their bit.”
Just as we were discussing this, one political observer said that this may have wider ramifications for Singapore in the global setting. A quick research on the Internet shows otherwise.
Global crackdown on dissent
It seems Singapore is not alone in curtailing free speech. Apparently, some member countries in the United Nations have been lobbying for stricter control of the Internet with the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Some 42 countries filter and censor content out of the 72 studied by the Open Net Initiative. This doesn’t even count serial offenders such as North Korea, China and Cuba. Over the past two years, Freedom House says governments around the world have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression: “Accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas. They are angry that people might use the internet to criticize their governments.”
Like Singapore, several authoritarian regimes reportedly propose to ban anonymity from the web, making it easier to find and arrest dissidents. In Singapore, we have several incidents of bloggers and opposition politicians who have either paid damages or have been intimidated with a defamatory suit.
It is also quite likely that the responsibilities of the private sector system that manages domain names and internet addresses may be transferred to the government.
Other measures may include the internet content provider, small or large, to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders, meaning to say sites like TRE and TRS that have servers hosted in foreign countries may have to pay toll to reach our readers in Singapore.
Oppression is counter-productive
Contrary to the views of our leaders, freedom of speech has a stabilizing effect on our society. According to Thomas I. Emerson, freedom of speech helps to provide a balance between stability and change. It acts as a “safety valve” to let off steam when people might otherwise be bent on revolution. He argues that “The principle of open discussion is a method of achieving a more adaptable and at the same time more stable community, of maintaining the precarious balance between healthy cleavage and necessary consensus.” Emerson furthermore maintains that “Opposition serves a vital social function in offsetting or ameliorating (the) normal process of bureaucratic decay.”
Perhaps it is the bureaucratic decay that we should worry about for it is the same decay that is standing in the way of progress. Our ruling elite think that they can stop regression through oppression; that they can stop bureaucratic decay through regulation.
Putting a price tag so that we can speak cheapens, not us, but the very bureaucrats who have committed this travesty. Our words are worth their weight in gold for our feedback is pensive.
The crackdown has just started and this government, the very guardian of our democracy, is using the power that we have bestowed unto them to regulate and put an end to free speech on the Internet. They are supposedly our spokespersons – they speak, they act and they execute – just to persist for their own political ends.
The new-found freedom as we know it, that we are so fond of; that gave us hopes of a better tomorrow; that rekindled our spirit of nationalism expires on the 1st of June.
The parliament is a public institution and it is not a venue to play political hunger games. Sadly, to the disappointment of all political watchers in Singapore, our state of politics has degenerated into a sport of mudslinging and blood spills. On Monday 13th of May 2013, the Workers’ Party parliamentarians walked out with their noses bloodied, figuratively speaking, by the Minster for National Development Khaw Boon Wan.
Khaw pointed out that WP has been parceling off contracts to supporters of their own political party for a whopping figure of $25.9 million. Upon closer inspection, there appears to be lapses in governance in the way contracts were awarded.
But it was not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Even if Khaw made any aspersions of poor governance, he was politically savvy enough to show WP a way out of their death trap. They reached a common ground; and it turns out, that it is perfectly okay for parliamentarians to do whatever they want with town councils. Khaw said, “As MPs, we are given a lot of latitude to run TCs.”
We must put our trust, wholeheartedly, in our politicians to wriggle out of a tight spot. And our parliament has become a place to cut deals, settle old political scores and forge new alliances:
“I call on all, including our WP colleagues, to work closely with my Ministry to improve our TCs, for the interests of our residents moving forward,” said Khaw.
There appears to be some kind of political brotherhood and it will be not too long before our dear beloved politicians turn our public institutions i.e TCs into their own political fortresses. At least for now, having a fortress seems like a good idea. Besides, it is a comfortable safe zone for both parties to fall back on.
WP in choppy Political Waters
WP has found itself in choppy political waters in the last two days. It has lost the moral high ground to argue that TCs are a public institution after farming out its own IT contract to a party insider.
However, according to some die hard WP supporters, it is a different kettle of fish when WP parcels out contracts to its supporters. Apparently, it is not favoritism; it is because of their distrust for anything not affiliated with WP.
Pritam Singh, at the parliamentary sitting, called for a ban of TC transactions on party-owned companies.
Khaw responding to Pritam said, “We must impose it across all TCs, and also not just narrowly for party-owned companies but companies owned by people in various forms of party affiliations, like ex-party members and party supporters and even their immediate families. If we do this, we would of course be prohibiting the appointment of FMSS by the AHTC as well.”
