Monday, June 18, 2007

Currus meus fractus est...

Today, I found out what rear wheel bearings are and how much it costs to replace them. Ouch.

Friday, June 15, 2007

ST Forum: Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes

A couple of days ago, on June 14, 2007, this letter appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times.

Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes
I AM curious to know if the Media Development Authority would be re-evaluating the policy on satellite TV for homes.

While undesirable contents that are at odds with Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society may be a key concern, with proper implementation of policy and the choice of a responsible service provider, this concern could be addressed adequately.

Each time I visit my relatives in Malaysia, I am blown away by the wide range of channels available on Astro. Yet, I have never heard my relatives complain about inadequacy of censorship.

In fact, I have always associated Malaysia with having tighter censorship than Singapore with regard to its public television and cinemas.

If censorship seems to be a non-issue for satellite-TV audiences in Malaysia, why can't Singaporeans enjoy the same?

We don't regulate the Internet despite there being more objectionable content that risks eroding the fabric of Singapore's sensitive cultural and racial mix.

Despite the power of the authorities to revoke licences at any time, I believe it would not be too difficult to find service providers who would toe the line.

The construction of physical infrastructure is an expensive business, which might explain why it may not be feasible to have more than one or two operators offering content to the masses. Satellite technology eliminates some of these constraints and makes the distribution of content much more efficient.

My relatives across the border pay only a fraction of the prices we pay for cable TV here, and even then prices here are being increased again.

Satellite TV is already allowed in hotels here. This makes the discrimination a little difficult to understand - if tourists have access, why can't the local population?

We will soon have the Formula 1 race and casinos, and we have ditched many stereotypes about Singapore in the last five years. It is time to reflect on the rationale behind some of our restrictive policies, in view of the new-look Singapore we are aiming to build.

Wong Wai Pong

The letter pretty much summed up what I said here: the internet is provides far more access to radical material than satellite TV, satellite TV is already available to some organizations in Singapore, Singtel itself operates satellite TV services in Australia and the overhead cost of introducing satellite service is relatively low.

The lame response from the Media Development Authority of Singapore appeared today in the ST.

Ample alternatives, no plans for satellite TV
I REFER to the letter, 'Time to reconsider satellite TV for homes' (ST, June 14), by Mr Wong Wai Pong.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) encourages the entry of new media services, such as those offered by Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) players, into the market.

In addition to offering traditional TV programmes, broadband services such as IPTV can support two-way interactive TV services, which will enhance the TV-viewing experience.

Singapore will benefit from the entry of these players as this will encourage further development of our media market and increase the choice and quality of services available to consumers.

Today, StarHub Cable Vision Ltd is not the only pay-TV operator in Singapore. There are other operators. For example, M2B World offers over 40 video-on-demand (VOD) channels of content. MediaCorp offers VOD content over its MOBTV service. SingTel offers VOD content services and will be launching pay-TV services via IPTV soon.

MDA has also issued licences to a few more operators to conduct trial TV services in Singapore.

There are currently no plans to introduce satellite TV as there are already other alternatives in the market.

Ling Pek Ling (Ms)
Director (Media Policy)
Media Development Authority of Singapore

Again, MDA totally avoids the questions put forward by Wong Wai Pong and gave a typical civil service reply. For example, Wong asked:

1. If censorship seems to be a non-issue for satellite-TV audiences in Malaysia, why can't Singaporeans enjoy the same?
2. Satellite TV is already allowed in hotels here. This makes the discrimination a little difficult to understand - if tourists have access, why can't the local population?

Note that Ms. Ling Pek Ling of the MDA addressed none of the above.

At the very least, Ms. Ling did not resort to the specious argument, put forward previously by MDA, that we have to ban satellite TV because it potentially threatens the social stability of Singapore. The omission of that argument makes it obvious that protecting social stability is probably not the primary reason why satellite TV services are banned in Singapore.

