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Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke: A Summary

28 Oct

The story talks about the zero-tolerance the Chinese government has towards Internet humour and satire. The strict censorship of the mainstream media has pushed politically aware citizens to the online sphere to share their feelings and thoughts on issues concerning the State.

The writer speaks to some prominent Chinese bloggers and animators. Of note is Wang Bo, whom the writer leads of the story with. The reporter managed to get the renowned animator’s reaction to the detention of a fellow blogger, Ai Weiwei. The latter is China’s most famous contemporary artist and a government critic. The chain of events that follow after Wang got a call which notified him to Ai’s arrest highlights the clampdown of the government on social media. Wang first tried to post a message on his Weibo account (China’s equivalent of Twitter) but his message was deleted by an invisible censor within minutes. Frustrated, he worked overnight and created a 54 seconds animation clip. This went viral, but unsurprisingly, it disappeared after awhile.

Fighting the Chinese government’s censorship is an uphill task for online bloggers like Wang and Ai. Though they “cloak their messages in protective layers of irony and satire”, in a bid to slip past government censors, their postings still gets pulled off by “invisible black hands” and the blogger gets marked.

The Chinese government pours in tremendous amount of resources into patrolling the web, “tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software”. Despite that, the online sphere is flourishing. These witty anti-government messages still spread like bushfire thanks to the 200 million Weibo population which churns out 40 million messages a day.

Still, the vocal critics show no sign of bowing down to the government. The stricter the control, the more adamant they are at bending the rules, it seems. “No place is safe anymore,” Wen says. “But whenever censorship grows, so do the opportunities for sarcasm and satire.” In fact, they have become more daring in expressing their thoughts. Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger who often mounts sardonic Internet campaigns in defense of free speech, even pushed the boundaries and came up with a cartoon that makes a dig at Mao Ze Dong, the revered chairman of the People’s Republic of China. The growing audacity of these online citizens demonstrates what looks to be a long-standing battle between the Chinese government and its people.

The clamp down of the Chinese government will push these political bloggers to oppose in varied ways, mostly under the veil of wit. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”

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Who owns The Online Citizen

21 Oct

The Online Citizen  (TOC) is a socio-political website which serves as a community blog of Singaporeans. It endeavours to reflect the views and opinions of ordinary Singaporeans and welcomes contribution of articles from any Singaporean that has a view to share. The blog often carry anti-government sentiments.

On its Facebook page, TOC describes itself as “just a bunch of blogivists (bloggers + activists). Don’t shoot us!” Started in December 2006 as a community blog, the website soon gained popularity and attracted much attention from Singaporeans who were thirsty to find out news stories that were not covered by the mainstream media. The blog is run by ‘advocacy citizen journalists’ who aim to shed light and comment on national issues and happenings.

On January 10, 2011, the site was forced to register as a political association. The government asserted that the blog was gazetted because the editors of the website “organized polls on political issues and a forum for politicians, and mounted online and offline campaigns to change legislation and government policies.”

TOC acting chief editor is Joshua Chiang, 35. The website’s co-founders are Choo Zheng Xi, 25, and Andrew Loh, 43. Mr Loh left TOC in December 2010 and has recently launched a new socio-political website, Public House. Little has been said about the men behind the largely popular website. This is, however, not very surprising as the blog is afterall a platform for discussion and political thought for Singaporeans. The blog’s articles are not solely written by these men themselves. As the administrators of the website, they edit and upload the stories that Singaporeans write in onto TOC’s website.

It is however unclear who owns TOC.

Slides for St Andrews’ Cathedral

7 Oct

St Andrews Cathedral

Done by: Lim Yi Han, Neo Wentong, Lei Jiahui

Impact of Steve Jobs’ death on Singapore

7 Oct

The world lost a visionary,  a perfectionist and an inspiration yesterday. News of  Steve Jobs’ death rocked the world, both of ordinary people whose lives he has touched personally or those who have been faithfully using the products he so meticulously created during his lifetime. There was an outpouring of grief, with people paying tribute to the man whom they claim changed their lives and the face of technology immensely.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, has impacted millions of lives and changed the world in his own right. His impact is far reaching, and it is definitely felt here in Singapore where thousands of people use his products. Look around and you would be able to find at least one person using an Apple product, be it the ipad, iphone, Mac, or ipod. All these innovations are manifestations of Mr Jobs’ brilliance. According to a 2010 survey by mobile advertising firm AdMob, Singapore is home to 402, 922 iPhone users – 8.3% of the population.

