‘Freedom of expression’ is a term one would normally associate with Americanisation or some, the spread of democracy across the world in this post-cold war era. With the influx of foreign media content – rich in western ideals – being consumed at an appalling rate on Singapore’s shores, it is no wonder that we now perceive ‘freedom of expression’ to be an individual’s right, or so we think it is. Herewith lays the power struggle.
From a young age, we are brought up with values that draw close links to Confucianism, stressing the importance of filial piety and a respect for authority. To go against an ‘elder’ or to even talk back would be a mini-abomination in itself.
So on one hand, we have present-day influences which tell us it is our right as human beings to be able to say and do what we want. Whereas on the other, we are brought up with values that are… total contradictory.
It seems in STOMP, we have the next closest thing to a utopian scenario of compromise – a public sphere where everyday people bridge the barriers of professional journalism to play it, only but from a citizen’s standpoint.
Talking about ‘uncritical populism’ (McGuigan:2005, p.11), McGuigan cites the absence of passivity and the power of choice among participants in public spheres. The key is convention. STOMPers engaged in active exchanges on STOMP – a form of public sphere – display their own unique rationale. Putting it in other words, the common man wisdom approach.
We need to note that although STOMP seems a ‘soft’ channel where heartfelt stories are showcased, there is still some form of regulation involved. Content deemed racially, religiously or politically controversial will never make it online – given the many sensitivities a multiracial nation like Singapore has to take into account in order to keep the peace.
That is the beauty of participatory culture in the context of this public sphere. While fellow STOMPers engage online with one another, forging bonds and identities, they do not realise that they are part of a bigger plan. A plan of ‘integration’ among the different ethnic groups in Singapore. Something the government has been rather adamant of enforcing following the racial riots in the 1960s, only that now, the initiative’s been taken to a whole new platform in Web 2.0.
‘Freedom of expression’ can actually work to the greater good of the public in an Asian context if we look at what is happening with STOMP at present. It is more than a tool to voice out, it is a nation building one as well.
McGuigan, Jim (2005) The Cultural Public Sphere, London, Sage Publications, pp. 11