Archive for March, 2011

Is Reality TV the Newest Requirement for a Presidential Nomination?

Move aside Sarah Palin, America might have an even more surprising pseudo-celebrity-politician on its hands. Donald Trump, CEO of the Trump Organization, has become successful once again with his hit reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Recently, however, the television personality has made headlines for his potential participation in politics. Trump is rumored to join other GOP candidates in the race for the Republican nomination. While several news organizations are dismissing his “campaign” as an attempt to garner support for his TV show, Trump insists that his campaign is serious. Trump, however, is not the only rumored presidential candidate with a reality TV show.
Sarah Palin’s TV show, entitled “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” consists of nine episodes that aired on TLC. Her daughter Bristol, recently seen on the reality show “Dancing with the Stars,” makes guest appearances as well as the reality TV star Kate Gosselin. Viewers watching the show can see Palin up close and personal as they see Palin the daughter, Palin the mother, and, scarily enough, Palin the hunter. The show would be amiss, however, if it didn’t mention Palin’s “true” claim to fame: politics. While the show claims to be “apolitical,” Palin does not neglect to mention her own political views. For example, in one episode Palin compared the construction of the fence in her backyard to her stance on immigration policy.
Regardless of the intent behind both Palin’s TV show and Trump’s rumored candidacy, both serve as examples of how politics and entertainment are becoming intertwined. If both Palin and Trump enter the presidential race, the United States’ political environment won’t look too different from that of Lithuania’s.

This is a funny video of Lewis Black on how Donald Trump would be as President.—trump-2012

This article looks at how Trump’s celebrity status can help or hurt his chances of becoming president.–Trump-for-President-/9505058

This video shows a clip of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

posted by Casey Pladus

History of Japanese Anime in the US

This is an interesting 10-minute-long documentary about “50 years of Japanese Anime in American Culture.” It was screened during the 2010 “Get Animated Exhibit” at the California State Fair in Sacramento. This was the very first fair to exhibit altogether the productions of such animation studios as Disney, Pixar, Sony Animation, and Dreamworks Animation. I really enjoyed watching this video as it retraces the main stages of the history of Japanese TV cartoons and how they were integrated into “the mainstream of American popular culture.” I thought this was a good example of the flow of local media content (in this case, Japanese anime) and its assimilation into a more globalized context.

More info on the fair where the documentary was shown: 

 posted by Chiara De Luca

Social Media’s Impact on Politics in Singapore

Media as politics in Singapore
March 26th, 2011 | Author: Online Press

Days before Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the government’s 2011 budget in parliament, the political opposition offered a glimpse of how it would allocate the national finances in a “shadow” budget. The state-controlled mainstream media gave the opposition announcement scant coverage, but it was picked up widely by a number of alternative news websites.

To be sure, opposition criticism of the ruling party’s budget is nothing new. But rather than being forced to wait for parliament to meet to air their dissent, now opposition parties are able to post pre-emptively their criticisms online, shifting the time and space of Singapore’s political debate. Each opposition party’s posts of their competing budgets sparked robust discussions in a variety of online forums.

Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP)-dominated politics are increasingly being contested online and over social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Pushed by the perceived pro-PAP bias of the mainstream media, Singapore’s opposition parties are using various new media to communicate with voters and express dissenting views. Alternative news websites, including The Online Citizen and The Temasek Review, have won strong followings by presenting more opposition views in their news mix.

With general elections expected to be held by June, it remains to be seen if opposition parties can translate their blogs, tweets and telecast videos into actual votes. The PAP, which has dominated Singapore’s politics since 1959, now controls 82 out of 84 seats in parliament. The PAP has come under consistent criticism of curbing the national debate through laws that suppress free speech and co-optation of the mainstream media. But new media platforms are fast changing the way politics are contested in this wealthy city state.

Although the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is not represented in parliament, its news and events oriented website is the country’s most popular party site, far outpacing the number of hits received by the PAP’s site. The SDP’s website is regularly updated not only with the party’s agenda but also independent and often critical news not carried by the mainstream press. The SDP’s Facebook page, meanwhile, also works to raise funds for the party.