The slippery slope of TC contracts
TC deals are vital to the growth and survival of political parties. It provides party members with income, jobs and precious cash to organize their parties more effectively. Without these deals, parties will have to solely rely on donations and MP allowances to survive. For some, as distasteful as it seems, it is the reason why they sign up for politics in the first place.
One needs to lift the corporate veil in the case of FMSS. If the company was setup for the sole purpose of hiding the true ownership and in this case the Workers’ Party, then there is a serious lapse in governance.
While it may seem easy for Pritam to say that he can just ban all TC transactions by party-owned companies. In reality, we need to extend the notion of ownership to party-members, affiliates and supporters. In this case, WP can’t afford to throw this out of the window for practical financial reasons. In fact, they have gotten themselves into a nice little mess.
To be fair to WP, this fight was started by the bloggers. The battle lines were drawn digitally in the cloud by over-zealous supporters who thought they were doing WP a favour. But little did they know that they were doing them (WP) in, by kicking the dust on AIM.
What I fear most is the internal turmoil that WP would go through (or maybe not). So what happens to those who joined them to make a difference and those who argued for TCs to be a public institution? Where do they stand philosophically and ideologically in all these? So, what can WP offer?
It appears that a tactical withdrawal would be a nice respite for our WP warriors, especially after their passionate performances in their first world parliament.
Trust me, even if the warriors retreat, the foot soldiers will fight till the bitter end.
Wei Chan, owner of a mom and pop bakery in Ang Mo Kio spoke at two of tansitioning.org events. From what I understand from Gilbert, Wei Chan wanted to convince the audience that we need more cheap foreign workers in order for SMEs to survive. However, not only did he fail to get his message across, he soon became the target for the rest of the guys in the room. The conversation soon steered from a forum for minimum wage to one about migrant worker issues. At the heart of it was a very deep-seated problem faced by most SMEs in Singapore – businesses here are struggling to survive.
Wei Chan obviously was in the wrong neck of the woods. He soon realized that enough is enough and went back to where he hailed from and we didn’t see him around Gilbert’s forum anymore. I later found out that he sought company with ASME where his misery found other doting companions.
Like the story of Wei Chan, SMEs, who contribute to 50% of our national income, feel that they are left in the cold and with the government restricting the flow of foreigners in Singapore; these little businesses will have to either shape up or ship out (or close shop).
From the conversations that I have had with him and from what he has shared at the forum; behind his veneer of success is a struggling businessman. He depends on it to feed himself and his family. His workers depend on it and he is driven to succeed not because of greed but because of an ambition to do better than his predecessors, or plainly put because of the need to survive. For success would mean breakout from the economic trap(s) that hold us down.
Now, his hopes of building a better tomorrow, after investing thousands of dollars are dashed – the government plans to tighten the supply of foreign labour which he depends on to expand his business. He says the locals do not want to do it at the wage levels that he is offering. He can’t offer more because he will not be able to sustain his business at higher costs.
So, what can the likes of Wei Chan do?
If you’re an owner of an SME and have been adversely affected by the change in government’s foreign manpower policy, do not fret because there are ways to overcome this labour shortage by adopting strategies to overcome our over-reliance on cheap foreign labour.
But seriously, how much more can we innovate? If you have already invested in nice IT systems – point of sales, accounting, inventory management and automated your sales process or bought expensive machinery to cut down manual work, what else can you do?
Take a look at the two video below and you’ll be amazed but what our counterparts are doing:
Lay’s Vending Machine in Argentina
Automated cake baking machine in Japan
Now, why didn’t Wei Chan think of that? Or might it be that the cakes baked by an untrained foreign baker would be any better? I do not know.
But, what I know is that the noisiest fellas in our business community come from small businesses that are either too small to automate and not large enough to innovate (pun intended); and they often indulge in wallowing and attention seeking (just read the statements that come out from ASME).
Looking on the bright side, our G has decided to throw some good $$$ at this problem. However, throwing money at a problem is not a solution. What we need to do is to throw money where it matters most. There are few programmes, administered by A*Star and Spring Singapore that comes to my mind:
1. Technology Adoption Programme: A*STAR will help to link companies’ technology needs to solution providers to help companies across sectors increase productivity through adopting technology innovations and solutions. From July 2013, this programme will be piloted in six sectors – Construction, Food Manufacturing, Precision Engineering, Marine, Aerospace as well as Retail.
2. Capability Development Grant (CDG): supports up to 70% of the cost of productivity improvements and capability development that will result in greater enterprise competitiveness and business growth.
