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Saturday January 13th 2018

Rising Popularity of Socio-political Sites Feared by the Authorities

This article first appeared here on 11 Oct 2010.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Netizens are abuzz with the latest saga arising from the recent  The New Paper (TNP) article on the real mastermind behind the widely-read  socio-political blog. The Temasek Review (TR).

The Online Citizen (TOC) and Temasek Review remain the top two most popular socio-political blogs in Singapore and are access  by at least 20,000 readers daily. Their Alexa world ranking – meant for tracking the accessibility of websites – are in the 100,000s.  Other socio-political blogs such as Singapore Inquirer, Singabloodypore,  Yawning Bread, Diary of A Singaporean Mind and are also popular but to a lesser degree.

There are now more than twenty socio-political websites in Singapore but none enjoy such popularity than the  mentioned top two.

To add salt to wound, these  two blogs are also credited with the tag of “unofficial underground Straits Times paper”  for their alternative coverage of socio-political happenings in Singapore.

In 2009, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 133 out of 175 in the Press Freedom Index[3], making it the worst country among other developed economies based on the Human Development Index (source: wikipedia). Its a shameful tag to any first world country.

Anti-PAP Flyer Saga

In a shocking front-page article dated 9 Oct,  journalist Ms Ng Wan Ching has alleged     that   Dr Joseph Ong Chor Teck is also the mastermind behind the TR anti-government blog.

She found this out while investigating a lead alluding that Dr Ong is also the one that spread anti-PAP flyers during a smear campaign against Member of Parliament (MP) Lee Bee Wah few months ago.

Mainstream media (MSM) rarely carries out such cloak-and-dagger  investigative reporting and netizens have cried foul that it is all a sinister collaboration between the police and msm to bring down a highly-popular blogsite.

Some have also speculated that the lead  Ms Ng worked on originated from the police source. This however could not be verified.

TR has  all along maintain much secrecy on the identity of their editorial team unlike TOC which is   headed openly by Andrew Loh and a voluntary editorial team.

They have also maintained that their editorial team is based overseas. It is apparent that the team is apprehensive of being  legally implicated due to their highly-critical news coverage of the government.

Incidentally, Andrew Loh, Chief Editor of TOC was also invited by the Police for a casual chat few months ago for the same anti-PAP flyer saga:

“We would … like to disclose that the police did summon TOC’s Chief Editor, Andrew Loh, to the police station to ask about the so-called “anti-PAP” flier which was reportedly distributed to several housing estates in April. The police wanted to know if Andrew knew who was behind the flier. Andrew told them the truth – which is that he didn’t. The interview with the police was cordial and lasted less than 15 minutes.”

Both the socio-political blogs have published stories on the anti-PAP flyers. Other socio-political blogs have  published similar stories but it is unsure whether they are also being investigated by the police.

Nevertheless, the investigations that went on relentlessly even though the flyer saga happened a good  six months ago revealed that the authorities  are viewing the matter very seriously.

It is also highly possible that the Sedition Act charge will  be thrown at the accused Dr Ong if  enough evidence is found against him.

The TNP  article further alleged that:

“Dr Ong admitted he was the man behind posters which showed Ms Lee’s photograph on the cover of a toilet bowl, with lines below it imploring Khatib residents to ask the MP to step down as the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).

The New Paper understands that police investigations into the incident led them to Dr Ong, who was then called in to give statements.

The New Paper understands that Dr Ong identified himself to the police as being the founder of Wayang Party and later, Temasek Review.”

The editorial team of TR has since came out with a statement denying that Dr Ong is part of the management group that administered TR few years ago. They maintained that he is merely a regular contributor to the then-called Wayang Party and is currently not active with them.

Authorities Feeling The Heat On Rising Popularity of Socio-political Sites?

Many netizens have accused the authorities of using the excuse of the anti-PAP flyer saga to bring  down hardcore socio-political sites  or at least send them a direct message to tone down on their anti-government stance.

The general election is approaching soon  and some have speculated that the authorities may want to send the right message to internet users to blog responsibly.

This  is not surprising as  the authorities may be  alarmed at the immense popularity of  anti-government blog sites and wonder at the actual  impact they  will have  on the forthcoming election.

Moreover, Singapore’s 2010 internet statistics put our total internet users at 3,370,000 with a penetration of 72.4%  - one of the highest in the world.

The young voters especially will be a source  of concern  for the authorities as they are easily impressionable and could  be influenced by half-true anti-government articles.

