The Online Citizen
A pretty long time ago, I received an email from one Andrew Loh to be invited to write for a local Singaporean online magazine. The first instinctive reaction is suspicion. I wondered if this individual belonged to our army of ultra-paranoid intelligence agents? I prayed he simply come forward and just ask whatever he needs to know if he is one since I am naturally very transparent enough to tell him so. Somehow he did not come across as one and instead appeared sincere to get a diversity of opinions for his online magazine. I obliged and submitted my first article on globalization and its impact on Singapore family values.
Then when the online magazine was finally up, I was rather taken aback. It was called The Online Citizen. It did not keep away from discussing politics in Singapore which is a country that notoriously de-citizenizes the political space. I was a little perturbed because the online citizen was encroaching on the de-citizenized political space, potentially putting itself at risk with the authorities who have always shown that they will never respond gently or gentlemanly to such encroachment.
Then again when I sat back to ponder I realize what is happening is only natural. The establishment of The Online Citizen served as an opening to express one's view in alternative media even within an alternative medium and naturally it motivated the locked up citizens to rush in that direction of that opening. Hence I realized I need not be too shocked to see this phenomenon.
A similar example can be found in the arts scene in Singapore. When an opening started showing up with the government loosening up the arts scene since the 90s, some Singaporeans rushed there till today to air their politcial views. As a commentor rightfully pointed out in my earlier article, some Singaporeans take refuge in arts scene for their political expressions.
Within any system that does not work to normalize any energies and instead close and seal up the system to lock up the energies, when an opening, how small it can be, appears, then one can expect to find a gush of that pressured up energies. Liberals will therefore call for an open system, but then again it does not serve as a remedy as the same impact, only in a milder form, will still occur. A more prudent approach will be to normalize those energies.
Another disturbing thing that I noticed about The Online Citizen was that there was some ranting and griping which frankly speaking are fit for the coffee shop and not for public discourse. There again in which Singapore media do we not find such ranting and griping? Its rather a Singaporean thingy. However in the long run, any publication will turn sour and bitter if it has any such form of ranting and griping.
I also noticed that there were some sympathizers of workers party writing for The Online Citizen. There was also an article/quoted articled from a PAP MP. I was again perturbed. I, personally speaking, will not wish to see the presence of politicians in the discussion space of citizens which need to be apartisan in order to preserve the independence of opinions. Politicians everywhere have a tendency to work hard to sway, swing or win opinions, rather than to be light hearted by simply expressing it and leaving the reader with the freedom to do whatever with it according to his/her wishes or fancies. In a pure citizen space, one can confidently read the content without having to second guess what political affinity the author has. Singapore also has a long way to go in developing such a space for expression of independent thought.
We are nowhere near and instead way far behind Malaysia in this where you can find numerous independent thinkers, analysts and intellectuals. I picked up a Malaysian magazine yesterday and was amused to see the magnitude of independent voices some of whom are retired or current politicians who bravely resist partisan politics. It is critical to establish independent space because then only can the imperfections within a system be consistently and accurately understood in a timely fashion by both the government and the people.
When I was in Canada, on a few occasions I was invited to join a few political parties by friends who were already active strategists/planners/party cadres for those parties. Though I, on numerous occasions, were forced to meet up with some of the politicians there, I never on any occasion wished to enter politics. In partisan politics one has to support for the sake of supporting something even he/she is opposed to it and one has to oppose for the sake of opposing something even if he/she support it. That is one of the many shortcomings of democracy which I can never do. On the other hand, I also got to see many more independent individuals who without entering politics were able to contribute to development of society by acting as independent voices of society. They merely served in their capacity as intellectuals, analysts or thinkers within their faculty as academics, scholars, priests, artists etc.
In Singapore where the ruling party is not keen to open up the political space for a full multiparty democratic environment, the alternative is definitely is to create unrestricted space for independent thought. As I keep reiterating in the previous article and in this one, the need to fully identify imperfections of a system, in order to prevent the collapse or decay of the system, makes it a must to implement it.
The Online Citizen beyond these criticisms is indeed a decent publication and has much hope and potential. Since I don’t drive The Online Citizen and in fact I do not even know who are driving it, my wish for it is to give my above recommendations due consideration. Anyway in the old past, we in Singapore had a vibrant print and intellectual cutlure with numerous newspapers that included some apartisan indepedent papers. Today that culture does not exist and therefore any new alternative media has to face the teething struggles of gaining acceptance by everyone from government to public. It will face the challenges of trying to understand and define its sense of expression. So i guess The Online Citizen needs time before we can fully see what it is.