Singapore Media Watch

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Be a citizen journalist on Stomp's new 'scene' - Straits Times

Straits Times
21 October 2006

By Tessa Wong

Abstract

New section Singapore Seen will carry news, photos sent by readers


Total citizen journalism hits Singapore on Monday.

Singapore Seen, a new section on The Straits Times' media portal Stomp, will let readers know what the talk of the town is in one seamless interactive experience.

"With Singapore Seen, readers can read and respond to a story on the same page, in the same section," explained Stomp executive content producer Chew V Ming.

Each news tip-off sent in by a reader, whether a photo, video or an email, will have its own space. Stompers can respond with comments, give the item a rating and take part in a poll.

According to Stomp's editor, Ms Jennifer Lewis, the Stomp team is "brimming with lots of great ideas, and Singapore Seen is just one of them".


Our review

Citizen journalism or internet conquest by SPH?

"Youthlink", "STOMP", "Citizen journalism" and now "Singapore Seen". The traditional no-nonsense print media in Singapore was galvanized lately by a string of ground-breaking new features that surprised even its detractors.

It appears that the bigwits in SPH (Singapore Press Holdings) are eager and all too yearning to embrace the new media in order to reach out to the young, a generation that is increasingly falling out of the gambit of the mainstream media in favor of a new media dominated by online news, blogs and forums.

In today's IT age where a blog can be created within a minute with no cost at anywhere in the world, anybody can publish anything on the web for public viewing by an international audience.
Journalism, which used to be a profession belonging to a priviledged few and controlled by a major political or commercial entity, suddenly found its monopoly on information being fast eroded by these up and coming new players in the market.

In Singapore where the sole print media, SPH, has intricate links with the ruling party (the current Chairman of SPH is Mr Tony Tan, a former deputy Prime minister and member of the PAP), this "strategic" move to reach out to the new media harbors vested political interests to streamline and manage the vast flow and exchange of information available on the internet.

It is not surprising that the love affair with the new media began only this year and gathered pace especially after the General Election in May 2006 which had sent strong signals to the authorities of the potential and danger posed by the new media.


Citizen journalism in GE 2006

1. The recent Singapore General Elections in 2006 had been a watershed in the emergence and advent of true citizen journalism in Singapore. Blogs covering the election such as the Singapore Election Watch, SG rallies, Littlespeck, Mr Brown and Yawning bread were popular and widely read by Singapore's netizens who are hungry for alternative views other than those reported in the local media.

2. The pro-government stance of the mainstream media and the lack of coverage of the opposition parties' rallies has led to many ordinary citizens turning to the new media for more balanced and objective news. Photos of the ruling party's rallies were splashed all over on the front page of the Straits Times while not a single page was allocated for photos of the Workers' Party's rallies which attracted a far bigger turnout. The huge discrepancy between what was reported and the actual reality itself led to many disgruntled citizens making their own efforts to take and post pictures of WP's rallies on the internet which further damages the credibility of local media.

3. In past elections, political discussion and debates are largely limited to public rallies and the media with little participation from citizens. This election has generated a tremendous interest never seen before in the populace with blogs and forums brimming with high traffic flow. With no restriction on speech, any issue can be discussed about openly under the sun by everybody. The print media has lost its unique role as the indisputable source and moderator of information in the public domain.


Awakening to a new threat posted by the new media

It has not taken long for the government to realize the impending threat posed by the new media to its stranglehold on information control and dissemination. During a post-mortem on the General Election organized by the NUSS (National University of Singapore Society), one of the speakers, Ms Denise Lim, a PAP MP, remarked at the need to "manage" the internet by the government after being taken surprised by the prevalence of"anti-establishment" sentiments commonly seen on the internet.

Shortly after the election, Mr Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts commented in an interview that the government will adopt a "light touch" on the internet. So far, no bloggers or forumers have hauled up in courts for making defamatory remarks on the political leaders and system in Singapore.

Rather than confronting and ostracizing the new media using its usual hardball tactics, the government has been "magnaminous" in extending a warm welcome to a potential rival with the ignoble aim of subduing and incorporating it gradually into its dominion.


