17 May 2005

Singapore's Digital Bantustan

Another Great Singapore Purge Now On! Edition


Bantustan. Any one of the sham independent states, "ethnic homelands", set up by the apartheid government for Black South Africans. The boundaries of these native reserves were drawn to exclude all economically-viable land, often discontiguous, and an overwhelming citizens of these homelands had to find employment anyway in South Africa.

Bantustan. Yasser Arafat complains the Israeli concessions in the peace negotiations (i.e. the non-concessions of the settlements, the non-concessions of the Great Wall) have always tended to partition the Palestinians into an economically unviable state.

The Singaporean blogosphere.
(And I will personally kick the heel of the next person who speaks of it as the "Singapore blogosphere". That's more of the bad grammar that begat such atrocities like "Uniquely Singapore" and "Singapore Idol". The adjectival form of "Singapore" is "Singaporean".)

Bantustan, or the Singaporean blogosphere

The Straits Times devotes one page a week to showcase examples great blogs, mostly written by Singaporeans, Singaporeans abroad, and the occasional expat or ex-expat.

Safe, "interesting" reads, nothing offensive. Whimsical, lightweight, entertaining. Ergo, a good way to show the world that Singapore is a hip and modern city. Ergo, an exhortation for would-be bloggers to focus on these responsible issues.

At the same time, there has a recruitment of bloggers by the republic's newspapers - all operated by just 2 publishing companies, both owned by the State. The papers elevate and confer veteran status on these bloggers, who were previously merely popular in certain parts of the blogosphere.

By and large, these approved veteran bloggers (Mr Brown operates a column in Today, Xiaxue appears to be an intern with a tabloid) are hip, entertaining, and ultimately, lightweight. Safe and responsible online writing (and yes, Xiaxue is a responsibly irresponsible blogger, as opposed to the irresponsibly irresponsible AcidFlask. Now I shall shoot myself for channeling the spirit of Rumsfeld.).

There are bad, evil, liberal bloggers out there. Attention must be brought on them to accentuate the difference between responsible and irresponsible blogging. So a suitable blogger was threatened with a defamation suit by the head of a statutory board. Statements were taken from veteran bloggers on this affair, and twisted out of context and even misquoted, in order to promote the approved newspapers' reminder of the need for responsible blogging.

And to assure observers that there is no purge of Singapore's bloggers, measures are in place to publicize efforts by employees of the Internet Development Authority to set up groupblogs, presumably run by bloggers, for bloggers with no state interference save the initial 'seeding'. While tomorrow.sg is one such virtual Potemkin village, there is also the lesser-known Singapore Speaks (with the tag line: "Listen to what Singaporeans have to say! We demand to be heard!"), which, given the timidity and insignificance of its 'articles', ought to be called Singapore Whimpers.

What is the Bantustanization of the Singaporean blogosphere, then?

It is the cordoning off of legitimate discourse of bloggers into the ethnic homelands of Browntown, xiaxuecity, and other safe and trivial territory. It is the redrawing of the boundaries, to limit bloggers into a state of non-credible viability. The Great Singapore Purge marches on, claiming the scalp of the self-proclaimed new media.

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