by Bertha Henson
I have been invited to appear on television tonight. I am totally tickled. It’s one of only three times that MediaCorp has asked me to appear on air. My Singapore Press Holdings association probably held it back in the past. If you want to know when the first time was, it was more than 20 years ago on a documentary on Parliamentary reporting, in Mandarin! The second time was a shock. A producer called to get a preview of an exclusive interview I had with then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew on the topic of his son’s cancer, in 1993. I said no. What? Give away a scoop? My boss rang me and ordered me on air. Good publicity, he said. I looked terrible on TV.
Now I have been asked to sit on a Talking Point panel that will be telecast live tonight at 8pm. The topic is, of course, the Media Development Authority’s brainwave to licence news sites. I didn’t say yes immediately and I wanted to know who else was on board. MDA CEO Koh Lin-Net, as blurbed online, I was told. Plus Prof Arun Mahizhnan from the Institute of Policy Studies. I don’t know the MDA chief but I have sat on panels with Prof Arun before. Nice guy. I asked the producer who called me if anyone from the group of people leading the three-part protest against the scheme would be joining in. She hemmed and hawed and like all good journalists, passed the buck back up: It was for her editor to decide.
Why did I want someone from the group on board as well? Because they have far stronger views about the scheme than I do, so much that they were moved to organize a rally, an online blackout and a petition. The petition has gained 2,174 Signatures as at 10.10am. It’s going to be tough for me if anyone expects me to represent the blogosphere with all its competing noises and with all its breadth and depth. I cannot and will not do so. What I can say right now is: I don’t like the scheme and here’s why. (I have been warned against swearing on air…)
The answers from the G have been pretty bleah* and the “post’’ public engagement exercise even more bleah* As I said before, it appears to be worst roll-out of any policy I have seen so far. No prior consultation, no proper answers to questions that any reasonable person would have – such as, can you define “news site’’ properly or not?
So I was looking forward to meeting Ms Koh. Then there came a change of name on the G side. It will be Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin. I know that some people call him Mr Social Media. He is active online and engages netizens one-to-one. But the Manpower Minister? Is the Minister for Communications and Information indisposed? What about the other political office-holders within the ministry? Perhaps, the G is trying to signal that the scheme is a Cabinet decision, a political decision; hence the MDA chief was spared the public spotlight and another minister, who is more of a known quantity to those in the blogosphere, picked for the job.
Well, let’s hope no one thinks that the panel discussion amounted to a “consultation’’ exercise. That would be a sorry excuse for the G’s neglect of netizens. In any case, I am just hoping for some clear answers, including a clarification of the Government intent behind the scheme.