Gp notes 2010 (essay)

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Content Page

1. Media

  1. New vs. Traditional

  2. New: narcissistic?

  3. Government Censorship

  4. Profit-driven Media

  5. Advertising

  6. Private life of public figures

  7. Celebrity as a role model

  8. Blame media for our problems

  9. Power + Responsibility of Media

  10. Media ethics

  11. New Media and Democracy

2. Science/Tech

  1. Science and Ethics

  2. Government and scientist role in science

  3. Rely too much on technology?

  4. Nuclear technology

  5. Genetic modification

  6. Right tech for wrong reasons

3. Arts/Culture

  1. Arts have a future in Singapore?

  2. Why pursue Arts?

  3. Arts and technology

  4. Uniquely Singapore: Culture

4. Environment

  1. Developed vs. Developing

  2. Should environment be saved at all costs

  3. Are we doing enough to save the environment?

  4. Main reasons for environmental problems nowadays

5. Religion

  1. Religion divides more than it unites

  2. Religion and politics

  3. Science and religion

6. Terrorism

  1. Can terrorism ever be eradicated?

7. Sports

  1. True purpose of sports nowadays

  2. Sports and Media

8. Foreign Aid

  1. How effective is Foreign Aid?

9. Migration

  1. Is migration/having foreigners good?

10. Subjects

  1. Literature

  2. History

  3. Mathematics

  4. Universal language

11. Businesses

  1. Business morality

  2. Charities as businesses

12. Democracy

  1. Good vs. Bad

13. Social Issues (only stats provided)

  1. Gender

  2. Family

  3. Equality

14. Governance

  1. World Governance

15. Others

  1. Cooperation

  2. Education

  3. Crime

  4. Liberty or Security

  5. Consumerism

1. Media

1a. New vs. Traditional


  • The first quarter of 2043 will be when the last newspapers land on front process all over America. This is the prediction the author of ‘The Vanishing Newspaper’ …

  • Advent of tech has brought a radical change in the media industry

  • No longer confined to reading news, watching television

  • Click of mouse, people can access instantaneous info and news online

  • Proliferation of online blogs and social networking sites such as Twitter threaten to make mainstream media a thing of the past

  • But mainstream media adapting to suit the taste of consumers, still integral part of their lives

Mainstream BAD: Comparatively slower in its dissemination of news

  • Chicago Tribune, official website, posts instant news coverage before newspaper hit the newsstands following morning

  • Many different perspectives on important events and issues

  • Citizen journalists closer to their subject matter than professional journalists

  • Better position to uncover unique on-the-ground perspectives

Mainstream GOOD: Sheer physical authenticity - reliability

  • Cost of publishing book acts as a barrier to entry against casual writers

  • Hardly any oversight over the quality of material that gets published via new media channels

  • Any work, regardless of its value, can easily get broadcasted to a global audience

  • Publishers want to ensure that their books sell *quality check*

  • Any hack can put up his dribbling on

  • Any angst-filled teenager can put up his or her macabre, misspelt poetry online.

  • Anyone can masquerade a superstition for scientific truth and create a website to scare similarly weak-minded netizens

Mainstream BAD: Profit motive and Government-regulated - reliability

  • “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story” is an instruction often heard in the newsroom

  • Concept of media ethics is conceived to be an oxymoron. Sadly, many aspects of the modern media are stripped of almost all ethical concerns. In a reality of competition, ratings and economic considerations, ethics becomes a secondary, sometimes irritating, issue

  • E.g. But consider 2003, New York Times writer Jayson Blair caught for plagiarising and falsifying elements of his stories … clear to public that newspapers are nowhere higher on moral grounds than bloggers

  • E.g. Irish undergraduate posted a poetic but phoney quote on Wikipedia hours after Maurice Jarre’s death, Wikipedia quickly removed it for the lack attribution but journalists

  • E.g. Cover page of economist: President Obama at oil spill (cut a lonely figure: portrays the multitude of problems faced by America and his helplessness in coming up with solutions): Photoshopped

  • Inherent bias/political slants

  • E.g. Fox news channel headed by Republican supporters often portray Democrats in a negative light. Fox’s anchorman compared the logo of the recent nuclear technology forums, approved by President Obama, with the Muslim crescent, accusing Obama of having Muslim inclinations. The logo, in fact, was a representation of the scientific atom and had nothing to do with religion whatsoever.

