The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) held a closed door conference on Thursday on the proposed Code of Conduct (COC) for the Internet. The event was attended by the officers from various ministries, MDA, academics, bloggers and observers from the media.
Some bloggers have given their views:
Leave the Internet alone – Belmont Lay.
A code’s not gonna bring civility to cyberspace – Ravi Philemon.
A voluntary code of ethics for blogs – Cherian George.
Forget code of ethics, free up mainstream media – Elaine Ee.
I also wrote two earlier pieces, one for TR Emeritus: “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think“, and another for publichouse.sg: “Going beyond a code for the Internet“.
From what transpired at the IPS event, it is safe to say that there is majority consensus among the bloggers, those who will be most affected by such a code, that there is no need for this code of ethics.
MICA Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has been selling – or trying to sell – this koyok the last week or so. Someone said to me, before the conference commenced, “Someone up there said we need a code, and everyone down the line scrambles to see how to make it happen.”
As a blogger myself, I am rather puzzled by how the minister is going about trying to “get bloggers to come up with a code of conduct”.
As of now, as far as I am aware, neither MICA nor the MDA has approached any bloggers and sought their views on such a code. The IPS conference was organised by IPS itself, which is a think tank. MDA was invited to present its views as one of the panelists. It has not, itself, organised or approached any of the bloggers.
Which brings me to my point:
The MDA – and MICA – seem to have adopted a loudhailer method of doing things, going through the mainstream media to “advise” or “persuade” bloggers to devise the code themselves. To me, such a method lacks sincerity. But then again, perhaps it is just as well – it would look like the Govt is stepping in to get such a thing going which it is doing, which has led to perception that it is the Govt adopting this top-down approach, which ironically MDA says it does not want to do and is not doing.
So, it is kind of confusing.
In any case, the more Yaacob Ibrahim insists, through the mainstream media, that such a code is needed and wants bloggers to create it, the more he and the government will be seen as intimately involved in it, the very thing which he keeps saying he doesn’t want to do.
At the risk of repeating myself, I’d say this, which was what I said at the IPS conference:
“Leave us alone.”
The Government, and Yaacob Ibrahim in particular, does not understand the Internet, he does not know how it works, he does not even know what bloggers do, why they feel a certain way about a certain issue – and most of all, he does not understand why the Internet (or the blogosphere) is the way it is.
My stand is a simple one:
The Internet is the one space we ordinary citizens have to speak freely and to express ourselves honestly and genuinely. This is a precious space for us, after 50 years of a paternalistic government which brooked no dissent, criticism or questioning. It is a space where we get to see the other side of the story, the other side of the issues.
It is woeful that, after 5 decades of this so-called “nation building” mainstream media, Singaporeans feel more disenchanted with it than ever. It can laud itself with all the (in-house) awards it wants, or even win international awards for design and paper quality, the truth is that our mainstream media lacks the kind of top quality journalism a first world country like ours desperately needs.
As my friend, Elaine Ee, wrote: ”People don’t want – and won’t accept – their media being one boring PAP loudspeaker screaming morality tales.”
Yet, Yaacob Ibrahim, like ministers before him, continues to bury his head in the sand and praises the mainstream media to the high heavens.
It just tells me, and everyone else, how woefully inadequate his understanding of public sentiments is.
It is this which makes me reject any intrusion into the online space by the government, no matter how well-intentioned its purpose may be. There is a great distrust of the government among online practitioners. And this is another thing which Yaacob Ibrahim does not understand.
The more he pushes for a code of ethics, the more he and the govt will not be trusted.
I am also puzzled by this need, really, for things to be prim and proper, to be properly put in boxes, labelled, stacked up and be easily identified. This need for everyone to behave, to toe the line, to act and behave like the most civilised person on the planet.
Such views are divorced from reality. Completely.
As a foreign professor said about Singapore some years back, Singapore needs to allow some messiness, some unpredictability.
And this is why I am grateful for the Internet – there is the proper, the rational, the irrational, the loud, the quiet, the colourful, the dull, the noisy, those who stay within the bounds and those who push the boundaries.
This is what we should support, promote and welcome.
And it is for these reasons – and this messy space which Singapore so badly need – that I would repeat to Yaacob Ibrahim and the government: “Leave us alone.”
And as one participant at the conference said, about what the government should do: “Grow a thick skin.”
I join Belmont Lay in saying: “Leave the Internet alone”.
Give this suggestion for a code of conduct a rest, Yaacob.