Government to listen to bloggers: who will speak?

Here’s a little surprise (sarcasm intended), the Government is ready to listen to bloggers. As recent election results show, they are about 4 years too late. There is a lot of ground to catch up on if the Information Ministry wants to understand what blogging is, and how it has had a profound impact on the opinions of Malaysians.

“The alternative media, like bloggers, play a role
in nation building. It is the most direct and simple channel for people
to voice their opinions. Sometimes, they can bring about a negative
effect but it is mostly positive.”

A case of too little too late?

Perhaps not. But Shabery will need to play his cards very carefully. Consider the audience he is dealing with: bloggers are almost universally the children of Generation X parents (and the most influential among them in the Malaysian blogosphere, are GenX hardcores themselves!). Exposure to years of anti-establishment doubt, and the access to an unprecedented amount of information — combined, these traits make for a very difficult buck to tame.

Bloggers, due to their nature i.e. unwilling to conform, ruled by the rules of the Internet where there are no rules, will immediately be suspicious of any overtures coming from the Government, especially after the events of GE2008. While the intentions of the Government may be sincere, there are probably very few who will trust them, much less agree to work with them (or for them). I think this is a key point the new minister of the Information Ministry must concede from the outset.

While some may see this as a challenge, i hope Shabery sees as an opportunity. If everyone expects you to continue using heavy handed tactics, surprise them with a soft touch. Granting immunity to blogging whistle blowers might be a start, dismissing ongoing legal action (which can be viewed as being politically motivated) against bloggers such as Bru is another. Its going to take action to convince the blogging community of the Government’s sincerity, and nothing short of pulling the all the stops will ensure this.

At the end of the day, there will still be many bloggers who distrust the Government, and who will express themselves as such. Trying to get everyone on their side should not be the objective; the objective of the Information Ministry should be to create an environment where the Internet is used as a round-table — a lot of negative politics/tactics on the Internet won the GenX/GenX+1 vote during GE2008, the Government needs to reverse this trend and bring the discussion back to the issues and policies (or lack thereof). Debate, respond, question — basic political tools. Its time the Government realise that the Internet is the new medium for the exercise of these tools.

If the recent (and still ongoing) Democratic Party Presidential nominations are any example, the Internet is being used as a medium of instruction where voters go to learn about both parties, allowing them to make an informed decision.

If the informed decision does not favour the ruling party, then that is a consequence rather than a cause. Bloggers should be positioned as the latter rather than the former.

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