  • Government-regulated

  • E.g. With the tight regulations and censorship procedures on media put in place by the Iranian government in the lead-up to the 2009 Presidential elections, any news of a manipulated election process would unlikely have reached the larger global community. It was only with social networking sites like Twitter that Iranian activists could raise the alert as to possible discrepancies in the re-election of President Ahmadinejad.

  • When the media has so many other motives, it can hardly be relied on to provide reliable information. The individual, on the other hand, has less hidden agendas.

Mainstream GOOD: Use professional journalists (compared to citizen journalism) – content quality

  • Citizen journalist “on-the ground” reports vs. professional whose sole purpose is to uncover each and every piece of information related to the news article they are writing

  • Wider and deeper coverage

  • Connections to a wider spectrum of professionals  greater insight into issue at hand

  • E.g. 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections (bloggers provide personal opinions about who was likely to win but New York Times invited experts to do a state-by-state analysis presenting results in a full-page spread, culminating in a detailed map showing states Democrats were likely to win)

  • Anonymity: given free rein to publish any thought that comes to mind

  • E.g. For every worthwhile video present on the site (think Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff”) there are a multitude of videos featuring otherwise inane and banal individuals indulgently banging away at their pianos or doing less-than-funny spoofs of music videos (think the Two Chinese Boys in their dormitory room)

  • E.g. Temasek Review: an anti-government news portal

  • E.g. Political commentary by a certain Kway Teow Man

  • E.g. “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day” Facebook Page. Emphasis need for freedom of speech and expression that is often curtailed in Muslim communities but ended up causing much unhappiness amongst Muslims because the central religious figure in Islam is not supposed to be visually depicted. Easy, convenient, effortlessly reach the global community without any prior checks

  • In-depth and broad coverage not found in new media where no profit motive

Mainstream GOOD: larger spectrum of information (range of content)

  • Bloggers tend to report more on celebrity gossip and sports (e.g. focuses on reporting entertainment-based news) (hidden agenda of bloggers too?)

  • Mainstream cover wide area of fields

  • Citizen Journalism offers us multiple perspectives

  • Structure of printed page classifies information for the reader according to subject matter and importance

  • Massive amount of (mostly irrelevant) information online, newspaper supply balanced amount of information

Mainstream + New: Take advantage of the Internet AND integration

  • E.g. STOMP, newspaper readers invited to post news and pictures that they have uncovered, every week myPaper has a column specifically dedicated to STOMP, in which the column lists the top 10 newsworthy stories posted on the site

  • Mainstream media embrace the Internet as an alternative platform to share news reports with their readers

  • Respond to growing demand for less lag time in relaying information by setting up websites that complement their publications (constantly updated round the clock)

  • Shows on television frequently uploaded onto video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Hulu, showing surging demand for mainstream shows

  • Recent nielson index shows that “American Idol” over 50 million viewers in U.S. alone

  • Ryan Seacrest, host of show, frequently urged viewers to log on to, official site of the show, for “never-before-seen exclusive content, including behind-the-scenes coverage of contestants”

  • American Idol even has a Twitter and YouTube account, post updates and jey performances

Book vs. Internet


  • Information lives to be transmitted, books served this purpose, archiving, ‘locking down’ and then passing it on

  • Preserve and disseminate info, enlighten or educate readers

  • Rapid advent of internet has shaken the traditional role of the book

  • Ability to transmit regularly updated information at the speed of broadband, giving free access to vast resources, and opening avenues for more people to publish their commentaries or creative writing … ‘information super-highway’

***Internet more Convenience and Capacity

  • For centuries, book was the only tangible repository of knowledge in our world

  • Epitome of the writing system, evolved from prehistoric scratches in sand or painting on walls, more advanced than cumbersome clay and stone tablets

