Written by: Gilbert Goh
By now, most netizens will have known that the popular socio political blog The Online Citizen has being gazetted as a political organization by the Prime Minister’s Office. I have written a few articles for the blog and a columnist for their “Gilbert’s Listening Ear” column.
The Media Authority of Singapore has also written to the owners in a bid to bring the blog under its jurisdiction.
Many netizens have also saw this coming and blogger Where Bears Roam Free didn’t mince his words when he commented:-
“In any case, this is no real loss. After all, TOC has been promoting sectarian interests. In particular, Western style Human Rights and of course, Gay Rights. Heartland issues were only second to these.
So good riddance and goodbye, TOC. I told you so. Sorry, can’t help rubbing it in. You deserve it.”
I have listed six reasons why the authorities have stepped in and tried to bring the political blog under its operating radar:-
Risk of foreign influence
Every government has this paramount fear that certain segments of the population may be influenced by foreign elements especially if they have contribute funds to the organization. The blog’s particular focus on sectarian interests such as human rights and gay interests are also something that is very Western-styled and un-Singaporean.
In the cloak and dagger unseen world of politics, many governments have offered funds to certain groups in targeted countries in the hope of influencing them to fulfill their agenda.
Singapore remains one such target due mainly to its hard-nosed policy of bringing many publishing houses to the courts for writing wayward articles that went against the interest of the country.
I am unsure if TOC has solicited any funds from foreign organizations but this is one main reason why the government has decided to gazette the blog so that it has to declare its funds openly like any registered society under the Registrar of societies (ROS).
Rising popularity of socio political blogs
Socio political blogs such as Temasek Review and The Online Citizen have gained notorious popularity during the recent years. Both the blogs have a combined readership of at least 30,000 readers daily.
The high penetration internet rate of our country plus our restricted media coverage provided by the mainstream newspapers have caused many citizens to flock to such alternative reporting channels.
Netizens could view anti-government real-life-story articles on the blogs and some have even turn to such sites daily for news updates and forsake the controlled msm altogether.
The government has listed the TOC’s political influence as one reason why the blog is being gazetted as it “has the potential to influence the opinions of their readership and shape political outcomes in Singapore”.
As the blog offers alternative and often anti-government views on political events, its power to influence is truly a worrying trend for the authorities and frankly, I am not surprised that it has decided to step in now to control it’s popularity.
Many netizens have also commented that it’s a general election ploy to deny the popular blog from covering the coming election in its entirety.
The authorities are particularly concerned that blogs may report irresponsibly and even banned them from covering the election a day before polling to ensure that voters are not unduly influenced online.
The TOC has planned to bring in a solid team to cover the coming election as comprehensively as possible as the regular newspapers were seen to be bias in its coverage of opposition parties’ candidates in previous elections.
Its obvious that the blog will particularly focus on candidates from the opposition wards and in an election that is seen to be the most threatening to the survival of the current regime, the government has thus decided to rein in the popular blog and if possible try to curtail its solid political influence.
UMNO Election Fiasco
Our neighbouring country’s ruling party UMNO was also adversely affected by the popular influence of bloggers during the general election two years ago.
They were soundly trounced by the opposition party PAS and lost many states during that election in a one-sided unprecendented defeat that threatened the political survival of UMNO. The ruling party has ruled Malaysia for the past 51 years with large parliamentary majorities but has received its worse-ever parliamentary majority of 30 during that election.
The shocking result has also resulted in the swift stepping down of the past PM Abdullah Badawi on March 2009 as the ruling party tried to bring in a fresh face – PM Najib Razak to stir up party renewal in the wake of the worst ever election result.
It was speculated that many voters have viewed anti-government blogs during the election period and were influenced online to vote against the ruling party.
Malaysiakini.com – a deeply anti-government socio political blog – is viewed by tens of thousands of Malaysians daily and they carried fiercer anti-government articles than TOC or Temasek Review combined.
Aliran is also a anti-establishment non profit organisation that organizes political forums for the young people that may have also help to garner more votes for the opposition parties in Malaysia.
The government there must be given credit for allowing many anti-establishment blogs to exist in cyberspace.
In a bid not to follow the lax example of its neighbouring country, our authorities have turned the screw on the popular blog before the announcement of the soon coming election.
Our government has all along being very hard hitting on anti-government voices and many candidates from opposition parties were either sued right after a general election or even jailed for subversive activities.
Its apparent that our ruling party will protect its political survival at all costs – even if it is being branded as a tyrant and authoritarian.
Face to Face Forum
When TOC started to organize the Face to Face forum in December last year, it sent a chill down my spine.
I was actually waiting for the government to step in and curtailed such a public political event that literally brought all the opposition parties together.
It was something that never happened before in Singapore’s history and hopes were raised that finally someone or some organization has this influence to gather our bickering opposition figures together in a unifying show of strength.
When the event successfully sailed through with more than three hundred participants, I was glad that our government is so open now to allow such a alternative-voiced conference to pass unchallenged.
The gazette order has literally brought me down to earth and it shows that we are still light years away from being democratically open to a strong alternative voice.
The successful face to face forum may be the last straw on the government’s back and to curtail its growing political threat, the blog was given the gazette order.
It is one thing to blog successfully underground away from the physical environment but another to try and gather political figures under one roof to discuss about alternative politics. The political threat is just too much for the authorities to bear.
TOC may have push its luck too far here even though the authorities have given the blog much leeway in organizing human rights petition and other open events.
Nevertheless, it’s a huge setback for those who clamour for more freedom of speech and democracy and bloggers may now have to start watching their back before they write.
The ruling party faces a hostile electorate and they know that all seats will be contested during the coming election.
Many people are unhappy with the policies of the government and the main grouse has being the influx of foreigners.
Their sudden huge presence has affected employment among local citizens as hundreds of thousands of professional foreigners compete with us for work and they are also the main target of complaints for the sky-high cost of our resale HDB flats.
The government is also seen as out of touch with the ground and the populace has being grimacing for a while about the out-of-control cost of living.
Worse still, their income has being dropping all these years and many middle-income families are struggling to make ends meet as they try their best to cope.
Some families also break up as they could not catch up financially and this group has generally blamed the government for their marital plight.
The ruling party knows that this election will be a watershed one and some political analysts have already predicted at least two GRCs and three SMCs will fall to the opposition parties.
The ruling party will do all it can to protect its political survival even though it is branded as undemocratic and authoritarian.
What good is it to the government if it adopts democratic openness but yet face a devastating loss at the coming election?
Its political survival comes first and it goes to show what kind of a government we have here.
The Online Citizen must be applauded for pushing the online political boundaries in Singapore.
It takes alot of guts and a team that is focused on providing up-to-date analytical articles and Singaporeans must not forget their sacrifice.
Moreover, access to their site is free of charge unlike some other overseas political blogs that charge a annual subscription fee.
The gazette is seen as a step backward by most bloggers and some have even decided not to blog anymore so as not to get into trouble with the authorities.
This will be an unfortunate consequence of the gazette order and hopefully bloggers will return when the heat has died down after the election.