3. Collaborative Industry Projects: The Government will work with industry players and partners like Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to address sector-specific productivity challenges. Consortia with at least 3 SMEs, comprising solution providers and users, will be formed to develop and propose bottom-up deployable and scalable productivity solutions. SPRING will be looking at the Collaborative Industry Projects (CIP) in six priority sectors: Food Manufacturing, Food Services, Furniture, Printing & Packaging, Retail and Textile & Fashion… for more information
There is also another programme that caught my eye – SME Talent Programme – where SMEs can attract local talent from ITEs and Polytechnics over the next three years. This is really commendable; something that they should have done years ago. Now, Wei Chan cannot say that he can’t find talent locally!
If you do need assistance or advise, please drop me an email or leave a message below.
Kumaran Pillai is a member of Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE). He also blogs actively, comments periodically, runs a business incubator daily and stages protests at Hong Lim Green when he feels the blues.
Singapore has stumbled upon a rebel, a real one, for that matter. While other rebel-rousers have dedicated their entire careers to it, Gilbert Goh almost effortlessly organized the largest protest in Singapore (since independence) through online social media and other socio-political blogs.
Now, old and new rebels want to perform at his events, but he is careful that his platform is not hijacked by any other political parties. He wants to keep his platform party-agnostic and does not want to be dictated by other political agendas.
He thinks that there are elements out there who want to portray him as a racist. “Make no mistake, “he says, “People are trying to ‘sabo’ my efforts. “ It is no accident that he has been subject to online vitriol by other netizens who think some of his pieces are written in bad taste. His article Characteristics and behaviour of our 1.8 million foreign population is definitely a “must read” for anyone following the political developments in Singapore.
However, Gilbert is not the first to profile the different races in Singapore. Former Prime Minister Lee has also written about the customs and mannerisms of the different races here. One opposition politician said that the main difference between Gilbert and LKY was: Gilbert is a political novice while LKY is a master at this game.
I have asked Gilbert some questions and do read them to find out more about Gilbert.
1. A lot of local politicians have gone down this path of staging public protests but have had limited success with it. You on the other hand have been wildly successful. What is your secret to success?
I am fortunate as we did the protest which affected a lot of Singaporeans i.e. the 6.9 million population White Paper (walau, no space bring more people some more). Many people are unhappy with the overpopulation issue and it sort of broke the camel’s back for many Singaporeans.
We also have done several protests the past years e.g. minimum wage, foreign influx, retirement issues among others but the attendance seldom went past 200 people.
2. You seem to have a quite a sizable support base online. What is your primary message to them when you ask them to participate in your protests?
We use socio political blogs like TRE (Richard very helpful one), Feed me to the fish, TOC, The Real Singapore and Facebook to promote the event and it was also widely publicised via the international media e.g. Yahoo, BBC, CNN, Reuters, Bloomberg, AFP and others.
I just appeal to the protestors to save Singapore and come out with courage to protest in person than complaining behind their keyboard. We can do something together and this time round I am proud Singaporeans came out even though it was pouring (i.e. raining).
Something changed and I guess the fear factor disappeared after that historic event (Feb 16 Protest).
By now, many Singaporeans see the power of public protest done peacefully and we are able to send a strong message to the ruling elite.
3. What made you organize the protest on the 16th of Feb? Was that politically motivated?
Like many Singaporeans, I was enraged by the 6.9 million projections that was flashed on CNA (aiya, they neber listen one) and decided that I must do something.
We also did an indoor event on the 6 million population target earlier in Dec 2012. So when I saw the higher 6.9 million population target I knew that something is very wrong here.
I slept over it for two days before finally deciding to announce the event on my website (Gotto do it ah bro, the Government does not listen one… siow siow ah) and Facebook page and the rest was history.
4. I understand that you’ll be organizing yet another forum on the 23 of March. This would be the 3rd in this series. So what is new this time?
The 23rd March event will be held indoors and the venue has a maximum seating capacity of sixty. So, do sign up for it quickly.
The session will be more of a discussion – a Transitioning.org “conversation” if you like. The press will be invited (of course). Most of the speakers are from the first protest and now they’ll be given more time to expound their ideas using audio visual tools. It will be more in-depth.
5. Tell me more about the May Day Protest that you are organizing? Who are the speakers and what kind of support are you looking for?
We are doing a sequel protest on May 1st on the 6.9 million White Paper plus other issues that affect Singaporeans e.g. lack of a minimum wage, sky-high property prices, and huge income gap. We hope to attract a crowd size of ten thousand. So far, Mr Leong Sze Hian, Nizam ismail, M Ravi have confirmed that they’ll be speaking.
We are still trying to get other civil societies on board and will announce them once it’s confirmed. We will continue to use social media to publicise our event via Facebook and other socio-political sites. I am glad that ST has also reported our event in their papers few days ago. I also heard that Media Corp radio has also announced about our Labour Day protest.
We will also do a press conference one week before the event to generate more publicity.
