The Harvard researchers are in luck, because that's precisely one of the topics they're coming to Singapore to research. And Cherian will probably have plenty to tell them.
The dangers of dual media regulation
Friday • January 12, 2007
Tor Ching Li
IF the current strict regulation of mainstream media continues unabated while the alternative media freewheels in cyberspace, Singapore could become a "schizophrenic" nation.
That was the observation of Dr Cherian George, an Institute of Policy Studies adjunct senior research fellow at the institute's annual Singapore Perspectives conference yesterday.
He said: "A dual regulatory regime has evolved: Stricter supervision of mainstream media — the national press and TV — and more latitude for niche or alternative media. Alternative media are also structured differently, allowing them to act differently from the mainstream."
While online media like blogs and forums can deliver news fast and loose, mainstream media has to go through layers of checks. And where alternative media can reflect dissenting opinions, traditional media is limited in that respect, he said.
"The danger is in creating two different worlds and two different set of experiences for Singaporeans. I don't think it is entirely healthy, there needs to be some connection between the two worlds or we'll end up being a schizophrenic nation," he added.
Regulation on traditional media hence needs to be "loosened up", he said, adding that some media laws could soon be reviewed or passed.
Unfortunately, I don't see any indications that the government is moving towards the former approach. And I think it's entirely possible that it will move towards the latter.
There is a third approach. It's to simply live with the schizophrenia. I'm not sure why Cherian considers this unhealthy. I see it as an almost-necessary consequence of the technological age. It is the theory of the Long Tail all over again.
In a nutshell, the Long Tail predicts that both culture and economy will shift away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, toward a huge number of niches in the tail. Click here to learn more.
In the blogs/media context, this is what it means. Technology makes so many more options available at no extra cost that people will inevitably gravitate towwards seeking out what appeals most specifically to them.
You can think of it this way - there are 35 million blogs in the universe to choose from, and tens of thousands of online newspapers. If you don't like the Straits Times, why should you read the Straits Times? If you don't like Mr Wang, why should you read Mr Wang's blog? You can jolly well go elsewhere. How do you find your way? Devices like Google and Technorati make the search remarkably easy.
So in the end, we all become highly specialised, highly niche consumers. Faced with a vast number of options, each of us makes our own unique set of choices. We go for exactly what we like. Each of us ends up reading different stuff, and some of us will read extremely different stuff from the rest of us.
That's what Cherian calls schizophrenia. But is that really unhealthy? I. Am. Really. Not. Convinced.