“[T]here are more younger people in this forum than older ones,” said SDP secretary general Chee Soon Juan at a forum last December. “I think [the Internet] is our best opportunity to bypass the traditional media which is pretty much controlled by the ruling party.”

The opposition Reform Party (RP) has taken a similar new media tack. The party’s secretary general Kenneth Jeyaretnam maintains a personal Facebook page where he interacts regularly with supporters and writes a regular blog where he posts at length on hot issues such as economic inequality. He says the blog receives around 1,000 hits per day.

“In a place where there is still a huge climate of fear that something will happen to them when they are seen to be critical of the government, there is a certain [comfort] of the anonymity online,” said Jeyaretnam. “Online platforms have become a space where we can reach out to people, bypassing other organs controlled by the government such as the radio and TV.”

Media machinations
Despite its democratic veneer, Singapore rates poorly in global press freedom rankings due to a deeply entrenched culture of self-censorship and a pro-state bias in the mainstream media. Reporters Without Borders, a France-based press freedom advocacy group, recently ranked Singapore 136th in its global press freedom rankings, scoring below repressive countries like Iraq and Zimbabwe.

The country’s main media publishing house, Singapore Press Holdings, is owned by the state and its board of directors is made up largely of PAP members or other government-linked executives. Senior newspaper editors, including at the Straits Times, must be vetted and approved by the PAP-led government.

The local papers have a long record of publicly endorsing the PAP-led government’s position, according to Tan Tarn How, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and himself a former journalist. In his research paper “Singapore’s print media policy – a national success?” published last year he quoted Leslie Fong, a former editor of the Straits Times, saying that the press “should resist the temptation to arrogate itself the role of a watchdog, or permanent critic, of the government of the day”.

With regularly briefed and supportive editors, there is no need for pre-publication censorship, according to Tan. When the editors are perceived to get things “wrong”, the government frequently takes to task, either publicly or privately, the newspaper’s editors or individual journalists, he said.

Because these complaints are neither formal in nature nor made in writing, they are difficult to prove and document. However, the behind-the-scenes pressure has resulted in endemic self-censorship, including only selective reporting on news about the political opposition, according to Tan’s sources.

Opposition leaders claim that their parties are frequently the subject of pro-government bias in the mainstream media.
“Reports by the mainstream media consistently focus us in a certain light, for example when we are fighting with other opposition members. They also report on the most insignificant part of our releases or events,” said the RP’s Jeyaretnam. “I often say that the mainstream media’s reporting of our press releases is like reducing War and Peace to a 140-character tweet.”

The country’s main newspaper, the Straits Times, has consistently stood by its editorial decision-making. Editor Han Fook Kwang said last year: “Our circulation is 380,000 and we have a readership of 1.4 million – these are people who buy the paper every day. We’re aware people say we’re a government mouthpiece or that we are biased but the test is if our readers believe in the paper and continue to buy it.”

The PAP-led government has long argued for a compliant rather than confrontational press. Until the advent of online media, that control had been enabled by the 1974 Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), which stipulates that newspapers must annually renew their publishing licenses with state authorities.

Meanwhile, newspaper companies must by law be publicly listed with no shareholder owning more than a small minority of shares. The NPPA also provides for the creation of “management shares” which have 200 times the voting power of “ordinary shares” and whose owners must be government approved. The two-tier scheme, in effect, allows the government to decide on the newspapers’ board of directors and top office holders.

“Singapore’s newspapers are, at least in part, willing partners of the state … In the end it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, as much as one may want to, that Singapore’s political and press culture is sustained not just by coercion, but also by consent,” wrote Cherian George, an ex-journalist from the Straits Times and now the associate professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University, in a paper presented at an international conference on media control and technology in 1998.

The foreign press have not fared much better. The government amended the NPPA in 1986 to allow for curbing the circulation of publications which were deemed to interfere with local politics. Tan noted that at first some of the foreign publications, such as the Asian Wall Street Journal and the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review, defied the government by refusing to print government replies in full. But after their circulations were cut down drastically, a move which affected their financial situations, they all capitulated and softened their news coverage.

