death by paper cut











{May 28, 2012}   hougang by-election – “the role of mainstream media again being the political tool”

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 19

there is a lot of sweat blood and tears that go on behind the scenes in the backdrop of such an outcome.

however, why should the sweat, blood and tears be relegated behind scenes and not foregrounded by national news channels? in fact, workers’ party secretary-general low thia kiang had this to say about local news coverage in the press conference following the announcement of the by-election results:

“It also saddens me to see the role of mainstream media again being the political tool of the PAP in their election campaign. This by-election is evidence that PAP has decided to harden its position, whilst appearing to be receptive, responsive and open. An independent media is a cornerstone for the first world parliament because only with an independent media that presents fair and accurate information can the people make an informed choice to vote for their Member of Parliament to represent them.”

in more recent times though, unquestioning compliance is increasingly being challenged by the accessibility of information offered outside the confines of mainstream media. such avenues are often referred to as social media. however, i find this a strange dichotomy because isn’t broadsheet / mainstream / traditional media meant to have an element of being social too? for whom does traditional media publish articles and from whom does traditional media receive forum letters?

therefore, the crux of the matter is not the mode of delivery or consumption – online or in print – but who forms the gatekeepers of information. the cop-out defense that such gatekeepers take is to discredit the “unsanctioned” sources as noise, irrational or uninformed.

this is not a singapore specific phenomenon. google for yourself the impact social media played in the arab uprising and the subsequent discrediting of the social media by mainstream media as well as the anxiety of authoritarian powers to quell political stirrings in tibet by restricting the flow of information and (tele)communications.

i attended the second workers’ party rally for the hougang by-elections on 22 may 2012 – also known as the rally that rained, torrential rain. on this weekday, a multitude assembled and the numbers continued to swell. the air was very still and thick with humidity and anticipation for speakers to take their stand at the podium.

in the nearing distance, the rumbling thunder sounded with streaks of lightning. even so, the crowd remained spontaneous, animated and just as engaging as the rally speakers. with every mention of png eng huat, the crowd rapturously resounded with “huat ah!”

just as low thia kiang took to the stand, cool drafts of wind began to swirl amongst the crowd, followed by the first rain drops. the crowd was actually pleased by this because it cooled the climate. soon, the rain drops increased in size and accelerated in speed, a full blown deluge poured from above. at times the falling sheets of rain were so loud and incessant that parts of low thia kiang’s speech was drowned out. some of the rally attendants took shelter in the nearby HDB walkways, others opened their umbrellas and unreservedly shared them with those standing nearby. it didn’t matter what words blared from the sound system anymore. the solidarity between singaporeans with a common vision was cemented by the common experience of braving, and in fact, embracing the rain.

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 18

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 17

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 14

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 16

after low thia kiang, sylvia lim took the stand and continued to speak through the rain. at which point, i hoped that people watching from a vantage point of nearby HDB flats would take and circulate photos of the ariel view of the field that has now blossomed with blue umbrellas. i also wondered how this turn of events would be reported in the news the next day, it was dramatic and uplifting. png eng huat was the last speaker of that day’s rally. i managed to hear him say, “give me a minute, my script is all wet.” although paper and clothes were drenched, the people’s morale was far from dampened.

the rally cry of “worker’s party! workers’ party!” continued in ernest as the crowd dispersed after low thia kiang officially concluded the rally. even so, the chanting carried on unabated all the way toward hougang mrt station and only ceased as i descended the escalators.

the atmosphere was electrifying. the next day however, the straits times featured an anti-climatic photograph and damning headline that had little to do with the mood or contents shared during the rally.

Straits Times Headline 23 May 2012

although traditional media failed to report on a fraction of the events that night, the wider public did not take that at face value and seemed to have searched for alternative sources for information. i am quite sure the workers’ party website that hosts all recorded rally speeches would be a popular option. my flickr album appeared to be another.

within days, my 18 photos of that second rally garnered more than 5800 views (and counting). this one photo in particular seems to be very popular with more than 1000 views within 5 days. besides sharing my photos with my small circle of contacts, i did not publicise the pictures nor had any means to.

Hougang By-Election WP Rally 22 May 2012 6

i’m glad that with both the more inquisitive and questioning nature of the electorate and the ubiquitousness of smart phones and social media, people can ourselves be the eyes and ears of what we witness. and by this, i do not mean citizenship journalism as defined by stomp, which i personally think is straits times’s sneaky way of sullying and discrediting citizenship journalism by promoting their brand of citizenship journalism.

allowing for thoughtful and sincere blogposts and photos to be searched for and circulated online increases the chance for others to find information to corroborate against traditional and any form of media. evaluating the reliability of any piece of information and its provenance is only responsible as a consumer in any case.

i did not expect for any of my text or photos to find its way back to traditional media, but it did.

photos i took in the duration leading up to the general election of 2011, were found on flickr and included in the book, after my permission was sought, voting in change: politics of singapore’s 2011 general election.

My Photos in Voting in Change 1

Make an Informed Decision 1 My Photos in Voting in Change 3

Workers Party Rally 29 April 2011 Serangoon Stadium 9 My Photos in Voting in Change 4

so perhaps, the authenticity of the material between traditional and social media isn’t a great chasm, and therefore there isn’t anything in the least anarchist about trying to corroborate what is issued by the gatekeepers of traditional forms of media and less mainstream ones. afterall, it is up to a democratic people to decide if low thia kiang was using a combative tone or speaking plainly or if hougang speaks, but for itself, or has it inspired the nation to stand unwaveringly against a goliath.

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