The Chimera of Freeing The Press – A Study in Change Management

July 7, 2008


[Before reading this Article, do consider bookmarking this excellent site to keep abreast of the  Internet Deregulation debate.]


By now I am sure most of you are familiar with Cherian and his stellar plans of freeing up our press. I have absolutely no idea where his seminal article is rotting in right now. But I do faintly remember the gist of it; Cherian advances a host of reasons why he believes a freer press would be able to successfully seed the supreme good and even drive out the dystopian bad from our society. Now if you haven’t read that article; don’t worry, as what he has to say can more or less be compressed into a postage stamp. In washing machine language it goes something like; more freedom = better press / less freedom = net will continue to be a zoo.

My feel is Cherian’s formulation deserves closer rexamination as the sum of what he’s forwarding is really closer to alchemy than anything that resembles cold cut logic; in a nut shell, he postulates by simply ‘opening’ up on a regulated press. This magically ‘opens’ up endless opportunities for a broader all inclusive national discourse that will hopefully recruit an eclectic class of readers who may be willing to indulge in a spot of literary Sudoku.

Now obviously Cherian has never read an article entitled, “why I will never ever read a blog or ever.” Am I surprised such repressed views do from time to time secret their way from the cloistered cloves of the sisterhood to the public square? Nope, only because I know the sisters of perpetual hesitation (SPH). It’s even conceivable the whole idea of freeing up the press will exacerbate the decrease the aperture for free speech; here one really needs to dwell deeper in the whole issue of what really accounts for the lag between what is usually published and how it comes across; is the disconnect simply a function of a systematic disorder, one presumably brought forth by a constriction of the state? Or is it even possible many of these journalist have simply lost touch with the broader community of readers? Are they really so out of touch, when one of the sisterhood’s mother superior Sumiko sighs; “I’ve missed the boat.” A cheery chorus of “our aim must be improving” resounds?

According to Cherian one reason why our net these days resembles a zoo, is because the MSM aren’t stepping in to do the job of slaking the thirst of the collectively conscious. It’s conceivable his logic presupposes the press corps already has the latent capacity to revivify both the information and ‘brain food’ supply chain to good effect – now I am not saying Cherian’s wrong. I am not even saying he doesn’t quite understand the finer issues related to the whole idea of re-constituting the intellectual deficit needed to sustain a free and independent press.

Only if you buy into his idea that we may already have a ‘crippled press,’ then you must also accept what probably makes up its present attribution must be so riven and threadbare, that they are in all probability conceivably terminally complacent and supine to even stepping up to the role demanded of them.


It gives me no pleasure to say this, but of late, I’ve even been toying with the idea ; if the press were actually given the freedom which Cherian has been harking for; can they even be entrusted to do the right thing? And not abuse this new found freedom to assert their hold on our collective consciousness by using ever more nefarious means?

Of course, we all like to buy into the idea that the press corps in general comprises of an eclectic pool of averagely educated aspirants who all seek the truth very much like all of us and perhaps they can even be counted on to reliably write the truth. The problem with that sort of logic is. While it remains palpably true; every vocational aspires to a noble goal. This in no way discounts the possibility all too often they make representations concerning power and politics in such a way as to assert their hold on the public consciousness. I have for instance wondered why the press only seems to promote the cult of Mr Brown and Xiaxue at the expense of other intelligent blogs in their reportage of blogoland? Neither can it be denied many journalist bear their past within what and how they choose to write.

How is it possible for lets say a former ISD officer to write objectively about  the opposition? In what way does the prospects of having spent one’s entire working life in only one newspaper and no other add to the journalistic diversity needed to support a free and independent mindset?

These are simply some of the questions which will continue to militate against the assumption decamping on a controlled press necessarily leads to a freer press – the logic takes it’s cue from “jungle book” theory – one can certainly foreclose a man from the jungle by taking him out of it, but can one take the jungle out of the man?  

My point is although ALL oligarchies make noble representations of their respective Nirvana’s, not all of them master and control them. It didn’t happen to the nuclear technologist who promised us all sixpence for wattage with the advent of the nuclear age; or even with nutritionist, who once wax lyrical about solving global hunger by being able to deliver 3 square meals in something as compact as a pill. Neither did the much heralded age of supersonic air travel bring with it the promise of cheaper and faster trans continental flights – when I consider how every door man in the business class lounge even knows how I want my bacardi and lime served up.

