ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED BY PUBLICHOUSE.SG ON 24 OCTOBER 2011
A few years ago, there was a rebranding of the government’s Feedback Unit. Led by a new chief then, the Honourable Member of Parliament Amy Khor, it became Reach.
Reach plays an important role as an arm of the Executive. In its own words, its role is “to feel the pulse of the ground and keep the government apprised of key issues of concern amongst Singaporeans”.
This year, through its different leaders, the government conceded that it had failed to comprehend the concerns of the people, and it had misread the pulse of the ground on key policies.
If nothing else, this showed that Reach had failed miserably in that mandate. The only reach that Reach achieved in its restructuring was its sheer lack of reach.
Reading the speech of its chief to support a motion to thank the President for opening Parliament, one can perhaps understand why.
Khor remarked, “Online engagement will increasingly become more important with the growing number of digital citizens. It is simply impossible to engage on all sites. The government could engage on sites which allow for reasoned and constructive debate and gain traction. Netizens themselves who desire rational discourse should support such sites or else start them. They should not be afraid of being labelled 'pro government.'"
In essence, Khor seems stuck in a time-warp. She is merely reiterating a past strategy of government that has failed: we deal with online media, on our own terms, with persons who will bravely wear the badge “pro government”.
In doing so, Khor has only shown why she is a better politician reaching out to her exclusive die-hard white-wearing fans rather than a feedback chief desiring to be inclusive, regardless of how critical the views may be of government. She seems to have no misgivings polarising the digital citizenry by labelling them as irrational and destructive. Her sentiments perhaps reflect that Khor may have passed her ‘use by’ date, and why one would be hard-pressed to justify her relevance as the face of Reach.
Contrast Khor’s remarks with the more enlightened and practical approach highlighted by her colleague, the Honourable Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng.
Baey shared, “All communication media are neutral and social media is no exception. It is just another milestone in the evolution of media landscape. It is up to us to adapt and leverage on them.”
He then suggested, “The government does not have to rebut every single rumour or set the record straight for every misrepresentation made, even on the platforms it chooses to engage. Sometimes, it is better to leave the discussion open and not jump into defence too quickly or even at all. Firstly, it is not possible. Secondly, the time, money and effort expended would not be justified. Thirdly, the government should also trust in the public’s ability to make logical assessment of the information they encounter online. The government has to accept that it cannot and should not try to have the last word on every debate. Whether we like it or not, civic engagement in cyberspace has to be treated with the same level of respect and care, planned and delivered with the same competence we wish to achieve in our physical domain. Netizens expect their government to engage with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity.”
Baey speaks from the heart. He is a media veteran, in light of his track record as an artiste and communication professional. It is no surprise therefore that his views resonate with many in online media circles, including veteran journalists like Cherian George.
Being the natural charmer that he is, he has the potential to reflect the face of a government capable of engaging its citizens ‘with finesse, diplomacy and sincerity’. It is time for Baey to replace Khor as chief of Reach.
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