6. A lot of people think that you harbour racist or xenophobic feelings deep inside. But, I understand that you have lived and worked abroad and based on my interactions with you, you seem like a guy who gives equal opportunity to all. So, what is your response to the people, do you think you were unfairly criticized?
I guess when we stand against the 6.9 million population White Paper people will accuse us of being xenophobic as a lot of the population growth is accomplished through foreign influx. This is unfortunate.
Yes, I have lived and worked abroad in Sydney via a 4-year work visa tied to my ex-wife’s visa as she was posted there for work. They are PRs now but I am not a PR. The work visa has since expired.
Having worked abroad, I experienced the same kind of frustrations our foreign friends face here.
I apologise if any of my articles appeared xenophobic in the past and have tried to be more careful with what I say now.
It was never my intention to turn the movement into an anti-foreigner one and we have always advocated both online and in the open that we want to be seen as anti-policy rather than anti-foreigner or anti-government. All foreigners are welcomed to attend any of our events organised by Transitioning (admission is free).
Gilbert’s protests come in instalments – there are sequels and prequels to it. Just in case you miss the one on the 23rd of March at NVPC, you can attend the next show on the 1st of May 2013 at Hong Lim Green. Admission is free.
With movie tickets selling at $8.00 and above, Singaporeans are turning to protests as their main source of entertainment.
I predicted not too long ago that the government would become more welfare oriented at a forum organized by Gilbert Goh in 2011. My predictions were not based because PAP would have a change in mindset, but because of necessity and with a huge fiscal reserve, the government can afford to have a more balanced budget in the future. In fact, going forward and if everything else remains constant we’d see more balanced budgets in the years to come.
My assumptions are based purely on econometric projections, if the government has a huge reserve and since we are investing our monies in economies which are growing at a rate which is faster than ours; the external wing of our economy is self-sustaining. So there is little incentive to grow the external wing by extracting rent from the locals.
Besides, what our economy requires is a shot in the arm and it is also politically prudent to do so. Our local industries, particularly the SMEs need to be revitalized. The government has probably come to the realization that growing the GLCs at the expense of SMEs is hurting the people. And if you’ve been paying close attention to Hsien Loong and team, they will probably push our GLCs to focus in the regional economies so that SMEs can grow domestically.
But growth in the domestic sector will be sluggish in the next couple of years. With rising cost of living (and it seems like they will be able to tame this beast for the moment) and because of cutting down on the intake of foreign labour, our SMEs will take time to adapt to the new cost structures.
Putting the moral issues of whether the workfare subsidies reach employees and about the profligate use of tax-payers’ monies, any injection into the circular flow of income will boost GDP by a factor of 1.8- 2 times of $3.6B. Hence, the revision of our GDP projections from 1% -3% to 3% – 4% in the next three years. Good GDP growth and a more social focus seems like a good recipe to win over those sitting on the political fence.
According to some analysts, the COE prices are also likely to decline in the next few months/years. And Khaw is likely to keep a lid on HDB prices and even bring it down to tolerable levels. It is also quite unlikely that Khaw would adopt the suggestions put up by SDP, as it Pareto inefficient i.e. as some home owners may be adversely affected by this policy*. (I mean no disrespect to the ex Chief Economist of GIC who endorsed it. To be fair, he said that it is worth looking at)
It seems like the arguments for minimum wage is based on grounds of morality rather than good economics or politics. A minimum wage of S$1200 would more likely to benefit our foreign workers and foreign domestic workers. While we speak of greed and all that (and enough of that rubbish), the real test is whether we are willing to pay S$1200 for our maids (Foreign Domestic Workers) at home. It just seems to me that this policy would be hugely unpopular as it would affect about 600,000 people in Singapore. Unless the minimum wage policy is aimed purely at locals, in which case, the policy makers would be criticized of being home biased or exploitative of foreign workers, cos their (FW) wages may be lower than the minimum wage floor.
Increasing our population to 7M maybe arguably good economics (still I’m not totally convinced by this) but it is definitely poor politics. It seems like the government wants to grow our population in order to drive domestic consumption and growth. There are some benefits from this exercise, but the key concern is that some Singaporean workers may be displaced (and the PAP knows this). On the flip side, there are more opportunities for locals to set up businesses as the consumption base would be bigger.
There are more reasons now than ever to implement social programmes to keep the electorate happy. And speaking of PAP trying to keep us happy, we may even get free bus rides during off-peak hours. How about throwing in a free lunch at Jack’s Place and free Dim Sums for tea? For some, that would be enough to win their “trust.”
*I do confess that I have not read the whole population paper by SDP in its entirety and if there are any differences of opinion, I’d be happy to publish their response on my blog.