Managing the internet in a "light" way:

1. 14 June 2006: STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print) was launched by SPH's flagship newspaper, The Straits Times, amidst much funfare to "connect, engage and interact with its readers. " An estimated S$ 2 million dollars was pumped into the initial setting up of the project.
The Straits Times Editor Han Fook Kwang sent a chilling message to the online community with his explanation on STOMP's creation: “In the new media environment, newspapers have to be more than just passive providers of news. They have to engage their readers in areas which appeal to them. We have to provide readers with new avenues to express themselves, to enable them to interact with us, and among themselves.”

The gist of this message is that the government and mainstream media have made its presence felt in the new media by providing an official alternative avenue (other than the "Wild Wild West" of cyberspace such as Sammyboy forum, a hotbed for opposition activists) for those who are desperate to express themselves. While they will allow limited forms of "interaction", ultimately they are the ones who will delineate the rules of engagement clearly.

http://www.sph.com.sg/news/latest/press_060614_001.html

2. 30 September 2006: Singapore Press Holdings Limited announced "its acquisition of Hardware Zone Pte Ltd and its subsidiaries (“HWZ”). The total investment to purchase HWZ is S$7.1 million." Many netizens are sceptical of its motives and remain unconvinced it is purely a commercial decision. There were grouses that this unprecedented move by SPH into web publishing marks the the spread of the government's influence in cyberspace, previously a forbidden zone to them and exclusive only to the opposition camp.

http://www.sph.com.sg/news/latest/press_060929_001.html

3. Blogging by ministers and MPs: Even the usual dour and solemn PAP MPs and ministers have joined in the fun to "click" with the young Singaporeans. A group of MPs calling themselves the "P65 MPs" (or post-65ers Singaporeans born after the nation's independence) has a blog dedicated to "sharing" minute intimate details of their daily lives with fellow citizens. Foreign Minister George Yeo had also started blogging on the blog of a Young PAP member Ephraim Loy.

As one MP put in succinctly "I hope that you will get a better idea of the person that I am. Get to know me as a person and as an MP. See what I have been doing and want to do for you." Not surprisingly, these half-hearted superficial attempts were slammed by cynics as nothing useful or constructive, a mere "facade" to win support from the would-be young voters in the next GE.


Will the last bastion of free speech be conquered?

A journalist commented “the Internet remains the last bastion of free speech and here come the MPs to invade it”. Whether it was intended or not, a significant proportion of netizens are less than enthusiastic of the government's recent forays into cyberspace.

With the vast resources and network it has at its disposal, SPH certainly has the capacity to completely dominate cyberspace, wooing youth over with freebies, free publicity and monetary rewards.

Judging from the weekly ranking of Singapore blogs by Singaporeblog.net, political blogs still lag far behind in popularity compared to "mundane" blogs on jobs, stocks, women and personal lives.

The authorities shouldn't be too worried as politically active netizens and bloggers still constitute only a minority of young Singaporeans and they will have little impact on the political landscape of Singapore in spite of its increasing popularity.

SPH may never understand why "citizen journalism" can only flourish spontaneously from "bottoms-up" without any restriction or fear instead of a "top-down" approach to control and moderate information flow and dissemination.

As STOMP widens its net to entice more young Singaporeans into its fold, a minority will continue to remain unmoved, guarding jealously the very last bastion of free speech bequeathed to them behind the borderless confines of cyberspace.

What are your views of the ST's "citizen journalism"? Please share with us your views here!

4 Comments:

  • SPH's unique style of journalism! Welcome on board, lelong, lelong!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:08 PM  

  • With guys like you around, we will forever hold the bastion!

    Well done and please keep this great blog going.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:36 PM  

  • See : http://youtube.com/watch?v=jPoHCQ0dMYc

    Cheers,
    Hou.

    By Blogger En & Hou, at 11:14 PM  

  • yeah, I have forwarded it to my friends in U.K, continue to build on the good work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:38 PM  

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