With anti-foreigner feelings rising in Singapore, like even kuai lan MRT Aunty also just assume anyone nasty is from China, it is good that bloggers are coming together to speak against xenophobia. A Youtube chat show started by local bloggers will start with the topic of xenophobia.
One of the bloggers, former TOC interim editor, Ravi Philemon, would be one of those on the talk show. In the ST article, he was quoted, “There are websites that seem to be driving these ultra-nationalist, anti-foreigner sentiments, and when you see something like that, you get worried.”
Indeed, sensational reporting by websites such as Temasek Times, although entertaining, would undoubtedly fray sentiments. The sentiments maybe anti-foreigner, racism, belittling another religion, anti-gay or feminazis and pro-gay fanatics. Xenophobia is just one facet of a general intolerance we have for people who are different from us.
But sensational reporting is such an essential part of driving readership and traffic to a website. It is barrier and hassle-free and seems to be the norm in cyber space. In fact, even TOC, when it was under Mr Philemon in 2011 was criticized by academic Cherian George for sensationalizing the Seng Han Thong MRT comments. As a result of their reporting, there was a little storm in the teacup where there was not only debate re Seng’s comments but also racial barbs being traded. Indeed, irresponsible reporting can be that spark that starts the fire be it racism, religion, foreigner or sexual orientation.
And about 15 days after the Seng incident, another incident, TOC FB wrote that the Catholic Pope had denounced gay marriages (one wouldn’t expect the Pope to agree with gay marriages would he?) and this invited commentators calling the Pope a bastard, a dog, a Nazi etc. Many people do not read the fine print or the entire article and thus headlines and reporting are important when shaping the ensuing debate.
If one read the Pope’s speech in its entirety, he did not denounce gay marriage outright but he did lay forth his view that the family based on a union of a man and woman is the fundamental cell of every society. Well, it was fair enough to say that he was diplomatic in arguing his views and mobilizing his flock.
Also note that building a more tolerant society also entails some form of restriction on our freedom of expression and this is accentuated by how diverse Singapore is with different races, nationalities, religions and sexual orientations. If everyone would to say or write out the first thing on our minds, it is likely that we will get into more cat fights. So while many bloggers urge for restrain and understanding those different from us; are we, as a cyber community, also willing to give up some our freedom to rant and complain??
All in all, it’s good that Mr Philemon and his friends are coming out to denounce xenophobia …but don’t forget it is so easy to slip back into populist sensational reporting just as it is now trendy to go into anti-xenophobia.