Many Singaporeans may not know this man but his death still left a mark on many. Many expressed shock, sadness, and the tributes came in fast and furious all over social media and on the media. Mr Jobs’ death would not impact Singaporeans directly but the loss of this man would change the products that Apple churn out and this as a result, could shake people’s confidence in this brand. This is if Mr Jobs’ successor do not hold on to his values and vision. Whether this would happen, however, remains to be seen.

Cancellation of Halloween Horrors: A Public Relations Horror

22 Sep

By now, you should have already heard: there will be no horrors at the Night Safari come this Halloween.

The cancellation of the spook fest has been the talk of the town since the announcement was made last Tuesday. It sparked a furore both online and off.

It seems that everyone has something to say. The topics run the gamut from speculating why the event was abandoned to condemning the poor management of public relations of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), the parent company of the Night Safari.

Netizens are up in arms over the sudden cancellation of Halloween Horrors and slammed the decision on blogs and social media. Offline, newspaper forum pages have been abuzz with viewpoints and opinions on this issue.

I am in no way affected by the cancellation and can only offer my views as a passive observer of the chain of events that unfurled over the last two weeks. I don’t celebrate Halloween (always thought it’s just another reason for adults to dress up in an attempt to hark back to their childhood days) and have never been a fan of these fright nights.

The last (and hopefully final) time I went through one was during my freshmen year. In fact, I went through two. Two fright nights in a span of two months – one for my faculty camp, and the other during hall orientation camp. Needless to say, I was terrified of the ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits’ that jumped out at me along the dark corridor and I vividly remember telling myself that I am never going to let anyone put me through this anymore.

Still, this saga is of immense interest to me.

What immediately struck the communications student in me when I first got wind of this news was the appalling manner in which the company managed this whole issue.

Lessons from my Public Relations Writing class came flooding back as I read reports after reports about the controversy. I shall take the liberty to delve into some of these lessons.

Lesson #1: Be honest 

This is, what I believe, to be the root of all the heated public discussion. WRS seem to be hiding something behind their backs, given the abrupt turn of events. The private company, set up in 2000, cancelled the Halloween fest merely two weeks shy of the event. This was after 1000 tickets, which cost between $40 and $56 for adults, were sold. This was after 17 Singapore Polytechnic students spent the last seven months working on the event as part of their final-year project. And this, was after nearly $1 million had been pumped into the organisation of the event.

The reason for the sudden cancellation was due to “negative feedback from corporations, friends of the zoo, the public and the media, especially over the event’s relevance in relation to conservation”, said Ms Isabella Loh, WRS’ new chief executive.

It is a valid reason, granted, if the decision made to can this event was made long ago. Detractors have pointed out that if that really is the reason, then the show should go on for the last time this year. I cannot agree more. It shows a complete lack of strategic planning on the part of the management. Using this feeble excuse to justify their actions is puzzling and suspicious all at the same time.

If WRS is bold enough to make such a radical decision, then they should be daring enough to come clean with their real agenda.

Lesson #2: Never stay silent

It was reported in a story published on Monday in The New Paper that since releasing a statement, WRS has “decided not to answer further queries”. Staying silent is one of the worst thing an organisation or an individual should do when thrust into the media and public spotlight. Not coming clean with the truth is bad enough, but staying silent is worse. Keeping mum would do nothing to quell speculations and would only create the impression that the organisation is indifferent to the storm that is brewing in the public sphere. It shows a complete lack of respect to what the general public thinks. Eventually, the public backlash may even translate to poor business in future as the level of trust in the company goes downhill.

Lesson #3: Be consistent

There is disparity in WRS’ public statements. Ms Isabella Loh first attributed the cancellation of Halloween Horrors to the need for “more family-bonding and wholesome activities”. To support her point, she drew reference to President Tony Tan’s comments at a separate event at the zoo three weeks ago.

Dr Tan had said then: “Such family bonding, I believe, is very important for Singapore because we need to create informal occasions where families, children can bond with their parents and grandparents.”

Ms Loh subsequently apologised to Dr Tan for taking his comments out of context and in the process implicated him in this issue.

A few days later, she explained that the decision to abandon the fright night was because stakeholders feel that the Halloween fest has little to do with conservation. Yet a few days later, she revealed that after a visit to the Halloween Horrors programme, she felt “uncomfortable” and “upset” because it was “too scary”, suggesting that her personal views and beliefs were reasons for the cancellation.