To make the situation worse, the government has  failed in its attempt to win young voters over when they  have to recently close down the PAP Youth Wing network due to a lack of participation. Most of the comments left behind on the website were also anti-government remarks.

For the first time, the government have come to realize that they are not winning the hearts and minds of the young voters in the modern era of blogs and websites. More seriously, they saw that the mushrooming  political parties’ blogs have won over many of such young voters to their side. If this goes unchecked, it may even have a adverse  implication at the forthcoming election for the ruling party.

To their credit, ministers such as Mr Khaw Boon Wan and George Yeo have started their own  blogs and in, Mr Khaw  regularly took time to explain certain intricate health policies in a personalised friendly capacity.  I thought that it was cool for our minister to reach out  to the ground  in this unique  casual manner.

Mr Khaw has managed to debunk the myth that ministers only like to discuss policies that affect the general population in their own closed-up ivory towers.

However, it is unsure what is the general readership profile of the minister’s blog and how effective it has being in explaining some of the controversial health policies put up recently.

Authorities Stepping Up Heat On Irresponsible Blogging

It is envisaged that the internet engine will be widely used by the opposition parties during campaigning period for the next election and  this may even help swing  votes away from the ruling party. This is the reason why the government has advocated a “cooling off” period one day prior to polling. The use of publicity via the internet is also disallowed by law during the cooling off period.

Singaporeans have also grown frustrated of a pro-state MSM and many have turn to such socio-political internet sites for an alternative view. There is also this website that covers all other alternative news   on our country. New socio-political sites – all mostly critical of the government have also mushroomed over the past few years and have quickly gained popularity.

However, a  few bloggers hauled up by the police for investigation recently,  have sent strong signals that the police will step in if bloggers are not writing responsibly especially during a period so close to the forthcoming election. It is  envisaged that this will be a watershed year for the ruling party as ground sentiments have grown to be favourable to the opposition parties due to a series of misjudged policies by the government.

In August, Abdul Malik Ghazali, 27, who posted a series of comments on the social networking site Facebook critical of how Singapore is hosting the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) was arrested by the local police. He also said that  it was time to “burn” the sports minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and the PAP. He is currently released on bail pending investigation.

Prior to that, in July, another blogger –  a Singapore Police Force national serviceman, Abdillah Zamzuri, has been questioned by his reservist unit over comments he made on his blog relating to the arrest of a photojournalist during June’s flash floods.

In that incident, Lianhe Wanbao photojournalist Shafie Goh was handcuffed briefly by police while covering the flash floods along Upper Bukit Timah Road on July 16 (source:

In a July 19 post entitled, Singapore’s Flood in Cuffs, on his self-entitled blog, Abdillah described himself as “someone who still reports for reservist duty as a Police Officer”.

It is apparent that the police is uncomfortable with bloggers going public with activities conducted within  their reservist units citing national security as a valid reason for the arrest.

If bloggers are allowed to talk openly about their army or police reservist on-goings, there is every reason to believe that national security may be compromised  here.

July 2010 also saw the arrest of Alan Shadrake, a British author of the book  ”Once a Jolly Hangman” which  investigated the death penalty of several high-profiled cases in Singapore. His arrest has sent shock waves round the world as this is the first time that a foreign author was charged in court here for criminal defamation.

His improbable arrest will definitely impair relationship with the western media which has place freedom of speech highly on its agenda.

More significantly, these  high-profiled arrests seem to have a negative spill-over effect  on netizens as bloggers start to be wary of what they say online and grow  cautious of who their readers are. It is a known secret by now that the government has implant online troopers that are out to track and monitor negative anti-government dissidents.

During that awful 2-month period, comments on socio-political sites also nosedived as many readers are worried  that their IP addresses could be identified if they left behind anti-government remarks online.

Many have also speculated that there will be more arrests in future if  bloggers continue to be hardlined and adopt a anti-government stance in their blogging activities.

The recent TR saga, though surprisingly coming from the TNP media involvement, seemed to underscore this fear.

Will the popular socio-political blog faces its eventual demise through an official shutdown directive after operating for so long unharassed? Only time will tell…

Bloggers Generally Left Unchecked Past Few Years

Nevetheless,  to the government’s credit, bloggers are generally left untouched and one has to go  at least   five years  back to witness another  high-profiled string of  arrests involving bloggers. The government has all along adovcate a hands-free moderating policy on the general population of bloggers calling for them to stay away particularly from racist and religious rantings online.

However,  in a police crackdown on irresponsible blogging, three bloggers were arrested in 2005 for posting posting racist remarks online.

