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.

1 comment:

scb said...

A Singaporean volunteered himself to fight in a foreign land is criminalised for being a self radicalised individual. The Incumbent President of the US sent his armies to fight in many foreign countries and yet receives supports. Are the American Soldiers sent to save live or to kill in foreign lands? Is the US President a (top notch) radical?