  • Challenged by Internet on the same two fronts on which it proved its mastery over other forms of recording and disseminating information: capacity and accessibility

  • Fabled Library of Alexandria contained hundreds of thousands of books, Internet has billions of websites

  • Vast network of information on the Internet readiness and convenience with which this information is accessed is greater than thumbing through a book with the advent of search engines such as Google

***Internet presents more possibilities than the book

  • Farthest book goes into another dimension is in the form of a pop-up book

  • Internet is multi-media, allows for greater range of expression and gives a voice and virtual page to would-be writers in the world (e.g. weblog, fan-fiction sites, video-sharing sites)

  • As a repository of entertainment, at least, the Internet seems to render the book insufficient and in many ways, pathetic

Info not the same

  • Internet does not include the entire corpus of the written word

  • Books are increasingly finding their way onto the Internet, info digitized (google books)

  • Much knowledge residing in books today that have not found their way onto the Internet (exclusive information)

  • But… Gutenberg Project transcribes old literary texts from all eras, posting them online for free

  • Websites such as Questia and JSTOR store full academic journals, books, newspaper, magazines … (portable too!)

  • Also limits imposed by costs of publication, book cannot contain everything. Editors sometimes forced to truncate minor pieces of information. Internet resources easily trounce their counterparts as cost is low. E.g. Wikipedia or Instructables offer in-depth guides and resources over an incredible range of topic

  • Easily edited rather than reprinted (e.g. Wikipedia freely create and edit info): completely dynamic resource, constantly evolving, updating, self-correcting, improving

Not everyone has access to the Internet to begin with

  • Computers, mobile devices such as phones can connect to Internet

  • Suggest an increasingly wired world

  • Restricted to developed countries, and particularly, those in the middle or upper classes

  • No access to World Wide Web (irony in the name). While Africans (arguably most underdeveloped continent) have relatively infrequent access to book and illiterate, but written word has greater penetration there than broadband

  • Book is the readily available substitute

  • Consider “One Laptop per Child” campaign

  • Or cannot afford to establish a dial-up or pre-paid connection to the Internet


  • User-friendly with whole range of in-depth technical guides but serve as a distraction, hopping from link to link

  • Distractions due to sheer variety of content and multimedia can be both especially tempting and exceptionally deadly

  • Clear psychological difference to reading a novel manuscript off a laptop screen and actually cradling the hardcopy edition in one’s hand (simple sentimentalities?)

1b. New: narcissistic

  • Gone were the days when the chance of seeing one’s name in a printed publication was at the mercies of the publishing house, whose decision on one’s manuscript determined whether one would achieve international prominence or be reduced to languishing in nameless obscurity

  • The rise of the new media, most notably the Internet, has caused an unprecedented democratization of the publishing process, with almost everyone and anyone being entitled to their bit of domain space and broadband to broadcast their thoughts on the World Wide Web, and consequently to the whole wide world, without being subject to the scrutiny of an intermediary.

  • Promote a culture of self-absorption

  • Live in a little bubble of their own with inflated feelings of self-worth and a general uncaring attitude

  • Afford new avenues of self-expression and actualization

  • Transcended temporal and geographical boundaries to bring us in greater contact

  • Given us so many new perspective on this world and enable us to take such greater global action

YES: Rise of user-generated content: self-indulgence

YES: Anonymity

  • Given free rein to publish any thought, even if insensitive or disparaging towards…

  • Empowered to have his views aired without having to consider the potential repercussions and without having to suffer the ensuing backlash from the discord he has sowed

  • Identity protected by veil of anonymity

  • E.g. “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day”

NO: Brought us beyond our self-absorbed perspectives

  • Interconnected

  • E.g. Iran elections

  • Allowing the circumvention of restrictions placed on traditional media

  • Allow a plethora of new and alternative perspectives to come through

  • Opening our eyes to the larger world beyond what we experience in our everyday lives

  • More attuned to the happenings of our human counterparts

NO: Move beyond ourselves, to take a stance on social issues, enabling us to take up causes far greater than ourselves by galvanizing and gathering the entire global community into taking concrete action

  • E.g.

