Wednesday 25 April 2012

3 ways to get netizens to be responsible: Yaacob Ibrahim at Singapore Press Club lunch dialogue 2012

By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2012

A MORE balanced and responsible Internet can be achieved if everyone - not just the Government - pitches in, said Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

Speaking at a dialogue organised by the Singapore Press Club, he outlined three ways to achieve the goal.

One is for the Internet community to create and uphold a code of conduct for responsible online behaviour.

There had been discussion on whether the Government should take the lead in producing the code, but he preferred a ground-up approach.

His reason: 'Because all of us have to decide how new media will help develop a good society and what values our young should grow up with.'

Asked later why he thought this was more feasible, Dr Yaacob said the community has evolved, and there are enough moderating voices online.

He disclosed that when the Government announced the idea of the code last year, some individuals had contacted his ministry to ask if they could take part in the process.

This, he said, shows 'there are people out there who want to make sure the Internet doesn't get killed by the downsides... and they are prepared to be part of the process'.

These downsides, he said, include how rumours and hoaxes can spread like wildfire online.

Dr Yaacob cited two recent cases.

One was the rumour that children were being kidnapped.

The other was of a boy being targeted by netizens for upsetting his neighbours with his noisy playing of the drums. It turned out later that they had fingered the wrong person.

Dr Yaacob's second suggestion on how to get netizens to behave more responsibly is for more Singaporeans to set up websites that offer constructive and serious viewpoints. He offered it in his response to a participant's question on the divide between mainstream media and new media.

'It's really a buffet in a sense, where more is being offered to people to read. If there are no good online sites or platforms that offer good views, people would naturally gravitate to the ones that are more popular and available,' he said.

Finally, major media companies could help 'set the right tone online', said Dr Yaacob.

He noted that Singapore's media model is one based on forging consensus and facilitating nation-building, in which social cohesion is preserved while empowering people to make informed decisions as a society.

Towards this end, traditional media companies can lead by example with good practices in information sharing and exercising moderation on their online platforms, he said. 'We can encourage information and viewpoints that inform and evaluate, and not disturb and divide,' he added.

About 90 media professionals were at the dialogue, which started with Dr Yaacob giving a speech on traditional and online media in the new normal.

Other questions he fielded included the Government's engagement with its people and media coverage of the ongoing vice-ring court case.

A Vietnamese journalist asked if the local media was going too far in publishing the names and faces of those charged. She said the families of those accused would be affected.

Dr Yaacob said he shared her sentiments on the family impact but noted that as the cases are being heard in open court, 'you can't prevent the newspapers from reporting on it. That's what the media is supposed to do'.

He added: 'In terms of coverage, we leave it to the better judgment of the media providers. I think good sense has prevailed and will continue to prevail on the part of the media.'

Govt approach 'calibrated, not populist': Yaacob
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2012

DR YAACOB Ibrahim says that the Government is not taking a populist course, but a carefully calibrated approach in responding to people's needs.

Voters had indicated they were unhappy about some things and this has led the Government to take a close hard look at certain policies, said the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts yesterday.

'But at the same time, public policy is never an exact science. We have to do this carefully and sort of calibrate it,' he added.

He made the point in response to a question at a dialogue organised by Singapore Press Club.

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor of The Straits Times, had noted that following the general election last May, the Government had pledged to engage citizens more.

Recently, however, some people had begun to wonder if it had become more populist in the light of some of its policies and actions, he noted, asking the minister to comment on the Government's approach to engaging citizens.

Dr Yaacob replied: 'We have not gone down the populist road, but certainly we look at our policies in a very fine manner to see whether we can do better to answer some of the grievances of Singaporeans.'

Singaporeans, he added, had given clear signals that something needed to be done about housing and the influx of foreigners.

But the nature of public policy required a careful government response, he said.

Citing this year's Budget, Dr Yaacob disclosed that the greater offerings of incentives to companies to adopt technology to raise productivity were the result of feedback from companies.

They had said they needed help to reduce their reliance on foreign workers.

'So these moves are designed to meet some of the changing requirements of Singaporeans... But the fundamentals have not changed,' he said.

On engaging the people, he stressed that the Government is not doing it because it is fashionable, 'but because we believe the mood has shifted, that more Singaporeans want to play a part to co-create policies'.

Feedback so far shows people welcome it, he added. 'They seem pleased that they have been invited and are able to contribute their ideas and suggestions.'

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