time for bloggers to self-regulate

A community code may help deflect official intervention

Tuesday • December 5, 2006

Dharmendra Yadav

WITH Malaysia contemplating tough Internet laws to control bloggers, and controversy in China over the move to get bloggers to register their real names, it looks like some governments are prepared to challenge popular wisdom and attempt to bridle the Internet. [‘Some governments’ – don’t you mean ‘authoritarian states’]

And no wonder, with an estimated nine million blogs in cyberspace and one more born every 7.4 seconds, according to The Scientist magazine. [Technorati puts it at 55 million]

Before state regulators step in with the heavy hand of the law, should the blogging community pre-emptively introduce some form of self-regulation? [No and they already have – you mention the interventions yourself a few paragraphs later.]

There is reason for authorities to take seriously the growing power of blogs. Last week, it was reported that an online survey by Microsoft found that about half of Internet users in Singapore think blogs are as trustworthy as mainstream media. [By take seriously you mean ‘control’ rather than actually engage in dialogue.]

Politicians have acknowledged the need to engage this growing cyber-constituency and begun using blogs to communicate their thinking on issues of the day. [Yes they communicate their thinking to us – they do not however engage in an open debate on policies with their readers. They use it as yet another soap box to talk at us.]

The power of blogs has also created unique issues for our law enforcers. The zero tolerance policy on negative ethnic and religious content has seen a handful of individuals convicted or warned, while the recent proposed amendments to the Penal Code — if passed — would give our police and state prosecutors more teeth to deal with offending blogs. [So the government already intervenes then and they intend to further impose regulation on bloggers.]

Yet, for all this, few preventive steps have been taken in Singapore to help bloggers stay out of trouble. Whatever has been achieved so far has been piecemeal. [Preventative steps – prevent us from doing what? Speaking freely in open debate – discussing the laws and government policies, talking about ‘out-of-bounds’ topics that undermine freedom of speech or simply calling your boss an asshole.]

In August, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University held a workshop to help bloggers write in a lawful, responsible manner, covering basic issues of copyright, defamation and so on. [Maybe next year they will invite me and I can give a talk and demonstrate how to get around internet blocks and how to set up proxy servers to access the ‘free-internet’.]

Some employers such as IBM provide their employees with guidelines relating to their personal websites or blogs. My own employer in the financial sector has a similar policy. Recognising that what employees share on their personal blogs can reflect on the organisation, it gives them tips on how to write constructively and stay within the limits of the law. [so your blog is defined by the organisational culture that you work in – a rather determinist interpretation of the self – is there nowhere on the blog for ‘you’.]

Unfortunately, the use of such policies are limited to the larger organisations. [Don’t you mean FORTUNATELY] What of the larger proportion of bloggers employed in smaller organisations, or who are self-employed or students? [Run free bloggers, and be cautious of those saying that they are here to protect you by controlling you.]

At a conference last week, director of British Press Complaints Commission Tim Toulmin suggested that “blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the United Kingdom”. [A voluntary code – But blogs and bloggers are not the same as Newspapers and journalists, I suggest that Tim goes and reads some articles on the ‘New Media’.]

Such a code could provide avenues for “people angered at content” to seek redress. [Blogger already does – they are called email addresses and some sites even have ‘report this site’ facilities in the top right hand corner. This one doesn’t by the way.]

Meanwhile, Cyberjournalist.net, which is linked to the Online News Association in New York, has proposed a Bloggers’ Code of Ethics which it encourages bloggers to use. [Code of ethics or an attempt to ‘professionalise’ the discourse – and I use the word ‘professionalise’ in the pejorative sense.]

The code lays down best practices for bloggers to “be honest and fair”, to “minimise harm” and to “be accountable”. This is modelled after a similar code for journalists created by the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States. [Maybe you can get the Media Development Authority of Singapore to adhere to these ‘best practices’ – it might improve their RSF ranking.]

Perhaps these are ideas that the Media Development Authority can look into. [Yes and apply to the Straits Times, Channel News Asia and the Today paper.] Or even better — given bloggers’ instinctive aversion to anything state-prescribed — perhaps local denizens of the blogosphere could get together to evolve their own self-regulating code. [Step right up all those who claim to represent the Singapore blogosphere – maybe Mr Brown or AcidFlask could chair the group.]

They could take their cue from the Media Bloggers Association (MBA) in the US. This is “dedicated to promoting, protecting and educating” its members; supporting the development of “citizen journalism” as a distinct form of media; and helping to extend the power of the press — with all the rights and responsibilities this entails — to citizens. [Extend the power of the Singaporean press – are you having a laugh, the PAP already contol the national press now you are arguing that the Singaporean Press should get control of the online community.]

The MBA, one blogger argues, does valuable service by “helping to shield bloggers from intimidation and frivolous defamation lawsuits, a problem that has been getting worse recently”. [So set up a self appointed quango to control bloggers and bring an end to ‘frivolous defamation’ cases by encouraging self-regulation or is it self-censorship. We are not children who need your care and protection.]

Perhaps the Singapore Press Club can play a similar role, if it amends its constitution to appeal to a wider category of citizen journalists — although it would not be surprising if its leadership prefers to focus its resources more on full-time journalists in the mainstream media. [Is that the same Singapore Press Club which is populated by the journalists who have seen their ranking in the Reporter Without Borders table slip the last few years?]

A more obvious route is for bloggers to form their own association. There are already informal channels for collaboration among bloggers, which they may wish to take further. Some got together to organise the Singapore Bloggers Convention last year. Another fruit of collaboration is Tomorrow.sg, a blog aggregator featuring current postings from the local blogosphere. [A more obvious route would be for bloggers to continue on regardless and ignore -objective calls- to regulate or organise ourselves at someones bequest. Ignore calls to remove videos and podcasts during the elections etc… – as we did.]

There is an increasing need for bloggers to stand up, represent and self-regulate their own community more formally. This is also ideal. Otherwise, like other media, blogs may soon find themselves under closer scrutiny by media regulators in Singapore. [There is an increasing need for bloggers to ignore such calls to adhere to the ‘best practices’ of a government that undermines their rights as citizens to speak freely and openly on all subjects that they see fit. There is an increasing need for bloggers to acknowledge that they are NOW under close scrutiny by media regulators in Singapore. There is an increasing need for bloggers to ignore prophets and seers, who claim to know the way. There is an increasing need for bloggers to spot a wolf in sheeps clothing…]
The writer, a corporate counsel, blogs at thinkhappiness.blogspot.com. These are his own views. [And the only reason we are able to publish them in the State Controlled Press is because he says what we want to say, but he is a blogger and so might appeal more to other bloggers and not be seen for what it is – an article in the Today Newspaper…]

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About soci
Lived in Singapore for 6 wonderful years and has been blogging since 2003, under various names but always on Singaporean issues.

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