  • Making use of the internet and social media to achieve a staggering number of signatories to protest against the Chinese crackdown on Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang

  • Enabled us to actively take part in the quest for change / social consciousness


  • Enabled the flourishing of individual expression, to the extent of narcissism

  • New media is but a neutral tool; how we use it will determine…

1c. Government Censorship
Govt Regulated (political-BAD):

  • Morphs into a powerful tool to influence people’s beliefs and values

  • Sends chills down a liberal’s spine

  • Magic behind oligarchs’, juntas’, emperors’, authoritarians’ abilities to rally the support of the people behind them

  • Suppress all information that may jeopardize a government’s position

  • Devoid of all diversity

  • Robert Mugabe: corrupt president of Zimbabwe forced all news broadcasting firms to close down, allowing only the government-regulated news firm to disseminate info

  • Rwanda: Genocide was propagated through state-backed radio. Extremist Hutu group took control.

  • Circumscribed the variety of information

  • Government dedicated to serving the good of the people, unaware of Zimbabwe’s atrocious human rights record

  • Chairman Mao censored any dissenting views criticizing his reign

  • Indonesia and Taiwan: demonstrations, riots, and needles bloodshed

  • Kills off certain aspects of artistic creativity through selective choice of content and hence might be said to be an insult to the professional judgement of the producer of the piece

  • Acutely aware of “shock effect” on the public created through grisly images and shocking, eclectic (free) perspectives on established issues

  • Stir up emotions over a humanitarian crisis, one inevitably uses fottage of cadavers, mutilated and burnt

  • Lamabaste an entity or concept, one can choose to adopt and acridly acerbic tone

  • Media conveys information conducive to public debate. If government restricts this, stunt social growth and awareness by limiting information available

  • China: government blocks web addresses that contain opinions or sentiments that are anything short of in praise of them (online criticism is blocked, limits to what newspapers can print). Still forbids extensive coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 where hundreds of students protesting peacefully were brutally massacred. In light of its deplorable human rights record, it is not difficult to see why the Chinese government has so much at stake – it risks sparking off massive public outcry. Modernising rapidly, still persists with unethical means of suppressing dissent

  • Susceptible to influence of lobby-groups.

Govt regulated (political-GOOD):

  • Media content that is racially offensive or culturally inflammatory in nature or intent can spark social outrage

  • Give the mass media free rein, and one will invariably find seditious material widely available on the World Wide Web

  • E.g. Danish authorities inflammatory Prophet Mohammed caricatures in the national newspaper: spark media furore and widespread racial clashes

  • As people have varying opinions on the same issue, it is pertinent that an authority runs through any form of content to minimize clashes

  • What is accepting to one person may be derogatory to another

  • Given the wide spectrum of racial and religious groups that invariably form any society, especially important that the fabric of the nation is not torn apart

  • Singapore Government has chosen the right approach in this respect, given the multi-ethnic composition of society

  • Charging two young bloggers in 2005 under the Sedition Act

  • Will not tolerate malicious acts of racial discrimination

  • Censorship is necessary to introduce some modicum of regulation, in the hope of diverting potential conflicts

Govt regulated (social):

  • Increased accessibility of information: greater exposure of undesirable material (GOOD)

  • Demerit goods (ECONS) … In a democratic government where vox populi is the instrument which elevates a select group to the fore of administration, regimes argue that they possess the mandate to make normative decisions for the greater good of society. Paternalism … right and duty.