Seventeen-year-old private school student Gan Huai Shi is accused of promoting ill will and hostility among different races through comments on his blog.  He was the third person charged under the Sedition Act during that week alone.

In two unrelated cases, Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, and Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, were charged with similar offences. Gan faces seven charges under the Sedition Act for offences he was said to have committed between April 4 and July 16. He allegedly made four inflammatory comments about Malays and Muslims on the Internet within days of starting his blog.

In one offensive entry on April 4, he allegedly made it clear that he was ‘extremely racist’. Gan, represented by lawyer Edmond Pereira, was released on bail of $15,000 and is due back in court on Sept 20. He could end up in jail for up to three years on each of the charges (source: Mr Wang Says So).

However, compared to events happened five years ago, the current  arrests looked  more ominous as the authorities are  now targetting dissidents.

Dr Ong and Mr Abdul Malik Ghazali    were both  accused of  instigating violence – one for spreading anti-PAP flyers and the other for online posting. Both are in violation of the Sedition Act.

If TR is implicated here, it will mostly be for their relentless pursuit of writing anything that is anti-government.

It is  not difficult to understand why as their popularity is  not limited locally and has also  caught the eyes of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) network which has recently asked for a media interview with the editors in Singapore.

More seriously, their  articles were  increasingly been cited by both foreign and local media – events that would not go down well with the authorities. It is one thing to be popular underground but its a different ballgame if you gain a cult following internationally. It makes the authorities look small and ridiculously inept and they will want to do anything possible to regain that political advantage with the international media community.

Thus, the important question to ask  now is: Are the authorities   feeling the heat of  immense popularity of  our social-political blog sites  and decide to take drastic remedial action to curb its rise prior to the coming election?

If so, will there be more  arrests made  in future  thus  sending  a strong deterrence message to the whole blogging community  that the authorities will not hesitate to clamp down  on dissent?

Bloggers can however take heart that so far only one blogger – Singapore dissident Gopalan Nair was jailed three months in 2008 for insulting High Court Judge Belinda Ang in a blog posting on May 29, 2008.

Moreover, a weakened blogging community will definitely dampen the online political advantage   for  the resurgent opposition parties. This can only be good news for the ruling party.

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Reader Feedback

9 Responses to “Rising Popularity of Socio-political Sites Feared by the Authorities”

  1. cy says:

    correction: Joseph ong was not involved in anti-PAP flyers. up till today,no one was arrested by the police on this issue.

  2. Three blind mice says:

    Nice Govt site that doesn’t even feel like a govt site. Like those fake US towns the Soviets used to put up in along the East/West divide. I wonder what were they really for?

  3. Three blind mice says:

    FYI most netizens already know what TR is all about. The cat is out of the bag.

  4. CW Fong says:

    Social Media (blogs and networking websites like Friendster, FaceBook and Twitter), have brought together individuals with similar friends or interests into virtual communities. The homogenity of these communities, and sense of bond among “friends” with common interests, makes these communities susceptible to being easily organised and galvanised to support causes.

    Unfortunately, these virtual communities can also be abused by individuals. The Greek Riot in 2008 is a case in point where the death of a student, at the hands of the police, need not have degenerated into nation-wide violent protests. The incident could have remained contained pending investigations by the authorities. Unfortunately, irresponsible citizens began spreading unsubstantiated accusations of police brutality on social networking sites. This fanned anti-police sentiments which eventually spiralled out of control. Analysts are unanimous in their belief that social networking websites were the catalysts in the Greek riots of 2008.

    Hence, while I fully agree that Singaporean should have the rights to speak, such freedom must come with responsibility and I support the police’s actions to investigate if a crime has been committed.

  5. The Independence says:

    The Kongkongers are rally against the government for high priced housing. Here in Singapore, people are snapping up S$750k EC, S$400-500k 4/5 rm HDB flats..are we really so rich ??? or just that we can only LL…

  6. Denial Tan says:

    It takes 2 hands to clap.

    Why did the anti-government sites did so well in the last few years?

    Frustrated with bad government policies and high-handed handling/suppressed handling of press and vocal voices in the media was the cause of all this.

    In the 80s and 90s or even early 2000s, nobody is really interested in anti-government sites, but, why now?

    This is the force of ’cause and effect’ in the working.

  7. patriciaberlin says:

    Social media (blogs and networking sites like Friendster, Facebook and Twitter), have brought together individuals with similar interests or friends in virtual communities.

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