I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Stomp, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read it. But calls to close it down are troubling, and miss the bigger picture. Although it is probably too late since the petition has already gone ultra-viral, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t agree with banning Stomp.
1. Free Stomp’s Internet
#FreeMyInternet was a great moment in Singapore’s recent history, and I am proud to have participated by blacking out my blog. The debate which raged over the MDA’s draconian attempts to regulate the internet was inspiring, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. If I should be free to publish on my blog any article that is not libelous, slanderous, inciting of religious hatred, seditious or all the rest of it, so should Stomp. It is important to be consistent on this. If Stomp does break the law, that can be address through regulation and the courts (but see point 2 below). Just as The Economist was sued for describing Ho Ching’s appointment to Temasek as “nepotistic” in 2004, so could Stomp be, and so could I be. If the legal system is not fair and balanced on such questions, that is a separate, systemic issue that Singapore must address. Closing Stomp is no sort of answer.
2. Stomp is a symptom of wider media issues
Stomp would not be so popular if the government did not monopolise the media industry. Surely more independent, professionally run online outlets would challenge the extremely poor quality of Stomp’s “journalism” and push them into the margins. Competition would force Stomp to improve, but the government is not likely to allow any real competition in mainstream media. Shutting down Stomp is just a short-cut that ignores bigger issues.
The spreading of lies and blatant inaccuracies should be addressed by an independent media regulator, which could force the publication of corrections and apologies. Of course Singapore has no such thing, and anyone who remembers The New Paper’s wild and baseless allegation that SDP Secretary General Chee Soon Juan tried to start an illegal protest march during the GE2011 election campaign will understand why. A government controlled media which is free to print lies without any independent regulation is a very useful tool come election time. This is the media ecosystem which gave birth to Stomp, and change is not likely to be forthcoming.
The real solution here is to fix the underlying issues around media regulation. Support political parties that understand these issues and are willing to speak up about them.
3. Stomp is a (partial) reflection of Singapore
Stomp comes under fire for publishing articles that are divisive, inflammatory and offensive. But why do people click? Click-bait and gutter tabloid journalism is nothing new. If foreign workers are so despised in Singapore that Stomp can get visitors by posting endless articles on the subject, then closing Stomp just hides the problem. The success of certain topics on Stomp tells us something about what are the hot-button issues in Singapore today. Many people understand this but appear to be overlooking the deeper problem. Would closing Stomp do anything to change the relationship between locals and foreigners? I cannot imagine that it would. Much better to think about why certain government policies have made certain issues so contentious that they guarantee hits. The problem is the system, and the fact that certain hot-button issues fester unresolved, rather than Stomp itself.
4. You can stop reading Stomp without banning it
I never read Stomp. I don’t link to Stomp. I don’t think I have ever clicked a link to Stomp. Even if someone posted a Stomp article explaining how bad / stupid / wrong it was, I wouldn’t click it. Posting controversial articles that make people angry enough to click is part of Stomp’s success. Don’t play into their hands. Treat Stomp like it doesn’t exist. Don’t link to Stomp even if it is just to point out how crazy Stomp is. If everyone who signed the petition to ban Stomp adopted this attitude they might actually get fewer visitors. As it is, no publicity is bad publicity, and I’m sure Stomp’s visitor numbers have increased in the wake of this petition.
5. Don’t be Calvin Cheng
Seriously, closing down a website because you don’t like the content puts you on the same intellectual level as Calvin Cheng and Yaacob Ibrahim. The former often attacks bloggers and alternative media either for writing something he doesn’t like, or refusing to publish his endless and pointless rebuttals. The latter is notorious for suggesting that Singaporeans should “read the right things”. Stomp may be the wrong thing to read, but those who support freedom of expression should take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
As Voltaire didn’t say – “I disapprove of what you publish, but I will defend to the death your right to publish it”.
Don’t sign the petition.