A Timothy sent this to a few of us bloggers. If true. What do you make out of this back to back event on 9.9.9 , held at a church, with Thio Li Ann giving her Christian right spin followed by an introduction of a new internet player Singa News? In the Aware saga, the Thiolibans had no internet campaign. From the looks of it, they have learned from that rout and now have marched in with their own internet portal.
ATRIA’s NEW MEDIA BREAKFAST
My Wednesday morning for this week was rather unusual. I had an appointment in a church. It was something called the New Media Breakfast organized by ATRIA and held at the Kum Yam Methodist Church. I was pleasantly surprised when a generous breakfast of McDonald’s muffins and coffee was indeed served to the mostly Christian crowd which numbered 45-50. They had gathered there to listen to former NMP Prof Thio Li-ann speak on, “Debating Values in the Public Square”, and the soft-launch of Singapore’s latest news hub, Singanews, by its CEO, Mathew Yap. It was publicized as a decidedly Christian affair, held at in a church and presenting the Christian point of view with regards to public space.
Atria on the poster of the event was described as “an interchurch community that works to connect the Church in new media and amplify Christian ministry and enterprise with industry knowledge and capacities.” According to the introduction by the moderator of the event, Atria was started about a year ago with a bloggers’ conference, and lately it has focused on helping church leaders to connect with the latest happenings on the internet. The moderator added that although there is a certain degree of negative influence on the internet, Christians need to understand the medium of new media in order to impact the youth. In addition, Atria acts as a resource space for Christian groups looking at opportunities opening up in the new media. Besides Atria, there were also many members of Singapore Campus Crusade for Christ who were present to promote their recently assembled series of short films.
Debating Values in the Public Space by Thio Li-ann
In a presentation littered with passages from the Bible (it was a church after all), Thio asserted her right as Christian to speak on public issues. She argued that as a Christian, it is part of one’s religious call to articulate their views in public especially on contentious such as casinos, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and stem-cell research. She warned that if Christians do not speak up, others who may hold conflicting views will speak up and forcefully occupy the secular public space, which in fact is what they have already done vociferously. Thio paralleled Christian activism to salt and light where by salt is the preservative used to preserve the Christian goodness and light exemplifies its visibility to believers as well as non-believers.
Thio warned Christians on dangers of apathy to the public debates that are going on in Singapore. She urged them to speak up peacefully and lawfully, for it is a Christian’s duty to speak for the weak and steer society away from the dangers of immorality. Invoking the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark where God was so incensed with human corruptions and sins that He flooded world, Thio warned that if Christians remain indifferent to secular trends then Judgment Day might come sooner than expected. She added that God would only listen to the prayers of those who stand up for what they believe in as God does not condone hypocrites who wait for others to speak up or remain indifferent on such urgent issues confronting our society.
Next, Thio attempted to debunk the notion that Christians were trying to impose their values on society. She argued that Christians do not desire a theocracy or a Constitution based on the Bible. What Christians want, according to Thio, is a democratic debate on public issues where all views are considered and not the present situation whereby Christian views are not tolerated and are shot down as being “imposing” and “irrational”. Portraying Christianity as a religion that has been targeted and assassinated by secular militants, Thio warned that Christians might face obstacles when participating in public debate as the philosophies of the world is contrary to Christian values but they shall, Thio quoted a Bible passage, “not be held captive to hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human traditions and the basic principles of the world rather than our Christ.”
Thio also shared on how she has been maliciously targeted online and had to “turn her cheek” many a times as a good Christian. She commented that Internet is filled with ugliness and misinformation and Christians using new media to debate in public space or proselytize must prioritize truth and remain civil, i.e. do not resort to name calling and character assassination. Depicting Christianity as a victimized religion, she warned Christians about the difficulties they face, especially on the Internet, as others would invariably paint them as oppressive, emotional and irrational. She added that while Christians are tolerant of others views, the others do not have the same toleration for Christians, which she thought was unfair.
On another front, Thio claimed, Christians face an emergent threat to social harmony whereby a non-religious group uses the religious card on Christians to raise emotions and divert away from the issue at hand. Thio stated that the AWARE incident was a perfect example where there was no religious issue as it was about a private takeover of a NGO and a debate over public values. But someone threw the religious card into the debate and when that happened all rationality was lost. The non-Christian who threw in the religious card, Thio argued, used religion to incite hatred over a group and such an act was dangerous tantamount to playing with fire.
The same, Thio continued, could be said of TOC when they victimized her (no specifics) by playing the religious card and accused her of imposing her Christian values when she was merely debating on a public values as a citizen. She termed the TOC coverage as a lie and irresponsible reporting and said that TOC was not interested in public debate and was only interested in creating confusion. Thio also used a Latin expression that equated those who create irresponsible internet postings as swine.
Towards the end, Thio was somewhat emotional and questioned the Christians why are they not angry when Christian views are being attacked publicly. If Christians continue to remain silent then their freedom will be lost eventually. She ended by debunking neutrality in politics and urged Christians to take up a position and speak up for the common good.
Singapore’s latest news hub: Singanews
Next on the stage was former ST journalist Mathew Yap, who took the stage to introduce a new online news portal called Singanews. Yap began by stating that Singanews was secular and not just for Christians as it included editors of other religions. Yap also stated that the idea was not borne out of the AWARE saga as they had already been toying with the idea since mid-90s but they did not have the financial capability then. Yap shared that a group of well-wishers have provided them the seed money but he stopped short of revealing who they were.
Terming it as a social enterprise, Yap said that Singanews would not be able to compete with the mainstream media but rather Singanews could add clarity to the national debate by offering alternative viewpoints and fill in the gaps left by mainstream media which sometimes fails to cover a story due to one reason or another. It did not state if it would advocate a Christian angle as argued by Thio above. Singanews, Yap added, was possible due to the cheap and readily available technology of Internet and new media such as twitter where citizens are able to “scoop” stories.
Yap took the opportunity to introduce the editorial board of Singanews. Teo Hwee Nak, who is a Christian and former journalist with TODAY, CNA and Lianhe Zaobao. PN Balji, a Hindu, renowned journalist, former MediaCorp Editor and presenter for CNA. Jeffrey Tsang, former Business Times journalist. Samuel Wong, who was in-charge of Mandarin news and Hiliary Chan, a techie and Malaysian staying in Malacca. Also mentioned but not present was “Wen Hong” and former The New Paper sports journalist Suresh Nair, a Hindu.
Yap also shared his personal history where as a Christian journalist, he faced certain challenges such as climbing up a religious structure to cover a Hindu consecration. He acknowledged that the common space amongst Singaporeans was secular and that journalists, whether Christians or not, should do their job professionally with a clear conscience. Yap added that because of this he was not afraid to share Singanews with Thio Li-ann. He ended by saying that should the pressmen at the event want to report on the event, they should do so consideration and respect.
It was regrettable that Yap could not share more with audience on the roots of Singanews and how it viewed the debate in secular public space in Singapore. The identities of the financial backing would throw light on the perspectives of the news portal. Perhaps, the choice of stage, companions and location also hints subtly. This could be the first Singapore news portal that was launched in a church