Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Power of Legitimacy

Hou, The Students' Notebook

Bloggers are known to have the tendency to question the credibility of the mainstream media, and pride themselves to be the alternative form of media online. There is good reason to be such - We are ranked 140th out of 167th in the 2005 worldwide press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders.

However, there is something that the mainstream press possesses as a trump card that we do not have. And that, is the power of legitimacy. Often, bloggers tend to underestimate the power of it.


"Fellow Comrades! I mean, Bloggers!"


Ironically, the reason why our press is ranked so low, is also the reason why it holds legitimacy. Our mainstream press is backed by the government. In other words whatever it is reported, the people consider its views to be implicitly endorsed by the government.

A simple look in schools can tell the extent of this - it is hardly ever questioned. English/GP classrooms often make use of materials from the mainstream media, and it is not uncommon to hear from teachers that "articles other than from the Straits Times are not accepted". Also to note, is that broadsheets like the Straits Times usually hold a 6 figure circulation.

This is a crucial point, as sheer popularity has no credibility without legitimacy. The power structure of the Singapore blogosphere today is all thanks to the very media it tends to question, as it will be shown in the examples below.

Xiaxue and Mr Brown


The two most prolific bloggers today were the first to appear in the mainstream media. With this, the perception of them being the pioneers and (hence) most popular of blogging is fixed into the minds of Singaporeans forever. It is no doubt why they essentially become the staple of the blogosphere itself, always the ones often representing it on mainstream, and have the ability to make other bloggers popular too. Both being offered space to write in the mainstream press, means that they are also now accorded the power to legitimise other bloggers as well.

Dawn Yeo


The first sign of endorsement came from a report in the New Paper that began all the talk around town. The floodgates opened when two other bloggers, Gabriel Seah actually posted evidence to claim that Dawn Yeo underwent plastic surgery, with XLX later throwing in further weight on the issue. Being both previously featured and legitimised by the mainstream media (former by then Computer Times, and the latter by the XLX-XX conflict in Sunday Times), their voices carried enough weight to justify a follow-up article in the New Paper.

Gayle Goh


Associated with the criticisms of the government and General Paper, she would not be as vocal as she is without the mainstream press giving her the loudhailer. The plus point to her legitimacy is the fact that the government-backed media has actually approved of her objections, a rare occasion that has caught the attention and envy of many. (which is usually ignored, or regulated)



In the graph of Gayle's blog tracker, week 17 is the month of April. Notice the spike 2 weeks later when she was featured by Tomorrow.sg. When she began to be featured by the mainstream media for the first time in Week 20, the number simply jumped two-fold . Fears began to surface that bloggers may just decide to hop in the bandwagon and bash the government for the sake of it, but it is likely that this form of legitimacy would be accorded to many by the mainstream media even if it happens.

Seriously, I'll not be surprised if my GP teacher actually put this question in our regular GP Current Affairs Test :

"Name the 17-year-old blogger who spoke aganist the Foriegn Minister of Singapore critically, an example to us all."

And what about STOMP? Between the Straits Times and the Star Bloggers, it is a win-win affair. The Straits Times implicitly gives them the blessings on their views, while the bloggers levarage on their popularity to pull in the crowds. Currently, the site managed to pull in 120,000 visitors (so as they claim), critics claim that it is perhaps a way to "manage the negative Internet" (now more than just that), but what it will really be in future remains to be seen.

But all these revolve around one thing in common. That is social acceptance through legitimacy.

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