Bringing bloggers to hell – and everyone else, too

This post is written in response to Bertha Henson’s “Bringing Bloggers to Heel Part 2“. I also have qualms with her Part 1, but I’ll likely be taking that up in another post. Bertha: don’t take this personally, k?

I’m also publishing this now (apologies to the old man) because of the Advertising Standards Authority has voiced its interest in stepping in to formulate a social media advertising code, and The Blogfather feels it urgent enough to butt in on this discussion and put some things in perspective before we all run amok with these great ideas we have right now.

What the hell happened (well, for Singapore bloggers, anyway)

When news first broke that Xiaxue decided to give Gushcloud a Christmas present wrapped in stale scandal, many bloggers in my community said it was just another overly melodramatic, orchestrated show to possibly revive the blogging career of a waning Internet starlet.

Source: The Online Citizen
Source: The Online Citizen

But while it may have been fun for most to watch those involved waving verbal attacks and legal actions like spell incantations and wands in the episode of “Fairy Blogger and the Order of the Personal Protection“, the exchange was raising genuine industry malpractices that media practitioners have been all too familiar with, and I verily believed this was the beginning of a paradigm shift for the blogging community at large.

Who is qualified enough to define our sins?

While it is true that no one has thought of publicly discussing ethical guidelines for paid blogging (although in the private blogger circles I hang out in, ethics have been actively raised for years now), some of us will remember that the then Ministry of Information and the Arts did moot the possibility of an Internet code of conduct, going as far as to set up a Council to moot the idea. But it ultimately fell flat, mainly due to opposition from the alt news community.

yaacobsuggestion

Now, this may not be an apple-to-apple example of what is happening now, seeing as the context to that discussion arose from a dismal lack of manners and etiquette in the local online sphere, rather than a need for regulation in blogging as a commercial undertaking. But it just goes to show that the online community has been acutely conscious of its own shortcomings (over various perspectives at that) for a while now.

Then again, on the point of “paid blogging” — it goes by  other names as well, like “sponsored blogging”, “blogger advertising”, “social media marketing”, “influencer marketing”, and this latest which quite a few of us seriously don’t think is going to catch on, “digital tastemaking” — call it what you want, but the vast majority of Singaporean bloggers, be they lifestyle, parenting, food, recipe, sociopolitical, or any other field of interest you can think of, don’t see ourselves as commercial entities (actually, nobody considers us commercial entities). Sure, some of us may be represented by blogger management agencies such as Gushcloud, Nuffnang, and you can maybe even count Singapore Press Holdings’ own blogger club Omy, but by and large, we’ve all still got day jobs – if we’re not students, retired or stay-at-home parents. And we’re just doing all this for fun (yes, I actually find write serious responses to ex-SPH editors fun), with the reassurance to ourselves that we can stop any time without much consequence (kind of like smoking).

That said, we do understand that the longer we do it, the more reputation we build, and the more opportunities we open ourselves to as a result, so those of us that have been doing it for more than a couple of years now do take our online activities rather seriously. A number of us are even  aware of (and actively adopting) a set of digital advertising disclosure guidelines by the US Federal Trade Commission, based on basic advertising laws, not unlike our own Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) for media practitioners (which also explains why the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore is now looking to step in with new interactive advertising guidelines).

SCAP-Cover

Except that where the US government sees fit to regulate the advertising industry by law, Singapore’s SCAP is a mere self-regulatory initiative that has to depend on the industry’s endorsement in order to work, and one that continues to see limited success. Bertha Henson has remarked that advertisers try to push their luck with buying editorial mentions, “to lull readers/viewers into thinking that independent judgement has been exercised and there was no lure of the lucre.” And that is the reality; offline and online commercial publications alike still offer advertising term packages with editorial tie-ups, media still accept and keep product samples and working units, food, drink and complimentary services in return for reviews and write-ups, and company press releases are accepted and published with little or no edits, all without any form of advertising disclosure. Though I understand that during her time with the national daily, Bertha worked hard to implement strict house rules to avoid these very activities, at best she could only have enforced these rules in her house. And as respected a veteran journalist and newspaper editor as she is/was, she now no longer lives in that house.

Everyone, welcome to hell

You probably get the idea now that trying to come up with a set of “ethical guidelines for paid bloggers” is a rather myopic, narrow-minded, and quite honestly, stifling approach to a much larger problem (which is why I am very glad that we can all still blog about it for public scrutiny and discourse). This is a dirty game we’re all playing, where the words we print in black and white are coloured with 50 shades of media advertising tactics, and no one wants to take anyone seriously, not the government, not the professionals, not the non-professionals, and not any of our readers and followers. So bloggers, media practitioners, marketing and PR agencies, advertisers, and authorities alike: there’s going to be a place in hell for every single one of us (with Fairy Blogger sitting in the throne), unless we all clean up our act.

And for that to happen, we’re all going to need to have a serious talk together.