This is the vital distinction that needs to be grappled with when we consider the idea of freeing up the press; knowing what’s good doesn’t mean people will necessarily deliver good, not especially when the deep cultural roots which account for their visions of the past, present and future are not urgently reinterpreted – such territorial instincts aren’t just confined to journalist. One can even say it extends right across the spectrum of trades to explain why opticians suddenly turn deadly serious like undertakers when they insist on lecturing us; why Lasik is hazardous. Or why politicians always leverage on the children, family and home cooked values whenever they run out of arguments to defend their cheesy policies.

This requires us to ask further what really makes up the marrow of a free press? Does it just require freeing it up as Cherian said? Or does it require something much more?


Here what we need to understand is the modern idea of the oppositional writer, the journalist who writes against power, who writes against the political order of his day or the even plumbs to questions the whole apparatus of assimilation. Is essentially a person who never once honed his skills in the environment of openness and freedom as Cherian alludes.

On the contrary his crèche requires him to struggle perpetually amid the discomfort zone. Against the acute impression that he may actually be living in a reductively binary culture that threatens to level the field of possibilities further; in this dystopian landscape where all nuances of grey have ceased to exist: one is either successful or a failure; a scholar or a peasant; with us or against us; functional or autistic; patriot or lunatic in the fringe; ST or the internet; TOC or the rest of the unaggregatable blogosphere –  that naturally prompts us to ask; what kind of values does a writer who commits himself to waging such an un relentless war against that flattening of the field of possibilities base his worldview on? Why is he compelled to question the status quo ante along with the whole idea of state imposed ‘realism?’ Why does he question the meaning of power unrelentlessly? One thing emerges from this line enquiry – the oppositional writer has to stand outside the system. One can even go as far as to proclaim this as truism, in the way concert pianist cannot be tone deaf or crow shooters crossed eyed; one can no more grasp his metier without mentioning how he is so apart from the system that he has ceased completely to be part of it; anymore than one can talk about a comb without imagining hair!

What is news? How is it supposed to relate to me? Do I really need the state to filter what goes into my brain? Why can’t I do it myself?

Against this backdrop where the writer continually wrestles with his version of reality and state imposed officialdom, this effectively demolishes the homily myth the freedom to write in comfort without the fear of state inspired harassment, persecution and bullying could even produce what we like to call the oppositional writer.

In the no man’s land when a writer wordsmiths; writing ceases to be writing in the truest sense and instead what emerges is its not designed to change anything as much as it strives to preserve something; that which is preserved may be the reality instead of tragic realism; things are never as simple as they often held out to be; it could be something worthy; something dreamy like having the right to read poetry or even a battle royale that attempts to take on the necessary lie of every successful regime, but one thing is certain, he must question it and remain a contrarian very much in the spirit of Karl Krauss.  

I suspect here freedom does little to inure the oppositional writer with the right spirit to tease out the nuances and even less to seek out the greys in our omnipresent binary world.

If anything when the day comes when writers and the guilds they belong too and this includes journalist, bloggers and even the lone diarist are singled out for wreaths, honors and feted and described in post scripted terms as exemplary “purveyors of the truth”; it probably also means real writing, real thinking and real deep spirited discourse that has always been relied on to seek out the truth has dwindled to near nothingness, that I am afraid also means the thing we’re talking about when we use the word, ‘truth’ has reached a terminal end. It no longer exist.

“The real end of the world is the destruction of the spirit; the other kind depends on the insignificant attempt to see whether after such a destruction the world can go on. ” Karl Kraus

[This article was once written Darkness – The Brotherhood Press 2008 / Social-Political – EP 99374655-2008 – This article was first published in the Singapore Daily @ Sunday, May 04, 2008, 8:48:42 AM / ASICS / PBK / The Strangelands – The brotherhood press has ceased all publications – this is a mirror copy that has been reconstituted by the Free Internet Library Board for your reading pleasure – Serialization: 907392-0092ELFIMAN / Retrieval Date: 2015 / FILB -2008 – This article is an extended version and contains materials which was previously unpublished – FILB 2008 ]

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