S’pore’s local media to go to the polls next elections

James Gomez
The Malaysia Insider

Most political pundits on the key issue in Singapore’s next general elections, widely speculated for December 2010, put it down to the foreign worker concern. Statistics from the Singapore government place Singapore`s total population in June 2010 at 5,076,700 — only 3,230,700 are citizens and even then quite a few of them are new citizens.

The foreign worker question will be a key issue because the People’s Action Party (PAP)-led government’s non-transparent approach to immigration has overcrowded Singapore. Cheap foreign workers have been burdening the local infrastructure, and this cheap labour policy has depressed local wages and is making Singaporeans feel foreign in their own country.

It has also made these foreign workers the target of ruthless employment agents with some employers making it worse for these foreign worker through bad housing and working conditions.

While the key election issues will focus around this topic, another indirect issue brewing on the sidelines in the lead-up to the next elections is the credibility of the local mainstream media.

It is expected that the local mainstream media will get a further beating to its reputation at the next elections. The mainstream broadcast and print media goes into the next election with lower viewership and circulation. When the Internet shows up the biasness of the local media against the opposition parties in the next elections, local media credibility will go down further and drive more people to the Internet and away from the ruling PAP.

As Singapore heads towards its 11th general elections, more young voters and even older voters are consuming their political information via the Internet. Singapore’s 2010 Internet statistics put total Internet users in Singapore at 3,370,000 with a penetration of 72.4 per cent. Seventy-six per cent of those living in Singapore have access to the Internet at home, of which almost all of them have broadband access. Because the mainstream media is held in discredit for its local political news, it is pushing more and more people onto the Internet to get their political information.

Hence, it is not surprising all parties and its lead politicians have websites, blogs and Facebook pages. In the changing world of the political party as an institution, political communication is also becoming personal. Social media platforms such as Facebook are expected to drive online content during elections towards the personalisation of politics and fan democracy.

According to Facebaker.com there are presently 2, 300, 100 Facebook users in Singapore which is nearly 48.93 per cent of the population. In terms of penetration of Facebook in Singapore to online population this is higher at 62.87 per cent.

Political communication in Singapore during the next elections will also be more visual. It will be about imagery, short videos and soundbites and choreographed rallies. The Singapore Democratic Party, a leader in political communication on the Internet, has the most number of videos on YouTube. It recently held a choreographed pre-election rally at the Speaker’s Corner attended by some 200-400 people.

While the crowd was small, the stunning visuals captured through pictures and videos were widely circulated on the Internet, extending the reach by several thousands. So it is not surprising that sources inside the Workers’ Party and Reform Party indicate that they are also planning videos in the run-up to the elections.

Quite a lot of the electoral communication is expected to be moving towards mobile hand-held devices and this is something to look out for in Singapore’s next general elections. Current 3G mobile subscription is at 2,927,700 and climbing. Facebook will be also be accessed and status updates posted via mobile devices. SMS communications is also expected to play a larger role.

As much political communication has shifted to the Internet, it is common knowledge among “pro-democracy” bloggers and Facebook users that the ruling party has deployed anonymous cyber troopers onto the Internet. These troopers look out for articles on websites, blogs and Facebook that post critical comments about PAP and its leader or positive comments of the opposition and engage in negative campaigning.

These cyber troopers are also known to send emails to media organisations using cover email addresses criticising opposition parties and its leaders in the hope that some of this information will also spill over into the mainstream media.

Although traditional methods will still be used by political parties in Singapore, they increasingly play a smaller and less effective role. With so many foreigners in Singapore, traditional methods such as door to door visits and flyer distribution are proving to be not labour and cost effective. In Singapore, the new media is becoming the popular choice as it is less labour and cost intensive.

Yes, the PAP’s policy on foreigner worker will be a central issue in Singapore’s next elections but the local mainstream media’s coverage of local politics will also be on the minds of the city-state’s voters.

Dr James Gomez is active in the field of academia, civil society and politics. He is presently Deputy Dean (International) and Head of Public Relations at Monash University, Australia.