“A number of defamation cases brought successfully by Singapore leaders and which resulted in substantial damages also blunted the foreign press’ enthusiasm for free-spirited reporting. Though not necessarily friendly, the foreign press now no longer reports on Singapore in the way it used to. It has been brought to heel,” said Tan.

Wired society
Singapore is one of the world’s most wired societies. In 1992, the government launched its so-called “IT2000″ master plan, which envisioned an “intelligent island” where information technology would permeate every aspect of society. Nearly 20 years later, in many respects, those state-led initiatives have worked.

Last month, technology website ZDNet reported that online research outfit Firefly Millward Brown ranked Singapore as the most evolved social media market in the world. There are currently more than two million active Facebook users among the country’s five million population.

“Singapore is one of the most advanced digital markets in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Will Hodgman, executive vice president of digital data provider comScore Inc. “The combination of high broadband penetration, heavy online engagement and the overall tech savvy of Internet users in Singapore make it an ideal market for the adoption of valuable existing and emerging digital technologies.”

With that captive online audience, Internet-based news websites and the growing popularity of social media have broken the mainstream media’s monopoly on news – though not completely. Singapore’s PAP-led government was one of the first in the world to devise content regulations for the Internet, issuing restrictions on topics it deemed as sensitive as early as 1996.

Authorities have since continued to roll out extensive regulations for using the Internet for election campaigns, according to ex-journalist and media expert Cherian George in his 2010 paper, “Control-Shift – The Internet and Political Change in Singapore.”

While political parties are broadly allowed to use the Internet to campaign, they were previously prohibited from employing some of the medium’s most powerful features, including live audio and video streaming and so-called “viral marketing”. Websites not belonging to political parties or candidates but registered as political sites have been banned from activities that could be considered online electioneering.

“While the possibility of regulating the Internet was in itself not surprising – except to those who had been seduced by the myth of cyberspace as some kind of libertarian sanctuary – Singapore’s approach to regulation was remarkable for its paradoxical breadth and self-restraint,” wrote George. “The government promised that it would regulate with a ‘light touch’, and largely kept to its word,” he said.

In early 2009, the government loosened some of its earlier Internet rules, in line with the recommendations of the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS). The ban on political films was lifted and parties are now allowed to produce and disseminate videos as long as they are “factual and objective”. Political party podcasts and vodcasts, which were banned for the 2006 elections, will be allowed during the next polls.

George argued that despite the growing influence of online media, it would be naive to conclude that the PAP’s days of domination are numbered. “While the government appears increasingly liberal towards individual self-expression, it continues to intervene strategically at points at which such expression may become politically threatening,” he said. “It is safe to assume that the government’s digital surveillance capabilities far outstrip even its most technologically competent opponent’s evasive abilities.”

Clandestine political conversations that were once held in homes and coffee shops are now usually carried out by e-mail and mobile phone text messages – both of which are considerable easier for the authorities to monitor and track, George said.

With snap polls on the horizon, the government appears to have targeted potential online threats. In January, it gazetted The Online Citizen under the Political Donations Act, a designation that will bring the independent news provider under de facto government regulation. The Online Citizen has vowed to continue its reporting activities as per normal.

At the same time, consistent with George’s analysis, authorities last week relaxed past regulations that limited the use of the Internet and social media for election campaigning. Political parties and candidates will be allowed to use a broader range of new media platforms, including blogs, micro-blogs, online photo-sharing platforms, social networking sites and electronic media applications used on mobile phones, for election advertising.

The loosening, however, only applies for political party-run websites, chat rooms and online discussion forums. Candidates must declare the new media content they intend to use within 12 hours after the start of the election campaign period. George warned in a recent blog entry that the new declaration requirements could open the way for PAP-led defamation suits against new media using opposition politicians. PAP leaders have historically relied on expensive litigation to suppress opposition and media criticism.

