Meta: It was a busy news day yesterday, at least for mrbrown and myself, when newsrooms in Singapore and abroad began working on the Balaji-No-Podcast statement story. Good thing I’ve got free incoming calls on my mobile. I also found it funny that I had to tell some reporters to keep it short because I was busy doing my own column – which, after some tweaking by the editors, is here, in full, with the first line sporting a strikeout in both the print and pdf versions.
Just to make it clear: I didn’t put that strikeout there, nor write that line in the first place.
And, as always, I missed out on a great quote from a reader, which I’ll put here now, because it says nice things about me and mrbrown:
“…podcasts? Who the hell listens to podcasts? I’d rather put Creed in my iPod than motherfuckingly lame podcasts churned out by a bunch of self-important nobodies (with the exception of the esteemed mrbrown and Mr. Miyagi, of course).”
Wah! Esteemed leh Thank you! We esteemed, we steam ah!
OK, on with the show:
It seems you can blog or podcast about the polls if it’s not ‘explicitly political’
When you see a headline that goes “Podcasting is not allowed during elections”, it’s as good a time as any for this column to explain podcasts.
A podcast is essentially an audio or video file you download over the Internet and listen to on your own time, either on your computer or on your media playing device, such as an MP3 player.
Now, video and audio files have been around for a while. So, what is it about podcasting that makes it so new it’s off the “positive list”, as described by the Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan?
It’s in the distribution. If you are a “podcaster”, you would distribute your audio and video files by hosting it on an Internet server, where it is available for public consumption/download.
In addition, and here’s the rub, the hosting of your media files can be configured such that the public can “subscribe” to your offerings and any new or updated item will be automatically downloaded into the recipient’s computer or media device, using software such as Apple’s iTunes.
In short, you could say “podcasting” is simply the distribution of audio and video content via subscription over the Internet.
So, by this definition, the Singapore Democratic Party’s RadioSDP (www.singaporedemocrat.org/SDPradio.html), isn’t strictly a podcast because you cannot subscribe to it, even though Today reported in August last year that the SDP had launched a podcast.
But now, Dr Balaji has clarified in Parliament that “the streaming of explicit political content by individuals during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations”. So, which podcasts and videocasts available online (apart from the SDP’s) would come under scrutiny?
I wrote previously about SGRally (sgrally.blogspot.com), a site that invites readers to contribute videoclips of election rallies anonymously. Now, if videoclips were to be sent in and showcased during the election period, going by Dr Balaji’s words, the site would be breaching the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Currently, the site has two blog entries, with one video clip depicting the outside of the Elections Office on Prinsep Street, as if in indication of the submissions to come when polling actually starts.
I attempted to email the author(s) of the site at the address given but received no response.
This brings me to the next point: Anonymity.
The regulations, as clarified by Dr Balaji, are targeted at individuals who “persistently promote political views”, and who are hence obliged to register their sites with the Media Development Authority.
While one might say this measure makes websites play by the rules of the political game, it will be interesting to see if the author of SGRally will register himself.
Blogger “Kevin” (theory.isthereason.com), a Singaporean postgraduate student in New York, discussed Monday’s announcement in Parliament. “Who podcasts political content in Singapore?” he asks, before listing only the SDP’s audio offering.
This might explain the muted reaction in the blogosphere following the minister’s statement, apart from a handful of comments on a blog post on aggregator Tomorrow (tomorrow.sg), questioning the purpose of the announcement.
“What are they afraid of?” asked observer “Anonymous Opposition”.
Audio files and podcasts are mere extensions of text-based blogs, and there are several blogs that purport to talk about politics. One place to start looking would be the blog, Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma (commentarysingapore.blogspot.com), which recently started a “mini-project” to list blogs “that talk about serious matters”, such as “politics, economics, social issues, law, government policy and current affairs”.
Going by Dr Balaji’s statements, it seems it is all right for individual bloggers and podcasters to talk about the elections if the streaming content isn’t “explicitly political” or if they do not “advertise”.
Blogger “Avalon” (takingavalonapart.blogspot.com) reveals a little anecdote about her parents’ voting preferences at the last elections.
“I found out my parents used to support the Opposition only because they were one of the parties’ printers. Shucks, I had thought they were renegade pai-kias (bad hats) but no … ”
Is Avalon’s snippet “explicitly political” or election advertising? Your guess is as good as mine.
Mr Miyagi, aka Benjamin Lee, has been entertaining readers at miyagi.sg for over a year, and has spent all day telling reporters there is no political podcast in Singapore.