Coming out of my teens and early-20s, I thought I could finally put the angst of “finding myself” behind me. At last I could stop wailing, “WHO AM I? WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?!” I was finally done with listening to Britney’s ‘Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman‘ on repeat while woefully rubbing acne cream on my face and coming to terms with the fact that girl or woman, I will never be able to wear midriff-baring outfits like Ms Spears.
But it looks like this is not to be. As our ‘national conversation’ springs up I find myself facing another identity crisis: Not Just A Blogger, Not Quite A Person (Apparently)
Bloggers aren’t invited to PM forum…
Last month I received a call from Channel NewsAsia (CNA). They were planning a forum with the Prime Minister to discuss the National Day Rally, and were wondering if I would be interested to participate.
I said yes, and we talked for a bit about some of the questions and topics I would be likely to raise. There was no indication that any of those topics would be a problem. Then I was asked if I could suggest a few other bloggers who would also be good for the event. I wrote them a short list of recommendations.
There were a few other emails after that, confirming location and time.
Last week I received an email (the same one Ravi Philemon got), saying that since the PM had already had a private session with bloggers, the bosses at CNA had decided that it would not be necessary for bloggers to be included in this forum.
The vice-president overseeing CNA’s current affairs productions later got in touch (via email and phone). She explained that producers had reached out to people “as part of the research on availability of potential participants”, and that “official invitations have not been sent out yet.” She also reassured me that they “are not putting any guest into pigeon holes.”
Basically, I had not been disinvited because I was a blogger. I had actually not yet been invited, despite having been given a location and a time for the purposes of confirming my attendance. Weird, but whatever.
It was nice of her to promise that there was no intention to pigeonhole anyone, and perhaps it truly was a misunderstanding on all sides, but I was a little disturbed that the “PM already met some bloggers, so we don’t need anymore bloggers at the forum” logic had come up at all. I doubt it was something that the producer who emailed me had made up (what would be the motive?) – it must have been something that had been brought up at some meeting within CNA.
(To be fair I didn’t engage the VP on the phone about this point because I was busy at work when she called, so this is speculation on my part. Most of the people I have met and collaborated with from CNA have been lovely folk, but experience with the network has shown me that – like many other mainstream media outlets in Singapore – its problems are systemic and may even come from somewhere outside of their organisation.)
…or to Our Singapore
I had more or less let go of the whole CNA thing, then I saw the following about the launch of the Our Singapore committee (which is meant to spearhead the whole “national conversation”), which again made me think about how bloggers are perceived and treated in mainstream discourse:
Heng Swee Keat on our Singapore Conversation:
“Asked why “alternative voices” such as bloggers and opposition MPs were not included, he replied: “this is not a partisan exercise”"
“This not a partisan exercise,” says the head of a committee where eight members out of the 26 are from one political party.
I don’t get it. If we really wanted the whole thing to be non-partisan, wouldn’t that be more reason to include bloggers and opposition MPs (read: people who are likely to be critical of status quo)? The inclusion of opposition MPs would show that the committee is truly representative of Singaporeans across the political spectrum. Surely that’s desirable?
Most maligned, of course, are the bloggers. Not only are we (well, many of us, anyway) not even members of political parties, we’re also constantly reduced to being nothing more than just “bloggers”, as if we’re a separate species hacking away at computer keyboards in a vacuum.
Case study: The many faces of a blogger (for simplicity’s sake, me)
I’m a blogger. I’m not ashamed to identify myself as such. But that’s not all I am. Apart from being a blogger, I am also (in no particular order)…
…an activist; co-founder of anti-death penalty campaign group We Believe in Second Chances.
…a young Singaporean, trying to find my place in a fast-changing city-state.
…a media freelancer, trying to find her way in a country with press freedom issues.
…a daughter unable to afford to move out of her parents’ flat.
…a granddaughter trying to hold on to my grandparents’ stories of Singapore’s history even while history disappears from our physical spaces.
…an educated middle-class woman (the kind the government really hopes will get married and have babies).
And most basic of all, I am a person with thoughts.
Unfortunately, though, I have been labelled as a blogger, and only as a blogger, which appears to preclude any invitation to “non-partisan” conversation.
Of course, once in awhile bloggers might be trotted out to some sort of meet-and-greet session where photos will be taken for Facebooking purposes, and everyone will agree on the fragrance of the tea, the deliciousness of the food and the charming niceness of whichever minister is hosting the party. We will then all ‘like’ the photo on Facebook and talk about how the ruling party is really trying. But after awhile we realise that nothing substantial has changed, and that we’re not allowed to join the committees that matter, because it’s important for these committees to be “non-partisan”.
I liked the idea of a national conversation. Despite my doubts and suspicions – shared by many around me – I tried my best to remain optimistic and hopeful for Our Singapore. Even now I believe that most (if not all) the members of the committee have the best of intentions. But if the committee cannot admit people who are likely to disagree with the “mainstream”, if the committee hastens to state that it is not about slaughtering sacred cows, then how do we know that this is going to be our Singapore instead of theirs?
[UPDATE @ 6:30pm] Tan Chuan-Jin has clarified Heng Swee Keat’s statement on Our Singapore not being a partisan exercise. Read here.
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