Citizen Journalism In Singapore

Written by Guest Blogger.
(With commentary by the Editor.)

As our material world integrates into our online space, it is often no surprise to see reports of real-life events on the Internet. Credible news sources such as BBC, Channel News Asia and even The Straits Times all have online “e-versions” of their articles. On a technical basis, such reports are meant to cater to the internet-savvy generation and have an extremely potent reach in allowing World Citizens to know about what is happening, and has happened, in their world. However, the most important consideration when posting up any piece of news, and taking any piece of news seriously, is how credible a particular article is.

For many Singaporeans, such a skill is one of the most important things they learn at the Secondary School level, regardless of which stream they are in. Quite simply put, it is the skill of critical analysis and the ability to discern whether a source, or an article, is credible. Yet, somehow, it seems that we do not apply such key concepts in our everyday lives. Or, at least, that’s what I infer from the Straits Times’ very own online newsprint. Personally, there are two essential problems with online citizen journalist newsprint such as STOMP.

azhar: Citizen journalism is prevalent in the Internet now. The web is scattered with many websites which allows its members to share their photos, videos and commentary to the world. Among those in the list include CNN's iReport portal and Yahoo!'s You Witness News initiative. Besides the notorious STOMP, Singapore also has another website which promotes citizen journalism. It is none other than Omy's I Witness section.

Firstly, it is simply immoral. Whilst I applaud the vigilance with which Singaporeans have in attempting to maintain public order and peace, the vigour with which they do so borders upon voyeurism, obsession, and denigration. We seem to have thrown out all semblances of the basic values we criticize others of not having. When we snap photos of a stranger on the MRT supposedly “pretending to be asleep” and hence “not giving up his seat to a pregnant woman”, we accuse such people of being rude, uncivilized, and barbaric. It seems we have forgotten that the very fact that we took out a camera to snap a picture of this person, without him/her knowing, is a very rude act.

azhar: The issue regarding taking photos of people in public is a (very) complicated one. For instance, tourists are free to take photos of people in public areas of the countries they visit. In Singapore alone, we can view many tourists capturing photos of local citizens in action without them knowing. Professional photographers working for the traditional media have the rights to take photos in the location of a breaking news (and ironically, we usually react ecstatically when we find our pictures published in the newspaper). Furthermore, it is especially difficult to avoid taking photos of people in crowded places. So why should normal citizens equipped with camera phones be denied rights to do the same? And why are their actions considered rude as compared to -in this case- tourists and the professional photographers? At the end of the day, we all have to admit one thing: we can no longer expect privacy in any public area.

It also seems that, despite having the benefit of seeing our dear courtesy lion, Singa, in action, many of the more matured and senior members of the Singaporean society only preach, but never practice. Firstly, the accusation that someone is “pretending to be asleep” on the bus/MRT is pure speculation and defamation – the person may really be asleep, and it may have been since he boarded the train at say, Pasir Ris, he would have gotten the seat in the first place. Secondly, it seems that some have forgotten the concept of compromise and have begun to believe that they have the right to all sorts of things – such as a priority seat.

Yes, I believe that the younger generation should, if possible, give up their seat for the elderly and those who need it more than they do. After all, we are supposed to be livelier, youthful, and do not (generally) have issues with standing up for half an hour. However, this does not mean that those who need such a seat have the right to claim it as their own. Moreover, it does not give that person any right at all to take a picture of a supposed “culprit” and post it on the Internet, while including slander and libel along as captions.

azhar: This is the precise problem with our local citizen journalism. It is trying too hard to correct the society. I believe some citizen journalists have good intentions when they submit photos of Singaporeans in their poorest behaviours. They hope the same thing will not be repeated again. Unfortunately, the very same noble reason is the cause of the whole mess in our local citizen journalism. Our citizen journalists are too obsessed with the search for people who portray an indecent behaviour in public. They are waiting for people to make mistakes and hope that the same mistakes can be used as a form of campaign to educate netizens of proper public manners. The problem now is the people caught in action may turn out to be completely innocent. For all we know, we have just painted horns on their heads. Citizen journalism should not instill fear in our society; the last thing we want is to be living with a group of 'secret police officers'.

Secondly, and most importantly, is the credibility of such a source. How decisive can a source, that often allows defamatory and fictitious reports and accounts, be when it comes to deciding or judging a situation or person? A court of law will never admit such photographs and exaggerated witness accounts as evidence, so why should our schools, society, and people do so? A photograph that shows action A, which COULD lead to action B, C or D, does not provide any evidence or proof that the latter actions did indeed happen.

To explain the analogy, for the benefit of some who tend to misconstrue what might had happened with what really did, a photograph only shows a frame or snapshot of what had happened – and does not offer any conclusive evidence of what really did happen. It is thus fallacious to make our decisions or judgments upon such shaky ground. The only thing we can say for sure (going back to the “sleeping on the bus/MRT example) is that a student seemed to be sleeping at the moment, and that a pregnant woman did not have a seat. For all we know, that lady was offered the seat when that student awoke from his slumber, without having known that his picture was taken, and that he could very soon be on national news for something he was never guilty of.

azhar: Not to forget, the readers are also guilty of making harsh comments even though the source is not proven genuine. In fact, the actions of some of the readers who repeatedly make nasty comments regarding the victims can be deemed as bullying as it may cause emotional harm to the victims by the constant online harassment. Apart from that, in conclusion, we need more responsible citizen journalists who ensure the accuracy of the articles he or she submits. Failure to do so may hinder the progress of our local citizen journalism. Put one rotten egg in a basket of fresh eggs and the whole thing will stink. Citizen journalism can definitely help society, if used properly. It can also provide valuable feedback to the institutions and companies featured.

[Related post: http://tpjcian.blogspot.com/2009/01/stomp-and-citizen-journalism-in.html]


keevelim said...

Cool style of blogging. Its like a dialogue between two bloggers.

Good points raised and a fairly balanced article.

Cheers and have a nice day ~

Serene said...

Well done! I'm a student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic doing a speech on a similar topic - the abuse of citizen journalism in Singapore and the invasion of internet privacy. You've touched on very good points about courtesy and it's certainly good sharing you have there. I think it's about time we start raising awareness about the abuse. Grr >:( The power of anonymity has given rise to insensitive, irrational people.

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