Monday, July 03, 2006

Mr Brown is under attack !! But Relax, guys.

mrbrown was recently criticized in a letter from MICA (Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts). Since mrbrown is probably one of the most respected bloggers in the Singapore Blogosphere, the letter evoked quite a response from many local bloggers as well. This turn of events is, in my opinion, rather unfortunate. It does little to reconcile both sides (the Govt and the Bloggers), and only succeeds in polarising the already poor relationship between the two.

I understand that I may appear to be wuss or worse, a government lackey, but surely, there must be some more measured and reasoned response to this. We may be enraged, but we must always remain engaged to the issue at hand.

Having said the above, I think it is time to look at MICA's letter and pick out some useful points which we should take note of.

I will only look at the later part of MICA's letter, because the earlier half refers only to mrbrown's article which I do not have at hand.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.
I think MICA is correct in that all political satire tends to breed a sense of cynicism, and also a corresponding lack of faith in the authorities. But it is also valid to note that satire cannot arise from nothing- there must be both an issue to parody and an already-cynical audience. In this sense the question becomes pretty much of an chicken-and-egg problem, which certainly is useless and effort-wasting to even argue about.

What should be clear is that cynicism cannot be fought by clamping down on negative satire. This is foolish and probably only creates more resentment. The Government should focus on fixing the problematic issues, while satirists should not, if possible, bring up issues which are in the process of being fixed. Excessive and unneccessary parody when something is being done is certainly not wanted and only worsens matters.

Besides these points I would also like to question MICA's use of the word 'calculated'.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.
MICA accuses mr brown of not providing useful alternatives and constructive criticism. I agree that a useful political column would not only point out flaws but offer ideas to overcome these problems. But mr brown is a satirist, not a political columnist.

Wikipedia's article on political satire says
By its very nature, it rarely offers a constructive view in itself; when it is used as part of protest or dissent, it tends to simply establish the error of matters rather than provide solutions.
Besides this rather obvious point which MICA seems to have missed, MICA also does not seem to know the true identity of mr brown, which is strange at best.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.
I can understand the idealised concept of a newspaper being truly unbiased. The role of a newspaper is to inform, hence letting readers form their own views. But the problem is that sometimes, one cannot raise the awareness of some news issues without appearing to champion the issues themselves. For example, it is very easy to be mistaken for an animal lover when you write about the mistreatment of stray animals.

Another problem which is evident is how everything seems to have to take sides for or against the Government. This kind of thinking is rather George-Bush-ish in nature. One particular quote from a blog stands out in my mind : "If I complain a lousy initiative, I'm a partisan player?"

I realise that my analysis seems to be quite violently against MICA's views. But I think this was because the first part of MICA's letter was more reasonable (perhaps?).

In anycase just relax, people. Although from the 42 trackbacks on I don't think that many are relaxing.

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Jackson Tan said...

At any rate, after the most recent incident, no one will relax now.

The Negative Man said...

I hope that the suspension is only temporary, say a fortnight or a month, and that either the controversy dies or that enough people support mrbrown to reinstate.

But a quote from Two Towers was somehow stuck in my head.

"Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands."