Freedom of speech dying from regulation

From ‘Bloggers want new media rules revoked’, 9 June 2013, article by Tessa Wong, Sunday Times

A group of bloggers plans to start a campaign to lobby MPs and seek a dialogue with the Government for the withdrawal of new licensing rules for news websites….The group, calling itself Free My Internet, announced its plans to reporters after a three-hour protest rally yesterday at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park.

A total of 15 bloggers and editors of websites such as The Online Citizen (TOC), Public House and TR Emeritus (TRE) spoke at the rally before a crowd estimated by the organisers to be between 2,000 and 2,500.

…Last Thursday, more than 150 sites took part in a 24-hour online blackout, featuring a black page with the words: Free My Internet. The same words were emblazoned on the black T-shirts worn by the speakers at yesterday’s rally.

At the end of the protest, a mock tombstone with the words, “RIP Freedom of Speech. Death by Regulation. Died in 2013″ was brought to the stage. People from the crowd laid flowers before it.

You’ll be missed dearly, Freedom

“Freedom of speech” didn’t go down quietly;  it was a sudden, brutal killing. But it seems like our old friend Freedom has the habit of rising from the dead instead of ‘resting in peace’, before supposedly perishing again and again. It ‘died’ when the government made peaceful demonstrations illegal without a permit, when bloggers were issued lawyers’ letters, when cartoonists got arrested for sedition — all this before MDA’s bomb-dropping and the black T-shirts. I believe there remains some flicker of life in Freedom as I write, otherwise guys in intimidating suits, shades and Bluetooth earpieces would come barging into my house and confiscate my laptop and POSB savings book the moment I click ‘Publish’.

Someone once remarked that MDA’s licensing of news sites is ‘overkill’, but it appears that some FMI supporters are taking a leaf out of the same book and responding in kind. There is always a tendency for exaggeration and Les Miserables levels of theatrics in any form of protest or rally, and I’m not sure if getting carried away by raw emotions and blowing up a call for regulation rethink into alarmist mass culling of our ‘rights’ is the way to do it or if it merely justifies the ministry’s assumption that we don’t know what the hell we’re blurting about. It’s not the end of the world, and even if the blogosphere one day becomes confined to a state-monitored chatroom where you need a licence to ‘talk’, you could always go ‘offline’ and express your thoughts with pen and paper like our grandparents used to do, and get these champions of freedom to help distribute your work to the shackled, brainwashed masses smuggled in bento boxes like they do during the Japanese Occupation. We’ll worry when the government starts licensing the sale of stationery. I’m probably dead by then anyway.

This FMI collective isn’t the first time bloggers have banded together because they didn’t want to look like lone renegade wolves or antisocial Grumpy Cats who sit around and do nothing (But the fact is some of us ARE neurotic introverts and social misfits who’d rather stay out of this politics business and write poems about unrequited love instead). In 2009, ‘East Coast Life’ blogger Jayne Goh founded a non-profit organisation called The Association of Bloggers, driven by her conviction that blogosphere was in an ‘appalling’ state and that its residents were like ‘loose sand’. Its objectives include promoting ‘professionalism’ among the blogger community and ‘fostering identity with credibility’. Within a month, 8 dropped out of the 10-member committee, with ‘disagreements’ cited as reason for the breakup. I also wonder if the $50 entrance fee , the fact that the association was made up of ‘nobodies’, or Jayne declaring herself PRESIDENT and having a love for Elmo had anything to do with it. The President even got herself embroiled in a defamation lawsuit later in 2009 for alleging that a former teacher was sacked for corruption. If you want to be a champion of bloggers, it’s probably a good idea to set an example, stay out of trouble and not be a self-righteous snob about it. Otherwise it’s not a ‘movement’ so much as a vanity project, though it’s quite hard to tell the difference these days.

FMI probably viewed AoB’s disaster as a case study of ‘How NOT to form a blogger coalition’ and took off from there. Famous bloggers? Check. No hierarchical structure? Check. Catchy title?Check.  Free to join? Major CHECK. FMI was no doubt a viral success, but it remains to be seen if it can achieve its desired outcome before a clash of egos gets in the way. The mainstream media sold the protest well, unlike how they described the first Blogger’s Conference in 2005 as a ‘big yawn’. Which just goes to show how bloggers have started to be taken seriously of late, though I dread the day when ANYONE who blogs is automatically labelled as a loudmouthed firebrand with an educated (likely anti-establishment) opinion about government policies (i.e a troublemaker) when all they’re doing is posting photos of their disgruntled cat in various states of indolence or ‘reblogging’ porn for personal enjoyment.

I’d imagine the following job interview taking place if FMI becomes TOO successful for its own good.

Boss: ‘So.. what do you in your free time?’

Me: ‘I blog’

SILENCE

Me: ‘I don’t take part in protests, in case you’re wondering’.

Boss:’So you visit the Online Citizen and TRE often, I suppose?’

Me: ‘No, I just write my thoughts about what’s happening in the country’

Boss: ‘Like politics?’

Me: ‘Did I say I write about my Thoughts? Erm..sorry I meant I post pictures of food. It’s a food blog. I love food. It’s great!’

FMI ended with the organisers belting out ‘Stand by Me’ when I was expecting something more akin to Nine Inch Nails to suit the black shirt theme. If the government ever had an emergency conference to discuss how to address the blogger uprising, they’d probably close it with another evergreen classic. All together now!

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