03 August 2013

The total hypocrisy of Ng Eng Hen on Total Defence

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr goofing around on a US tour.
This is also the image Ng Eng Hen evokes in his speech.

When one takes into account other social engineering campaigns in Singapore, Total Defence seems to have fared not too shabbily. For one, it hasn't been discarded as a policy failure like population control's "Stop at two", derided as horribly deluded like the moral panic infused campaigns against long hair and rock and roll, or treated as benignly irrelevant like the courtesy/kindness campaign and its beleaguered former mascot, which 'announced' its 'retirement' earlier last month.

One cannot blame Singapore leadership's attempt to keep relevant the Total Defence campaign. There might be a bit of inevitable eye-rolling at the laboured DRUMS acronym Ng employed to highlight the threat of misinformation on the internet. It would be churlish to claim that the entire social-psychological positioning of Total Defence is to instill an atmosphere of paranoia ever-readiness in the population, yet this is precisely the riposte of the blogosphere to minister Ng Eng Hen's recent speech on the online threats to Total Defence.

Even I would find it hard to disagree with the defence minister that a campaign of misinformation may bring a nation down on its knees. One would not need to be a student of Clausewitz, Napoleon, Sun Tze, or Soviet Maskirovka to realise that armies have indeed been brought down by disinformation and deception.

No, silly! You can't really bring down a country with disinformation these days

Granted, the minister's speechwriters have not caught up with the idea that modern democracies are not armies. The benefit of an open, mature democracy is its vibrant, free media, whose professional ethics, ideals, and competing political positionings will enable writers and readers to expose manipulations and untruths in any single disinformation campaign.

If the minister were serious about Total Informational Defence, he would be the first to urge Minilee and the MDA to free the internet, to free government control of Singapore's print media, to repeal the infamous Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. In a mature democracy with a robust, open media market, it is nigh impossible to spread disinformation.

Indeed in the modern day, disinformation campaigns are more a tool of authoritarian governments with unfree presses to influence domestic opinion. To which the priestess of Ise will give the same advice: the Total Defence of the citizenry in an authoritarian state depend on having a strong and free press - digital and print.

Ng Eng Hen: Still the wrong man for the job

One hopes perhaps that the amorphous blogosphere and its horde of angry commentators simply reacted this way against Ng because he is the wrong man for the job.

Perhaps netizens do remember that under Ng Eng Hen, the Ministry of Manpower massaged statistics to give the impression of a lower unemployment rate - and was caught out on it by none other than the Financial Times.

Our more perspicacious readers will recall in 2009, ST reporter Li Xueying's reports of Ng Eng Hen heading the PAP's New Media committee to "mount a quiet counter-insurgency" to counter criticism of the party and government in cyberspace - using PAP members and operatives masquerading as members of the public to engage in online forums. They may do well to note that social media professor Kevin Lim called the campaign an astroturf operation. We wonder if the current crop of "Internet Brigades" on facebook are the current face of that very same counter-insurgency whose mendacious actions seem to have written the manual on DRUMS.

Having overseen such disinformation operations (some of which are still ongoing) himself at the Manpower ministry and the PAP New Media counter-insurgency, Ng Eng Hen is the last person on earth who should deliver a lecture on how disinformation online can destroy a country. The blogosphere will NOT be lectured on disinformation, rumours, untruths, misinformation, and smears by this man. Not now, not ever.


Kojakbt said...

Bro, good stuff. Are you ok if we repost this on TR Emeritus? Thanks!

akikonomu said...

Yes. Just link back to this blog post.