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Me in the Media #9: Shift in mindset needed? (AIMS) [Aug. 30th, 2008|04:19 pm]
Shift in mindset needed? ; While there are practical issues, it is important to relook attitudes
Alicia Wong 
TODAY (Singapore), 30 August 2008

THERE has to be a shift in mindset within the Singapore Government when it comes to engaging new media. This was a key point of the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims) when it released for public consultation on Friday its recommendations to engage netizens.

While the council understands the “real practical issues” the Government has in replying to the broad range and often anonymous online comments, the Internet “has become so important that the Government had better take another look at this attitude that they have”, said Aims chairman Cheong Yip Seng. The Government’s hesitance to respond to online letters to the press shows “the degree of warmth” it has towards new media, he said.

Focusing on four key areas, the council recommended the Government embark on greater e-engagement.

Aims urged the Government to engage voices outside official platforms such as Reach, and establish a panel of young cyber-savvy people to “give feedback on what works and what doesn’t”. But first, the civil service needs to develop the skills to engage online and think through the process of engagement, or this could end up “counter-productive”, he said.

Council member Associate Professor Milagros Riveria said: “You create antagonistic views and cynicism among the public if you don’t do what you said you will do.”

Mr Cheong said a key reason for going online is that “the new rules of engagement are going to have a profound effect on the electoral process” here.

He cited how the Internet played a key role in the Malaysian elections and is continuing to do in the American elections.

“Some journalists in Australia call their recent election the Facebook/YouTube election. It’s a very clear acknowledgement that the new media is an important part of the exercise and how you use it can have a big influence on the vote,” he said.

Calling for the liberalisation of online political content, Aims suggested removing the registration requirement for people wanting to address political or religious issues on their websites, and allowing Web 2.0 technology such as podcasts during the elections.

The council also called for a liberalisation of Section 33 of the Films Act, which prohibits the making, distribution and exhibiting of party political films, saying it is “simply too restrictive”.

In its place, Aims offered three options — to narrow the scope of the law so only “clearly misleading” films are banned; to repeal the law and perhaps introduce a “blackout period” where new party political films cannot be created or distributed during the elections; or to repeal Section 33 in phases.

The council also made recommendations to offer limited immunity for Internet content hosts against online defamation. Similar to protection offered to Internet Service Providers, content hosts would be immune so long as they remove the material after receiving a “credible and authenticated” request from the allegedly defamed party.

While Aims has addressed four “urgent” issues, it would like more reviews and revisions in time to come on other issues such as online privacy, the impact of new media to family relations and the desirability of the Government taking a dual approach to traditional and new media.

For now, the council believes it is pushing the envelope with its recommendations as there will be considerable impact on the political content, said Mr Cheong.

Deputy editor of The Online Citizen Gerald Giam said he was “happy” Aims recommended the repeal of Section 33 of the Films Act. However, he wanted to do away with the blackout period as it would “unnecessarily hamper political parties’ ability to communicate with the electorate”.

He called for more political liberalisation not just online but in other areas, then “we will see many more moderates step forward to express their views. As it stands now, unnecessarily strict laws with regard to political speech result in only a certain activist segment of society daring to speak up”.

Editor of Tomorrow.sg Gabriel Seah was “pleasantly surprised” by the recommendations. He expected Aims to be more conservative. Yet, Mr Seah questioned the impact of the immunity afforded to content hosts. If someone is sent an authenticated notice to take down material, “virtually everyone will not want to go through the legal hassle and will comply”, he pointed out. “Many of the recommendations are just formalising existing practice,” he said. For instance, not many are asked to register under the Class License Scheme anyway.

In the year the council took to come up with its recommendations, it consulted industry players, educators, bloggers, non-government and government organisations in Singapore and overseas. It also consulted a cross-section of citizens.

The Aims consultation paper is available at www.aims.org.sg.