Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors. "


This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has been going on and on in my mind since I got started on the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) report., which included excerpts from the seminar on the Proposal for Internet Freedom. When I asked another blogger for his take, his response was a "no point, they are not interested in what we have to say, they have more or less made up their minds." Which was interesting and was reflected in the AIMS consultation paper as well, where focus groups revealed that ".... were also skeptical of the Government’s intention to gather feedback."

My colleagues have been throwing ideas and opinions via email these past few days and some of them have been very interesting. And the significance of the 'liberalisation' of the Hong Lim Speakers Corner has not been lost on us. Though stationing reporters there throughout the evening seemed to drive home the point that there's still a lack of uptake of people coming up to discuss issues in the public sphere. This is an attempt to open up more physical spaces for people to gather and discuss issues which matter to them, a concept which has been around since the time of Socrates and replicated successfully in places such as London's Hyde Park. I remembered being fascinated on my first trip to London and I saw picket fences and peaceful demonstrations outside places like Westminister Abbey. But will this work here?

While I think that it is laudable for AIMS to come up with this report, there were some portions which raised questions for me. While they are advocating community particpation and engagement, they seemed cautious as to how to approach it. There seems to be a tenacious situation where the government recognises the difficulty in regulating the internet yet hesitant in allowing the netizens free rein. There were interesting local and overseas case studies from S. Korea, Australia, US, China and the UK but still I did not see anything concrete in the steps AIMS was going to implement with regard to this.

Also, their hesitancy and cautiousness was displayed in the course of the report, when words like "radical" were used which protrayed new media in a negative light - this was something which my colleague highlighted and I totally agreed. This seems to run afoul of what they emphasised - keeping an open mind, when dealing with new media.

The report mainly goes through issues such as e-engagement, online political content, protection of minors and intermediary liabilities, which are pertinent issues as most bloggers here, the digital natives, still fall within the category of minor and might not be aware of the legal responsibilities which come with blogging.

After reading the Straits Times today, I think that the Bloggers 13 did raise some interesting points, but I think that advocating for free speech online might be too much of a leap in a country which has never had a reputation for free speech advocacy in real life. Why should that be any different online, even after acknowledging the affordances of the internet?

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