29 November 2017

Should Jolovan Wham have held a protest in a train?

On 3 June 2017, Kirsten Han announced that her fellow activist Jolovan Wham had organised a protest in a Singapore Mass Rapid Transit train. Han reposted on her Facebook a series of photographs from Wham's personal page, showing Wham and eight others sitting blindfolded in a train carriage, holding up the recently published 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, with homemade posters stuck on the walls behind them. While Wham was tagged by Han, his collaborators and co-conspirators are instantly recognisable as activists of a certain bent in Singapore. Everyone knows who they are, but their names will not be mentioned here.

On the morning of 3 June 2017 while Kirsten Han was likely involved in the coordination of the dissemination of the news of the protest, if not the protest itself, I was attending in my personal capacity, as I note were some other members of the Community Action Network, the Singapore Heritage Society 30th anniversary lecture by Prof Kwok Kian-woon at the Singapore Management University.

I had no prior knowledge of the protest. I was not involved in its conception, deliberation, or execution. I was not invited to be part of it. If invited, I would have told them it was a stupid idea that would get them thrown in jail, whether they did it in Singapore, New York, or London.

08 November 2017

Singapore transport failure clown show: The Parliament edition

Singapore's train system has been suffering from one public embarrassment to another, breaking its own record for breakdowns every year while the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Ministry of Transportation double down by releasing questionable statistics to show that in some metrics they cherry-pick, Singapore's train system is doing better than ever.

You would think when senior management staff get caught falsifying systems management records for at least the past year, that the parliament sitting the next week would be a time of reckoning for the ministry, its regulatory body, their too-big-to-fail train operator Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT), and its line of incompetent bosses.

But then, this is the same august body that harboured the delusion of thinking it could proclaim the prime minister guiltless in open parliament, based solely on his testimony of events and not an independent investigation by a special counsel. Minister Khaw Boon Wan's performance yesterday is par for the course, in other words, for the national transport clown show.

03 November 2017

The realities of Singapore's online landscape

Bertha Henson and Daniel Yap have announced the impending closure of The Middle Ground (TMG), revealing that the news website had failed to meet the challenges of sustainability. Earlier last month, the trio of Dr Thum Pin Tjin, Kirsten Han, and Sonny Liew announced the setting up of "New Naratif" and rolled out their vision, accountability, and subscription model.

Bertha Henson has done a great job with TMG and will be back with Bertha Harian
These developments may fit the establishment's Wild West model of Singapore's online news media, where newcomers can rise out of nowhere to carve an empire of their own, then fall just as fast or settle into also-ran status. On a less simplistic level, the online media landscape is dominated and controlled by Singapore's regulatory framework to such an extent that no full-fledged news site can be economically viable. Where the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act empowers the government to shutter presses as it pleases and more insidiously and demand presses award shares to entities it chooses, recent Media Development Authority regulations empower the government to demand any news site it chooses to cough up hefty monetary guarantees, and to demand forfeiture of that guarantee at its discretion.

Singapore's regulatory framework is a deterrence against the setting up of online news sites, and indirectly incentivises bloggers to stay small and stay within the government's OB markers.