Sometimes, I wonder why people write in to the ST Forum to express their views on a contentious public policy (SAF, foreign labour, GST hikes, satellite TV ban, etc). The government simply deflects the critical points by not answering them. P21 my foot.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Self-radicalisation through the internet and cable TV subscription fee hikes

As most Singaporeans might have read in the news, a certain Mr. Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader was arrested under the infamous Internal Security Act last week for making plans to pursue militant jihad in Afghanistan. The man has been described as a 'self-radicalised' individual who 'began to develop militant jihad ideas in late 2004, after being affected by the radical discourse he read on the internet'. As a result, he was considered a security threat and placed under detention.

What this demonstrates is the power of the World Wide Web as a means to disseminate uncensored unadulterated radical content. It is both a boon and a bane. In this age of the information highway, even in Singapore, we are free to read whatever we will find on the internet, learn what we want to know, listen to those who want use to hear and enunciate to others what we wish to say. Governmental censorship on the internet is next to useless as there are a myriad of means to circumvent any method of restricting access. There is no turning back now for Singapore. Undoubtedly, there will be more self-radicalised individuals emerging but that is the price of living in the information age.

Most of us do not use the internet to seek heavy militant jihadist literature. It is the easy access to alternative content that has made the internet so attractive. Politics, pornography, philosophy, pedantry etc of all forms avail themselves for download and the online community has become more vibrant and interactive. Indeed, we are no longer limited to the passivity of books, radio, television and other medium.

Of course, what I have said so far about content being uncensored and freely available is obvious most people.

Let us now turn to the impending cable TV subscription fees hike by Starhub in July. They claim that they are have no choice but to raise the fees. They claim that they have to pay more for the programming. Well, any one with some basic knowledge of economics knows that price is determined by demand and supply. Conveniently, they are the only supplier of private cable service and thus, hold great monopolistic power. They can raise the fees any time they want and nothing can stop them. This hike in July is but one of the many that will come in the future.

It is time to break this monopolistic power. There is no reason for Starhub to be the only mass private cable TV provider. We must have viable alternatives to the products offered by Starhub. Some suggest that pay TV or the internet will provide the necessary competition but I doubt that will be true, at least in the near future. The contents of such alternatives are tailored to foreign preferences.

One alternative, as suggested, is satellite TV. In Singapore, we do not have satellite TV because the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) has prohibited the subscription of satellite TV. Minister Lee Boon Yang claims

Nevertheless, the Government has constantly reviewed the satellite TV policy over the years, and where it was necessary to relax satellite TV regulations, the Government had done so. For instance, banks, financial institutions and commercial organisations with the need for time-sensitive information are already permitted to install satellite dishes to access satellite TV. More recently, we have also allowed hotels, tertiary and technical institutes, international schools and hospitals to have access to satellite TV for restricted use.

However, the reasons why we should prevent undesirable content from easy entry to the homes of Singaporeans through satellite dishes remain valid and important. In the face of increasing security challenges worldwide today, we must continue to be vigilant against external influences that may split or divide our society.

How many of you actually believe that satellite TV will pose a security threat to our society? As if the government cannot regulate satellite TV programming! If anything, it is far far easier to control satellite TV programming than to regular internet content. No one has ever got self-radicalised by watching satellite TV. What kind of security challenges can there be from making satellite services available? The internet is far more dangerous and yet we do not restrict access to it.

Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan and Australia enjoy access to satellite TV services. Even, in Australia, Singtel Optus, a wholly owned subsidiary of Singtel, offers satellite internet and TV services. Meanwhile, in Singapore, satellite dishes are banned and we do not have access to satellite internet and TV services. What hypocrisy. Instead, consumers are forced to pay higher prices for services from a monopolistic power that is shielded from competition by unjustified government regulations.

It's time for a change and it only will come when you the consumer and the citizen clamours for that change. Write in to your MPs, to the papers, on your blog, on your website, in online forums. With so many of us subscribing to cable TV, we the consumers must take action.