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Singapore: Media Literacy Council to Curb Internet Freedom?

To promote ‘public education on media literacy and cyber wellness’ the Singapore government has set up a 21-member Media Literacy Council. The Media Development Authority issued a press statement last month explaining the mission of the council:

The Media Literacy Council will advise the government on the appropriate policy response to an increasingly complex and borderless world of media, technology, consumer expectations and participation.

The Internet and social media have brought about exciting possibilities for learning and collaboration, and even new business opportunities for young people. At the same time, social issues such as bullying, scamming, preying on the young and inappropriate comments have found new outlets and been magnified through the multiplier effects of the Internet and social media. Our ability to critically evaluate information, as well as handle and create content appropriately, is key

Young Singapore Internet users, photo from Flickr page of markhsx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Young Singapore Internet users, photo from Flickr page of markhsx (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Established last August 1, the council is already organizing a Communications Literacy Seminar. It also announced Singapore’s participation in the Safer Internet Day initiative next year.

But bloggers are worried that the council could be a tool to restrict internet media freedom. Kirsten Han questions some of the council’s priorities:

By placing the emphasis on “appropriate social norms”, it seems like the Media Literacy Council is just going to spend its time telling us what we can or cannot say and do online, without dealing with we do or do not know – and there is a lot Singaporeans don’t know about the way our country is run that we need to know if we really want to raise the standard of discussion in our community.

Howard Lee accuses the government of distorting the meaning of media literacy:

In truth, media literacy, in the broadest sense of the term, is the constant application of critical thinking to any text we come across. It requires us to apply a certain degree of scepticism to what we read, filtering it through our own values, which is in turn challenged and expanded by alternative values and view points. In other words, media literacy is attained by de-structuring the mind, not by structuring it towards certain attainable results, as the MLC suggests.

Howard also highlights the lack of transparency in nominating the members of the council:

The fact that the panel is appointed by a political figure would rightly raise uncomfortable suspicions that there would be a political purpose behind their appointment

Given the current level of distrust toward the government among the online community, why has an alternative system, such as peer nomination, not been used in appointing the panel? Has the online community been consulted adequately about the need for the MLC, to begin with?

DK is supportive of the idea:

I know a lot of bloggers/forumers/tweeters are against the formation of Media Literacy Council. If you ask me, I think it is good that MDA is paying attention to Social Media and setting up a Media Literacy Council to promote cyber wellness. To most Social Media savvy people, the MLC might seems redundant. But I do think they can play a huge role in educating the general public and advising the government on Social Media matters

But I personally feel that its a pity that there are only 2 bloggers/influencers in the council. I think the council will benefit more if there are more Social Media influencers involved. Nevertheless, it is a good start. The council have a huge task ahead and I wish them good luck.

NG E-Jay thinks the council is another attempt to stifle critical voices in the Internet:

…is yet another attempt by the government to control and stifle dissenting voices on the internet. Far from promoting media literacy, the MLC will instead be promoting media illiteracy, which is what the ruling PAP has been promoting for the past 50 years.

Jentrified Citizen shares a similar view:

…is the strongest signal yet that while its outward approach and style may have softened a tad, nothing much has changed in this government’s mindset and attitude. It is clear that its intention is not to loosen but to tighten and expand its iron grip on the people who have become increasingly vocal and assertive

But the council has denied that it aims to regulate online behavior. Earlier this year, the government has proposed a Code of Conduct for social media but this was strongly opposed by the local internet community.

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