23 July 2006

Imperial Overreach, redux

Being my sole comment on the entire Mr Brown affair. And I assure you, despite the lateness of my foray, that still no one - not even the brightest of our political bloggers - no one can think like I do, and write as I do.

Imperial Overreach

Occurs when organisational forces attempt to push the limits of their power from a stable configuration.

Typically through an extreme move or a hardline statement, going above and beyond established and accepted principles.

While achieving momentary shock, the move or statement are inconsistent with existing principles, hence untenable, unsustainable, and plain illogical.

Overreach occurs when the population is insufficiently shocked to accept the new proposed standards, or when the organisation is unprepared to back up its new stance and backpedals to the old status quo.

The government this, the government that

Most reactions in the blogosphere make the key assumption that Bhavani's vehement outburst was

1. Officially sanctioned by the Cabinet and the PM
2. Made in her official capacity as a spokesperson for MICA/MITA

leading to the conclusion that

3. Bhavani's smackdown is just the latest manifestation of the age-old plan of our Evil Overlords to curtail freedom of expression.

Bloggers below the age of 25 who made this argument may be forgiven for their ignorance; bloggers like Tan Tarn Howe and Cherian George who made this argument should be viewed with suspicion by any reader - they of all people should know better.

Applying imperial overreach to Bhavani, MITA, and Brown

Nothing profitable comes out of viewing history as a continuous procession of "always has beens". Only when we cast our vision on the continuous erruptions, discontinuities, and zero points of history and discourse can we understand when something profoundly new has taken place, or whether something is truly the same old, same old, or whether imperial overreach has occured.

Just for fun:

1. State MITA's public stance on journalists, their role on political discourse, and the function of the press. State how MITA coordinates its doctrine with the media.

MITA's preferred model of the media can be summed up in the phrase "Nation-building press". It goes back to George Yeo's long reign in the ministry, and every 5 years or so, the Chief Editor of ST would remind everyone in his annual ST anniversary Op-ed that the Straits Times does not wish to adhere to the Western notion of a Fourth Estate imposing curbs and exercising oversight on the national leadership. The press in Singapore is a Fourth Estate that is responsible to frame and present issues to occasion the happy reception of national policy to its citizen-readers, and promote the affections of the public for their leaders.

The Straits Times takes the side, advocates for the Whiteshirt government, and says so brazenly in every other anniversary Op-ed. This policy and stance has been worked out with MITA oversight and approval, and Bhavani is a batshit loony or very, very ignorant of long-standing MITA press policy when she says "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", or "If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer...". Highly amusing, somewhat.

2. Name a single occasion when MITA spoke out against journalists in public.

Gee, I certainly can't think of any previous occasions! Cherian and Tan, please take your potshots at me now.

3. State the preferred means and method of rapping journalists' knuckles.

That's because MITA *never* castigates, bodyslams, or gives journalists the smackdown. What is the standard procedure, the historically informed method then? Cherian can answer this, right? The PermSec of either the Minister or the Prime Minister, or the PM himself will do the bodyslamming. Always with a humorous touch, just to show that "even if we believe Mr George got a few facts wrong, he is most certainly welcome to air them, since we will set the facts right. Of course, he is most certainly welcome to air his views, since Singapore got press freedom mah ; )"

Mr George, isn't that essentially how lighthearted your rapping by the PM's PermSec was? Mdm Bhavani, as a PR lecturer, don't you agree your letter to the Today forum page is a classic example of a big character poster (大字报), and far more shrill and poisonous than a Malaysian poison pen letter? Were you hoping that Mr Brown would start walking around the streets with a self-criticism saying "I, Lee Kin Mun, hereby confess to the crime of being a dirty counterrevolutionary, a rightist, and a collaborator. I hereby volunteer myself to 30 years of re-education and hard labour in the countryside"?

As we may notice, Bhavani is not the PermSec to Lee Boon Yang, Balakrishnan, or Balaji. Bhavani is not the PermSec to Minilee, Papalee, or Peanut Goh. Bhavani is a peanut of a mid-level bureaucrat who has embarrassed MICA, the Cabinet, and her political masters by violating protocol, precedence, and contradicting the ministry's long-standing doctrines.

We may have also noticed the off-the-cuff statements by Balakrishnan and his superior, Lee Boon Yang, on the Brown affair.

4. When multiple Whiteshirt ministers speak on the same issue, they will take care to reinforce the rhetoric of the original speaker, and not to contradict any claims made by that speaker. Y/N

Balakrishnan and LBY have commented on the issue. They are bound not to overturn Bhavani's claims, but they made a conscious refusal to adopt or repeat her rhetoric: "distort the truth", "polemic", "encourage cynicism and despondancy", et al. Instead of repeating the Bhavani doctrine that "it is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", LBY again reiterated the nation-building role of the press.

Imperial overreach: Balakrishnan and LBY are unprepared to back up Bhavani, and backpedal to the old status quo.

If we had a real press instead of the clown show at Today, The New Paper and The Straits Times, we would have reporters continually asking the 3 ministers at MICA:

Where oh where are you, Balaji? Enquiring minds want to know why you're silent on the Brown affair!
Will the Ministers confirm who approved and cleared Mdm Bhavani to write her letter condemning Brown?
Mdm Bhavani, as a lecturer in a PR college for civil servants, do you feel your letter was a model of what not to write as a civil servant?
Will the Ministers explain why they have not referred to Mdm Bhavani's letter, or to the terms she used to castigate Mr Lee Kin Mun, nor her comments on the role of journalists?

My predictions:
Bhavani to be thrown to the lions.
Lee Boon Yang to be kicked upstairs to the Prime Minister's Office as a Minister without Portfolio by year's end.


Anonymous said...

Just a factual note to your otherwise very insightful post. It was not PS(PMO) who replied to Cherian George's Calibrated Coercion article but Press Secretary to PM, Chew Hwai Ling.

akikonomu said...

Thanks, rinigisei. Memory escapes me, but which other permsecs and press secs were involved in journalist-rapping in the past?

In my mind, either
1. No permsecs were involved in journalist-rapping. -> I stand very corrected, or

2. Only Pressecs to the PM were involved in such delicate operations.

3. If a previous MITA pressec was involved in journalist-rapping, this post needs to be rewritten or refined.

Anonymous said...

maybe Bhavani was sent out on a limb by herself so as to make sure no shit stuck to the ministers.