The Lee Our Children Don't Know

Before the Blogfather resumes normal complaining tomorrow, I’d like to add my bit for Lee Kuan Yew’s passing.

When Xander woke up for school yesterday morning, I turned on the television to watch the Channel NewsAsia broadcast announcing MM Lee’s passing and his various tribute clips. When I told him what had happened, he watched the screen for a few quiet seconds and said, “Ye ye will have a new friend going to meet him.”

Later, when the Mother of Xander went to fetch him from school, she asked him if the school explained what the one minute of silence observed during assembly was for. He replied, “No. Maybe Lee Kuan Yew don’t like noise?”

***

Lee Kuan Yew is as polarising in life as he is in death. I would hesitate to teach our kids what really happened during his time; the man had a steel grip, a stout heart and a stubborn streak, and his words and actions were sometimes not comfortable, most times not easy. But we wouldn’t have been where we were today without him. And we also wouldn’t know if things might have been good/bad/different without him. Such is his legacy that no generation that hasn’t experienced him will understand no matter how hard we explain.

The gravity of his existence took half a century to play out. The legacy he leaves will live on as long as we continue to call ourself a nation.

Much Ado About St Patrick's Day

Disclaimer: I work for the appointed PR agency for the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Street Festival, but I wasn’t involved in the handling of this account. As such, much of this information was sourced through my own communications with the people involved and my own experience of the event.

Its history goes back centuries, yet its evolution not so clearly documented; when you want to talk about how St Patrick’s Day found its way into Singapore, Wikipedia simply will not cut it. The death anniversary of the British-born, Ireland-based bishop, which should actually have been observed today, has transitioned from being a religious affair, to a cultural celebration, to just a really good excuse to eat, drink and be merry, while literally going green all along the Singapore River.

St-Pats-Greened

But therein lies the confusion, the misinformation, and a problem that grows larger, more dire, and more ridiculous as well, threatening to cast a shadow over any and all celebratory events in Singapore.

***

The Singapore chapter of St Patrick’s Day is actually pretty young still; Peter Ryan, the then First Secretary of the Irish Embassy, had only just begun work in Singapore and was looking for a way to get to know the locals, particularly through the strong and tight-knit alumni at St Patrick’s School. Through the combined efforts of the Embassy, the band of Singaporean Patricians – and as the years progressed, SJI’s Josephian alumni as well – and the local Irish community, Singapore saw its first of many St Patrick’s Day Parade turn the Singapore River into a jolly stream of green (and usually sponsored by Guinness) every year for the last 10 years.

St-Pats-Stage

Now, despite its namesake, the St Patrick’s Day we see here isn’t really premised on religion at all, and if you delve deeper into the crowd that happily participates in its festivities, not that Irish, either. As St Patrick’s Day got installed over various global (and interstellar?) locations like New York, Japan and the International Space Station, the celebration adopts a cultural inclusiveness that doesn’t take anything away from its cultural identity. And in Singapore this year, the Parade went all out, at one point giving a band of urumi drummers led by M Ravi a place in the middle of the Parade (and they were actually pretty damn good).

St-Pats-Ravi

I mean, for crying out loud, they even got Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) to close the Parade with a Thai traditional dance.

St-Pats-DSA

And in case you were wondering what the road closure was for…

St-Pats-Zoomoov

So at the heart of Saint Patrick’s Day in Singapore are three main tenets: family, friends and feasting. Of course, it helps even more if you happen to be a fan of Green Lantern and the Incredible Hulk (both of whom aren’t Irish, either).

But let’s be completely honest here, life in Singapore hasn’t exactly been a bed of fresh green roses, has it? Particularly when one of our own local festivals, one the Blogfather had a special place in his heart for, was marred by an unfortunate incident that was just as unfortunately managed in the public eye on many fronts since.

Thaipusam-media

Even more unfortunate is that the failings of one incident can have such a far reaching effect that it has managed to permeate into every festival, parade and procession that has followed. Such is the power of the red that we see; such is the recklessness of the anger that blinds us.

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TOC-Comments-ed

We have to stop doing this; we do no one any favours by being this ugly towards our world, least of all ourselves as a nation. Seriously, how far would we get in trying to create a more open society, when we then turn around to shut out other parts of our society that would otherwise help us prove we are capable of being an open society in the first place? It makes absolutely no sense.

***

Ironically, the most valuable lesson that was dealt last weekend didn’t come from the online voices of disgruntled Singaporeans, trying to speak up for the mistreatment of our minority groups. We were, instead, schooled by another, otherwise unrelated minority group, mostly adorned in green, who really doesn’t care what colour anyone wore, only that everyone feels welcomed and loved, in the spirit of family and friendship.

“The St Patrick’s Day parade is and always has been organised by a joint Singaporean and Irish organizing committee. We welcome everybody to join; next year, please come down and bring your drums. Bring everything! We welcome you!” – Colin McDonald, St Patrick’s Day Parade chairman and vice chairman of the Singapore Ireland Fund

50 years on, Singapore still has a lot to learn about being one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.