TimYang.com ::: The Geek Blog

Monday March 21

Political blogging in Asia

The blogosphere has been buzzing with the role of bloggers as political reformists, especially with their opinion swaying writing in the last American election. Some people have gone so far as to call for the blogger to be named as Person of the Year by Time Magazine. This has hit a nerve with ground-level asians who have long been shut out of their own predominantly autocratic government. But arguments of this sort have not reached governments like Malaysia's own. In the next generation of would-be politicians being groomed in political groups like UMNO Youth, none of them can be found among the blogosphere.

In the case of Malaysia it is not difficult to see why politicians don't take bloggers seriously. As far as they are concerned, the internet is filled with coffee-shop rabble of untamed youths who engage in mindless chatter, not to mention worthless rumour mongering, and do little else but play games when they should be applying themselves. It is of course a generalisation on their part, but it is not entirely without merit.

The politicians hold themselves stiffly (and some would say stuffily) above all that. They don't understand the technology nor the issues and implications of the movement. But the bloggers themselves, who ought to be doing more to invite them to learn, have done little to instill the kind of confidence that politicians seek in collaborators nor have the bloggers succeeded in finding a connection with them. Instead, bloggers have sought to become popular among the masses and have tried to use their popularity to bring about change through popularist pressure -- just like how they see their peers do it in the US. But that model doesn't work in Asia where political power lies in your sponsors or patrons. It does not rely on, as someone erroneously tried to point out to me a week ago, your peer supporters are.

Take for instance the most popular political blog in Malaysia http://jeffooi.com/ which gets almost 200,000 hits a month. Jeff Ooi comments on social issues in Malaysia, political movements, movements in the media and in big business practices. He criticises politicians with vehemence and makes thin allusions to corruption among them. These posts excite his readers. He plays to the gossip-loving side of Malaysians. With his huge monthly hits and citations in the local newspapers, it is a certainty that the powers-that-be are also aware of him. Yet they simply ignore him. He is not given recognition and is barred from entering their corridors. Popularity in the blogosphere is therefore not power.

The reasons for the deprecation of bloggers in politics might be numerous and complex. But one of them is apparent with a glance at the content of Jeff Ooi's blog. This blogger has fallen into the habit of using his celebrity to engage in muck-racking and nitpicking and to make snide remarks, belittling statements, questionable accusations, character executions by innuendo, name-calling, personal attacks and even going so far as to post the phone number and address of anyone with whom he disagrees and inviting attacks on that person. Jeff Ooi's tactics, widely regarded as aggressively controversial, do not lend bloggers any credibility with a political establishment that famously values congeniality. And no politician can reasonably be seen mingling with rabble-rousers without himself coming under criticism from his own peers.

Jeff Ooi is only one blogger but he is undeniably an influential one and the most visible opinion-leader. With his sway on the masses, he has inspired hundreds of Malaysian bloggers to mimic his irrepressible and vicious style. As a result, politicians and policy makers need look no further than his posts and those like his to easily dismiss bloggers as a fringe mob of agitators and belligerents with little rationality and standing no matter what their mandate.

The solution however does not lie with curtailing or censoring bloggers. Nor are sycophantic bloggers desirable. But if bloggers in Malaysia want to have any hope of being taken seriously and being engaged by policy makers and having real effect on politics, then the antagonistic attitudes of Jeff Ooi and others like him must first be removed from the conversations of the blogosphere. Then an advance toward greater demonstrations of emotional self-control and critical thinking is called for, without which any dialogue with policy makers is doomed. Damage to the credibility of bloggers in the eyes of the political establishment has already been done. So whatever credibility bloggers wish to have in the future is at stake.

The enemy to political blogging in Malaysia is not standing on the parapets of the establishment or weilding a baton. The enemy is already in the trenches.


sounds familiar.

Posted by: lionel on Mar 25, 05 | 12:00 am
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