From ‘TRS’ bid to stoke social tension unacceptable’, 7 May 2015, ST Forum
(Ann Chan, director of Communications, MDA): THE Media Development Authority (MDA) strongly disagrees with Ms Braema Mathi’s assertions that our actions are “draconian” and “excessive” (“Regulating online space: Engaging stakeholders in dialogue much better”; yesterday).
Based on information that has come to light, The Real Singapore’s (TRS) editors Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi were deliberately fabricating articles and inserting falsehoods to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments and undermine Singapore’s national harmony.
They did this to attract more readers to TRS, and thus, generate more advertising revenue for themselves. They were, in effect, lining their pockets at Singapore’s expense.
Suspending TRS’ licence was necessary to ensure Yang and Takagi did not do more damage with their deceitful reporting. In suspending TRS’ licence, the MDA had provided Yang and Takagi our grounds for doing so, including specifying the offending articles that contravened the Internet Code of Practice, and giving them seven days to explain why their licence should not be cancelled. They can also appeal against the suspension. Due process has been followed.
We agree with Ms Mathi that the diversity of Singapore’s populace should be reflected in the diversity of opinions online. But accepting diversity does not mean we also have to accept deceit, fabrications, plagiarism and distortions – all just to make a quick buck.
Unlike human rights activists like Braema Mathi, media experts have lauded the TRS ban by MDA as an example of the authority’s ‘light touch’ approach because TRS was considered an ‘extreme’ site among other platforms with similar content. In other words, the MDA was ‘magnanimous’ enough to leave the less popular, but equally offensive, sites alone, sites that weren’t milking the eyeballs of gullible Singaporeans and ‘making a quick buck’.
Apparently a ‘light touch’ is also an inconsistent, cherry-picking one, one that does nothing more that make the xenophobe poster-child that is TRS a scapegoat and hope that the rest of the wannabes clean up their act out of fear. It’s as ‘light-handed’ as a mob boss burying someone alive for not paying his dues ‘as a lesson’ to anyone who even thinks of screwing him over. There’s no evidence that this approach is even effective. A ‘Straits Times Review’ site (renamed States Times Review to avoid legal tussles with ST) with a similar bent as TRS has come online as we speak. MDA believed it had lopped off the Medusa’s head like Perseus when all it did was snip off one of the Hydra’s.
No details were given by MDA as to how much TRS makes from posting these evil ‘fabrications’ to qualify the ‘quick buck’ claim, nor exactly the level of ‘damage’ the site has caused to warrant a total shutdown since its inception. This explanation in defence of their ‘draconian’ web content-slaying seems to be flip-flopping between TRS as a threat to national harmony and their unscrupulous profiteering. If ‘due process’ had been followed, then it seems rather at odds with this whole ‘light touch’ policy given that some sites get hit, while others, like TRE or the aggressive Blood Stained Singapore blog, do not.
The internet, of course, is full of deceit and distortions. Influencers are paid to write negative reviews of telcos, for example. A famous blogger who supposedly cured her brain cancer by eating ‘wholefoods’ recently admitted that it was all a damn sham. Unlike the alleged ‘damage’ that TRS has caused, following a quack’s advice instead of seeking medical attention actually kills you in the long run. Other authors exaggerate, sensationalise and frame their content whichever way they see fit to get readership, some of international standing earning the wrath of our own leaders for slanted journalism. I could create an entire fantasy blog about how I’m actually 100 years old and that the secret to my longevity is watching porn and masturbating 3 times a day and there WILL be suckers who buy into it. Between a site that tells you lies about PRCs vs another that says bulimia and anorexia are good for you, I think there would be stronger justification to ban the latter, when actual lives are at stake.
Speaking of lies, STOMP should be grateful to MDA for their ‘light touch’ policy then, especially after the SPH-owned portal posted a fake article about a faulty MRT door, and ‘making a quick buck’ out of such fabrications at the expense of our beloved SMRT. Instead of adopting a ‘slash-and-burn’ approach to weeding the internet of pesky sites, the authorities should embark on a proper literacy program to cultivate critical thinking and discretion when reading online material. Shutting down entire sites just because you disapprove of some of the content is simply caveman enforcement, the kind that thumps you into submission first before involving any higher brain activity to prevent future victims from falling for such nonsense elsewhere i.e without planning ahead.
People for centuries have been, and will always be, seduced by all kinds of fictitious bullshit for as long as the written word exists, whether it’s on papyrus or on an iPad. Today, we call most of these ‘advertisements’. TRS already has its fair share of vocal opponents, including ministers dying to file defamation suits. Purging it entirely without giving users the chance to critique and challenge its content like one trading blows with a sparring partner is, in government-speak, a ‘missed opportunity’ for internet literacy, and MDA itself, to evolve. We should learn how to tame the growing beast of social media without cracking a thicker whip every time it roars.