Written by Ng E-Jay
01 August 2012
The Media Literacy Council (MLC) which will be set up on 01 August 2012 is yet another attempt by the government to control and stifle dissenting voices on the internet. Far from promoting media literacy, the MLC will instead be promoting media illiteracy, which is what the ruling PAP has been promoting for the past 50 years.
Spearheaded by Media Development Authority (MDA) and chaired by Professor Tan Cheng Han from the National University of Singapore’s Law Faculty, the MLC said it aimed to “partner government bodies, private sector organisations, community groups and social media influencers to raise awareness of media literacy issues across all online and offline media platforms, and promote a safe, secure and civil media environment for all”.
The MLC will also “advise the government on the appropriate policy response to an increasingly complex and borderless world of media, technology, consumer expectations and participation”.
On the surface, such intentions seems benign and even well-grounded.
However, history tells a different tale.
For the past 50 years, the PAP government has kept a tight lid on the traditional media, stifled opportunities for independent journalism via the use of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), and actively censored content that was politically damaging to itself.
The internet changed the media landscape drastically as it is a medium of communication that no government can control or censor without shutting itself off from the rest of the world.
Suddenly, the PAP found itself vulnerable, robbed of the use of its strong-arm tactics at bullying and silencing its critics. It therefore began to try to moderate dissenting voices by using the soft approach, under the umbrella of promoting civil or constructive discourse.
Some months ago, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Yaacob Ibrahim tried to spearhead the creation of an internet Code of Conduct that Singaporean netizens were supposed to adhere to. This proposal was smacked down so hard by netizens that the suggestion never saw the light of day again. Until now.
Now, the government wants to do the same thing, but has packaged the idea under the broader umbrella of “media literacy”. It is, however, old wine in a new wine skin. For instance, just observe how the same Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, will now be the one appointing all the members of the new council on media literacy.
The government is trying to re-establish the groundwork leading towards a set of rules governing internet behaviour for Singaporean users, even whilst the original proposal was shot down and thoroughly debunked by netizens.
And it will certainly not be done in a “bottom up approach” as what Dr Yaacob himself suggested some time back, because all the members he has appointed or will appoint to the council will be overwhelmingly people associated with the establishment, and looking at issues from the establishment viewpoint.
One thing is clear — at the end of the day, it will be government deciding, through the auspices of this new council, what is to be considered constructive debate or civil discourse in cyberspace.
That to me is the best recipe for media illiteracy.