“The PAP won’t subject everyone’s postings to legal scrutiny. But if it decides that a particular opposition politician needs to be utterly demolished, you can bet that no tweet of his would be too tiny, no Facebook update too fleeting … in order a build the case against the individual,” George warned in a journalism blog.

Limited openings
Some contend alternative online media reporting has recently pressured mainstream outlets to show more objectivity.

“To be fair, there has been improvement from the mainstream media. We see journalists from mainstream media more keen to cover our events nowadays,” said Goh Meng Seng, secretary general of the opposition National Solidarity Party (NSP). “[This is partly] because of the [availability] of alternative citizen reporting sites such as The Online Citizen and Temasek Review. The mainstream media must [also] report and cannot be seen as hiding the truth because they risk credibility.”

For instance, state-influenced Channel News Asia recently broadcast a debate between opposition parties, including the RP, WP, and NSP, and the PAP. Despite some controversy over why the SDP was excluded and why the PAP was allowed two representatives while each opposition party was limited to one, it represented the first time that the government and opposition appeared together to debate politics on national TV.

While opposition politicians will rely more on new than mainstream media to communicate with voters, they already recognize that the use of social media will not necessarily translate into votes.

“[Online support] can give a too rosy a picture and false degree of comfort,” said the RP’s Jeyaretnam. “People who [interact with] us online are those who are already convinced with our messages anyway.”

“We believe that Singaporean voters still prefer to see their candidates in person to gauge their caliber and sincerity,” said Gerald Giam, Central Executive Council member of the Workers’ Party of Singapore. “We continue to take our house visits and ground outreach very seriously. Social media has been a good complement.”

by Megawati Wijaya

* Megawati Wijaya is a Singapore-based journalist.

Source: Asia Times

Big Brother goes to Arabia

The television show ‘Big Brother’, where contestants are kept under lock inside the same house until public voting chooses a winner, was first launched in the UK on Channel 4 in 2001.

In early 2004, the Arab TV channel MBC surprisingly decided to produce their own version, Al-Ra’is (the Boss), in Bahrain. The Arabic version of the Big Brother reality show program started with a prize of $100,000 for the winner.

Twelve housemates from around the Arab world have been under the constant gaze of television cameras. They include Abdul Hakim from Saudi Arabia, Bashara from Lebanon, an actress from Bahrain, a musician from Iraq and a karate teacher from Kuwait.

Of course, the format and logistics of the show demanded some cross cultural modifications so the producers decided to make some changes to the house in order to reflect Arabic customs. For the first time there are segregated sleeping quarters for the male and female contestants. Also, a prayer room has been added, as well as a separate women’s lounge with a mixed-sex communal area. Other than these accommodations, the rules follow the international format of the show.

But these modifications to reflect Arabic customs did not go far enough for some protesters. The program, aired across the Arab world by MBC, raised concerns despite efforts to take into account Muslim sensitivities. After only two airings, MBC decided to cancel the show because of intense media criticism and charges of indecency accompanied by protests on the streets of Bahrain.

What MBC producers failed to see was the cross cultural implications of Al-Ra’is. In fact, targeting an audience consisting of mainly Muslims, Al-Ra’is failed to read the cross cultural signs. The close quarter interaction between men and women was culturally unacceptable to the majority of viewers. Protesters in the conservative Gulf Arab state had said showing unmarried people living together offended Islam.

 “It is normal for males and females to mix, but not to put them together in the same house for a long time,” said 21-year-old student Maryam al-Sayrafi.

 Hundreds of Islamists protested in Bahrain chanting “Stop Sin Brother! No to indecency!”. They accused the show of being “un-Islamic” and immoral.

A woman actually said “This program is a threat to Islam. This is entertainment for animals.”

Even between members of Bahrain’s parliament there were critiques against the show.

 “We are an Islamic country with our own traditions. This program spoils the morals of our sons,” MP Jasim al-Saeedi said.