This incongruence simply reflects poor corporate messaging. It would have worked better had WRS stated all the reasons from the very beginning. The varied accounts confuse the public and as mentioned, fuels speculations that they have something to hide.

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If anything, the horror of these events lie not in the fright night itself but in the mismanagement of the corporate communications team of the WRS. It is shocking and  horrifying to see an established organisation make such grave mistakes when the stakes are so high.

The good news for WRS is that this saga would undoubtedly tide over in no time. People will move on, in pursuit of the next scandal. But this incident will not be forgotten completely. The impact of such controversy is far-reaching. If WRS continues to clamp up and refuse to get down to the crux of this issue, they just have to live with the consequences of a tarnished reputation that will surely haunt them for a long time to come.

9/11 – Thoughts

9 Sep

One Election, Many Themes

2 Sep

A few pertinent themes surfaced in the blogposts my coursemates and I wrote. It is worthwhile to look at these themes because underneath them lie deep seeded issues that have been brought up time and time again. After reading through the stories, I categorized them as follow:

Social Media

A couple of friends talked about the use of social media in this election. The May General Election was dubbed a social media election. It is no surprise that analysts are keeping tabs on how social media has been employed in the Presidential Election as well. Anjali wrote at length about how social media was used in covering the results of the elections. However, she also showcased in her post the ills and downside of using social media in a live broadcast. This was most apparent when a laughable comment made on the channel’s twitter account was shown live on television.

Taken from Anjali’s blogpost:

This tweet went viral and it wasn't long before it became the butt of jokes

Singaporeans who did not vote

This was covered by two of my coursemates, Yi Han and Natalie. I thought this was a refreshing angle to take because much has been said about Singaporeans who ho exercised their rights as citizens and voted for their seventh president but not many stories focused on the people who did not have their say. Yi Han brought up an interesting issue, one that has not been covered in the papers before – of Singaporeans who did not vote in the Presidential Election because they were unaware of the deadline that they would have to meet in order to reinstate their names. The interviews that both of them had in their stories were also appropriate and strong as they managed to find people that can support their story angles.

Reporting ‘live’ from the gathering place

A couple of friends blogged about what happened on the night the results were released. These were reported from the gathering places of the various candidates. Tamilai was at Dr Tony Tan’s gathering place (Toa Payoh Stadium) whilst Wonky Wan  and Samantha Branson was at Dr Tan Cheng Bok’s gathering area (Clementi Stadium). Their blogposts were interesting as the writers gave a first hand account of what happened throughout the night. It gave me, the reader, a good feel of the events of the night as they gave a minute to minute account. In particular, Wonky Wan incorporated multimedia and a slideshow of photos in his post. He also managed to get good quotes from the supporters present at the stadium and these capture their mood and raw emotions.

This quote from Wonky Wan stands out to me in particular because it aptly represents a generation who is increasingly politically conscious:

One of his youngest supporters present at Jurong East Stadium, Poh Emran, 15, said he is “happy for Singapore to have a new President” and if he could say one thing to Dr Tan Cheng Bok now, it would be “Thank you and (the campaign was) a job well done”.

Samantha, on the other hand, took some excellent photos. I find this the most poignant:

A tired looking Dr Tan Cheng Bok thanking and greeting his supporters. Photo credits: Samantha Branson

Voters and the prevailing mood of the election

There were a few opinions on how well received the election was by the younger voters. In his blog post, Kenneth wrote about how young Singaporeans were excited about the election. He later moves on to talk about how these young people made their decision on who to vote for base on materials found on alternative media. Twofourfive on the other hand, wrote about how there was not much hype and excitement surrounding the Presidential Election. She managed to get good quotes from Singaporeans (of all ages) which acurately reflected the disinterest and this helped strengthen her story and made her angle believable.

One of them being:

An elderly citizen, Mdm Teo, expressed her discontent, saying, “This is so troublesome. I had to come here from the market just to vote.”

Analysis

A few course mates such as Wen Tong and Ken gave an overview of the election. One which left an impression is Amelia Tan’s post on the silent majority and how they are a formidable force. It is a fresh perspective, one which throws light on a group of people that has not been mentioned much, if at all. Her lead paragraph was wonderfully crafted and it drew me into the story at once.

My Thoughts

Reading these blogposts gave me a comprehensive understanding of the Presidential Election and brought me to think of issues which I had not consider previously. What makes a good story is one with strong angle, supplemented with appropriate interviews and quotes. Incorporating photos and videos into the blogpost, as Wonky Wan did, are plus points as they add colour to the story.