Thursday, December 09, 2010

Govt queried on political parties' online videos

My letter is published in the Straits Times forum today. In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.. "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly."

ST Forum
Dec 9, 2010
Can political parties directly upload videos online?

IN LAST Saturday's report ('The battle for eyeballs is on'), we learnt that political parties have been using the new media.

The article noted that since the ban on party political films was lifted last year, 'parties are able to produce and disseminate videos so long as they are factual and objective'.

Indeed, some opposition parties have posted politically themed videos online, with the Singapore Democratic Party chalking up 47 videos on its YouTube channel so far. My own check on the People's Action Party website reveals the ruling party has posted more than 30 videos.

But Section 14(1) of the Films Act states that 'every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board (of Film Censors) without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship'.

Earlier this year, I had complied with the above by submitting my video recording of a speech by political detainee Dr Lim Hock Siew to the censors. The film is now gazetted as a prohibited film because the Minister deemed it to be 'against public interests'. I was also told to remove the film from YouTube and from my blog, which I duly complied.

My other film, Zahari's 17 Years (2006), an interview with political detainee Said Zahari, has remained banned.

Given the Government's dim view of films and videos with political content, I would like to know what is the position of the relevant authorities with regard to the production and direct uploading of videos onto the Internet, particularly those of political parties.

Martyn See


Dec 4, 2010
The battle for eyeballs is on

By Tessa Wong

REMEMBER the much-discussed picture that blogger Alex Au snapped during the 2006 General Election, which showed thousands of people at a Workers' Party (WP) rally in Hougang?

It became the picture that symbolised the new media's status as a new source of political information.

With the easing of rules on political online content, political parties, especially from the opposition movement, are now banking on various platforms in cyberspace to make an impact in the coming polls.

Now, a website or a podcast is considered just the bare minimum.

While political parties acknowledge the importance of traditional vote-canvassing methods such as house visits and walkabouts, they also want to exploit the fast-growing social media to reach voters.

Singapore boasts 2.46 million Facebook users, according to statistics portal - a mind-blowing figure, considering that Facebook was made available globally only in September 2006, just after the last general election.

Many political parties have set up a presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Content on these platforms is uploaded on a regular, if not daily, basis.

Websites have been beefed up significantly. No longer do they contain only basic information about the parties; now they come with blogs, video links and interactive elements.

For example, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Reform Party (RP) provide updates nearly every day on their blogs, giving party news and their take on current issues. Visitors can post their comments on these blogs.

The WP's new site has a Flickr photo stream which allows visitors to view pictures of party events, and a Facebook widget which shows the party's most recently posted content.

To draw more eyeballs, the same content is often shared among multiple platforms. SDP often posts links to its blog entries on its Twitter account, its three Facebook pages, and the personal page of its party leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Facebook, in particular, has proven to be a popular medium for parties. They use it to share photos of events, advertise their constituency visits and recruit volunteers.

More importantly, they use it to interact with voters. The youth wing of the People's Action Party (PAP), for example, posts links to news stories on its Facebook page to gather feedback and engage users on national issues.

These platforms are employed to elicit suggestions from voters on what they want. RP has started separate Facebook pages for its campaign drives in Hong Kah and West Coast GRCs, where it asks residents for feedback.

What's more, politicians can now talk directly to voters through new media. Among those known to do so through Facebook are RP's secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam, National Solidarity Party's (NSP) secretary-general Goh Meng Seng, and PAP MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Baey Yam Keng.

In anticipation of the coming polls, some party members and volunteers have given a subtle twist to their online campaigning, such as changing their Facebook profile names to reflect their political intentions.

Some RP members have appended the term 'VotingRP' to their profile names. Mr Goh has changed his Facebook name to 'Goh Meng Seng Nspcontestampines', a reference to his plan to contest Tampines GRC in the coming elections.

A new playing field

SEVERAL key factors explain the ramp-up in new media campaigning.

One, it is seen as an affordable and effective way of reaching out to voters. Mr Goh of NSP has observed that the Internet is a low-cost medium in which politicians can get involved and achieve close engagement with voters.

SDP's assistant secretary-general, Mr John Tan, says that new media allows the party to counter 'untruths' propagated by traditional media.

This is why smaller parties which lack big budgets or manpower may want to use new media, according to Dr Marko Skoric, an assistant professor with Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who specialises in new media and social change.

'Basically, new media tactics would most benefit the underdogs,' he says.

This may explain why there is a difference between the new media approaches of the opposition and the PAP.

While the PAP has a presence on all the major new media platforms, more of its online activity appears to be driven by personal content - such as ministers or MPs posting updates on their Facebook pages - rather than by official party content.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, a member of the PAP's new media team, acknowledges that the decentralised approach is deliberate but 'makes sense'.

'We encourage them to engage with voters individually, especially since many MPs have existing voter support bases. We are not pushing to be cutting-edge, but still want to ensure voters have access to members and platforms,' he says.

The second factor is that parties are keen to woo the growing generation of wired voters, many of whom are young and want to explore political options.

To target the 18-35 age group, RP says it has put together a comprehensive online strategy, noting that its current support base has been enlisted 'almost exclusively off the back of social media'.

A third crucial factor is that the rules have changed since the last election. Last year, the ban on party political films was lifted. Parties are able to produce and disseminate videos so long as they are factual and objective.

Candidates, political parties and agents can use podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and other new media tools for campaigning in the coming elections.

Party political podcasts and vodcasts - which are episodic audio or video recordings posted online - were banned in the 2006 elections.

Taking advantage of the relaxed rules, some opposition parties have started to post politically-themed videos online. SDP has put up 47 videos on its YouTube channel so far.

Its latest video, posted this week, features its mascot Danny the Democracy Bear pursuing a man wearing what appears to be the PAP's white outfit.

A stronger online presence could also benefit political parties on Cooling-Off Day, which was introduced as part of the electoral reforms earlier this year. This falls on the eve of Polling Day.

Parties cannot officially campaign or put up any election advertising in contested wards on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day.

But any election content that the parties has placed on the Internet before Cooling-Off Day can remain online, provided it has not been changed and that it is lawfully published in the first place.

This could well be one reason opposition parties are concentrating on Internet content: with more such content available to voters before Cooling-Off Day, they reckon, the higher will be their chances in influencing opinion.

As they see it, the biggest benefit of new media is increased accessibility to voters.

Says Mr Yaw Shin Leong, WP's organising secretary: 'There will always be people who want to know more about a party's manifesto or its stand on a political issue. It is now easier for these people to access that information using the various online platforms.'


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