 MBC decided to suspend the production of the program because it “didn’t want to be the cause of differences of opinion”. “This decision aims to avoid exposing MBC and its programs to accusations that it offends Arab values, customs and morals, because we consider MBC to be first and foremost a channel that belongs to the Arab world,” the popular Saudi-owned channel said in a statement.

 The controversy over Big Brother came as Arab world’s first reality TV experiment, a dating show called Al Hawa Sawa ended. Al Hawa Sawa – which means On Air Together – displayed eight women from across the Arab world before men in a luxury apartment for 24 hours a day. The men could contact the woman of their choice to propose marriage. The show was criticized for being too liberal. It ended when one of the last two contestants said she refused to get married.

Omar Offendum Hip Hop Version of the Traditional Arab Song “Quari’at Al-Fingan”

Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum has recorded his own Hip Hop version of the classic song “Qari’at Al-Fingan” (“The Coffee Cup Fortune Teller”) by Abdul Halim Hafez عبد الحليم حافظ. The song was originally recorded by Hafez in the 60s to a famous poem by Nizar Qabbani by the same title in which a female fortune teller sits with a young man and reads his freshly consumed coffee cup, revealing the most intimate details about his life, past and present.

Omar Offensdum keeps/recites the lyrics in Arabic at the beginning of his version but soon moves into an amazingly lyrical English translation of the poem with a great beat. The song can be found on Omar Offendum’s brand new album “Syrianamericana” (a name which clearly underlines the contamination of American pop culture with the Arab one).

Here is the original song as performed in concert by Abdel Halim Hafez on TV, followed by Omar Offedum’s song “Fingan”.

-Lara Bonalume-

Twitter, Lies and Videotapes in Indonesia

Twitter has served as a powerful instrument in the chain of uprising in the Arab World, Indonesia needs to be wary of the gripping, yet unverified, scandals involving politicians that have been popping-up on the micro-blogging site. Since the start of 2011, there have been at least three Twitter accounts disseminating such information.

The lastest account of note, @Fahri_Israel, specializes in sex scandals involving political actors. At the beginning of March the user posted two links to stomach-churning clips allegedly featuring Anis Matta, a deputy House of Representatives speaker from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

This example shows, once again, how controversial the use of digital media can be. These ghost Twitter accounts could be easily treat as political infotainment, thus reducing the information to mere gossip. On the other hand, it is also important to remember that these tweets actually name individual politicians and public officials and the content of the posts is of a highly sensitive nature. As this implies political and legal repercussions, the claims made by these sketchy informers should not be discredited.

The dissemination of political rumors on Twitter in Indonesia shows how much the micro-blogging site has eveolved. As reflected in the change in its tagline from “What are we doing?” to “What is happening?”, it is clear that Twitter has transformed from a site that allows people to blog about their personal life to a platform that disseminates information for purposes ranging from commercial to political.

-Lara Bonalume-

more details and information here:

A Man Like Putin

Political songs supporting party representatives are no foreign concept now-a-days. They will be played as background music to political propaganda and be heard at political rallies. But there is one song that has transcended the political arena and into popular culture…

A Man Like Putin” is Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin’s, political song  –  and it’s being played at the discos.

Not only had the song made it’s way to the Russian pop charts but in 2009 it made it’s way into the Eurovision contest – a musical competition held every year with musicians from the European Union. A Georgian band modified the lyrics of Putin’s song to “We don’t wanna put in, the negative move, it’s killin’ the groove” making a play of words with the Prime Minister’s name whilst keeping the song’s original rhythm. The song was banned from the contest because of it’s political implications (BBC).

Putin’s song isn’t the only political song magnifying it’s subject into stardom – there has been similar songs done for Barack Obama (Yes We Can) and for Silvio Berlusconi (Meno male che Silvio c’e). In Obama’s case it was said that the President of the USA didn’t have any direct involvement with it’s production (NYTimes), whereas Putin and Berlusconi did (La Repubblica).

Still this new form of promoting political figures makes one wonder…is the line blurring between stardom and politics? And how will this affect global views of a government’s leading official?

-by: AlexKC