  • Censorship challenges the basic premise of a person’s individual judgement: people should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to watch instead (BAD)

  • Government censorship is paternalistic and intrinsically ignores the possibility for personal censorship or censorship by various institutions in society

  • Ludicrous in their non-belief of the individual’s intelligence

  • Fundamentally, a democracy is predicated on the belief of the general ability of the public to discern between what is beneficial for them and what is not

  • Censorship by and within the mass media itself. E.g. US: news agencies like CNN do not broadcast pornography and violence on a daily basis; the former perhaps not at all. Demonstration of their belief that society at large is not fundamentally concerned with and interested in such material … manifestation of the maturity of society at large (profit motive: will not publish content that is not of great interest to all swathes of society)

  • Average child watches 8000 television murders by the time he reaches the age of 21

  • E.g. Ted Bundy: obsessed with pornography and went on to sexually assault and murder innovent young women

  • E.g. Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment: children who were exposed to violent scenes more likely to hit Bobo Doll

  • E.g. Columbine Shootings inspired by video game “Doom”

  • E.g. Nathan Martinez who shot dead his step-mother and step-sister after watching the film “Natural Born Killers” ten times

  • E.g. The film “Cut” by local film maker Royston Tan was supported by MDA because it encourages debate on censorship.

What media should do:

  • Media should be used as a platform not only to entertain, but also inform and educate the masses

  • Must be willing to bear the responsibility of bringing good-quality broadcasting to all

  • Commendable brocasting in light of possible political adherence is British Brodcasting Corporation (BBC)

  • Shows like “Hard Talk” present round-table debates and interviews with eminent leaders from around the world

Who determines what is censored?

  • As the Romans eloquently put it: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? If censorship has been established as a crucial concept which does not threaten the mental capacity of mankind, then who is to ensure that it does not degrade into a tool for abuse?

Scope of Censorship:

Difficult to determine the scope of censorship boards as well as the extent of censorship, given the spread of information usually available to us; this line is often hard to draw, hence the difficulty in drawing up guidelines and establishing what distinguishes an enlightened government from a deplored one.
Governments of multi-racial societies have the added challenge of keeping the synergy and harmony of society… numerous interest groups to take into account before … Meet these challenges and the unique needs of the people, while maintaining a certain amount of freedom in the press. Hence the differential rates of media freedom in various countries around the globe.
Government ought not to fear political freedom of speech in the media – transparency and press freedom, coupled with a nation that is socially stable, usually reflect the confidence of the people in the given Cabinet.
The media is used for dissemination of useful information while facilitating public discussion and debate and is therefore an excellent means of raising social and intellectual awareness.
While total freedom certainly has its shortcomings, a trade-off between social welfare and the freedom of press is not necessarily a bad thing.

Benjamin Franklin’s epithet that “any government who seeks to give up a little liberty for a little security deserves neither and will lose both”.

Censorship has been around for as long as humans had the ability to voice their opinion and his fellow man has deemed it appropriate to chastise this opinion.

  • In Plato’s ideal state outlined in The Republic, official censors would prohibit mothers and nurses from relating tales deemed bad or evil

  • Shi Huang Ti: Penchant for burning books

  • Freedom of speech in ancient Rome was restricted to those in positions of authority

Freedom of Speech:

  • I disapprove of what you say but I’ll defend to death your right to say it – Voltaire

  • Freedom of speech is fundamental to a democracy as it creates educated and mature individuals that are able to make informed decisions

National Security: prevent enemy from acquiring information of military value

  • White House reporters said they were given very limited information regarding the cost, the length and the possible risks in the military attack on Iraq

Media literacy

  • Tools of censorship tend to work as a blunt instrument. Filtering software isn’t particularly selective. By filtering the words ‘hate’, software will certainly screen out most hate Web sites but may also block access to valuable and legitimate resources such as sites dedicated to anti-racism, Jewish culture, war museums etc.

  • Forbidden fruit effect

  • A critical analysis on the media will inspire youths to question why violence is so prevalent in our media today

  • Help them to realize that media is not a reflection of reality but rather a social construct

  • White House report that media literacy empowers young people, not only to understand and evaluate the ideas found in popular culture, but also “to be positive contributors to society, to challenge cynicism and apathy and to serve as agents to social change”  enhances rather than curtails young people’s intellectual growth and their development into critically thinking adults

  • Censorship cannot achieve this

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