Thursday, October 04, 2007

Howsy Reports The ALL-BLOGS Public Forum: “Blogs & Digital Democracy”

Possibly my last hands-on 'involvement' in the Malaysian blogosphere scene before I leave, I attended yesterday's ALL-BLOGS Public Forum: “Blogs & Digital Democracy” at the KLGCC. Hitched a ride with LT and her colleague (yes Dave, we do car-pool here - at least me :P), we arrived just in time for a buka puasa buffet dinner which to my pleasant surprise, it was for ALL and the spread was HUGE!

Jeff, the MC and moderator of the forum.

For the context, here is the backgrounder for the forum:

Backdropped against recent development in the public opinion space exemplified bythe online sphere, there appears to be subtle attempts to muzzle bloggers through a variety of tactics, including police remands (Nathaniel Tan); civil suits (Jeff Ooi and Rocky); investigations under a cocktail of laws (Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia-Today).

The ALL-BLOGS Dinner Talk, themed “Blogs & Digital Democracy”, will be given the Malaysian context when Datuk A Kadir Jasin and Ahirudin Attan share their experiences as veteran journalists who have now “successfully migrated from print to online, and have found a huge following among Malaysians capable of critical thinking. The Dinner Talk is also positioned from the viewpoint of the Guest Speaker as a researcher on citizen journalism and digital democracy. It is to provide a global perspective on how democracies around the world handle the challenges posed by the emerging new media.

David Sasaki, who is making a visit to the region, will share his experience as regional editor of Global Voices Online and, among other things, he will talk about blogs and how governments around the world engage digital democracy.

David is the head of Global Voices Outreach ( Rising Voices ), which is an off-shoot project of Global Voices Online, another project initiated at Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School, Massachusetts.

Rising Voices is an outreach initiative of Global Voices supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It aims to extend the benefits and reach of citizen media by connecting online media activists around the world and supporting their best ideas through three main strategies: ( 1 ) Microgrants; ( 2 ) Outreach Curriculum and ( 3 ) Networking.

The forum was generally to introduce the Malaysian blogging scene and phenomenon and the purpose of the formation of ALL-Blogs to the audience of the 'not-just-only-bloggers' (supposedly to include Malaysian bloggers, online auteur and activists, journalists, NGOs, and members of the diplomatic corp) event, by two 'murtads' (or apostates - referring to those who 'jumped ship' from the MSM to blogs) none other than seasoned journalists-cum-bloggers Datuk A Kadir Jasin and Ahirudin Attan a.k.a Rocky.

The panelists...with Natty in the picture.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the history of blogging of the two panelists and also the formation of All-Blogs, Rocky revisited some of the events which led him to blogging scene (like how Jeff 'attacked' The Malay Mail where he was the EIC and how he could only respond to him once a week in his Sunday Times column), the main purpose of the formation of All-Blogs (as a bridge between bloggers and journalists) and some of the All-Blogs events so far (the Bangsa Malaysia gathering, multi-faith prayers and also several PELITAR initiatives). He also mentioned about his apparent attempt to invite Mr. Goebbels Zam to attend but failed; nevertheless he is seeing a positive sign that one day Mr. Goebbels will engage bloggers.

UPDATED: Related to the above matter, as expected, here's something you would expect out of a so-called Forum Wakil Rakyat Malaysia (Fowram) or People's Representative Forum of Malaysia:

A total of 711 elected representatives and senators are scheduled to attend the forum organised by the newly formed Forum Wakil Rakyat Malaysia (Fowram).

Fowram, a brainchild of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and based on the European Parliamentary Forum concept, would meet on Oct 21 here.

They are also scheduled to discuss how alternative media -- such as online newspapers; blogs and SMS -- are being used to create a negative perception of government leaders; the effect of globalisation on domestic politics; and the critical views of voters of elected representatives.


Datuk A Kadir Jasin enlightened us on the tactic the government is curently using to control bloggers. The current crackdown is not to create the fear for defamation lawsuits, but to instill the fear factor by lumping together bloggers that blog neutrally or not for the Government as an 'anti-establishment' group which needs to be curbed. The Government is not out to curb seasoned bloggers, but to discourage young and aspiring ones from even thinking to start blogging, according to him. He added that the proponents and the opponents of blogs should continue to redefine their positions, and the current mishandling of bloggers actually creates awareness and exposure on the blogging scene and phenomenon. He also reckoned that if by word for word, the blogs actually have more readership than the MSM.

The other part of the forum was to broaden our horizons on the international blogging scene (although of Latin America-centric) and to be aware of grants available out there to support the blogging initiative (which I would call it the Pay-Per-Post for socio-politics).

PPP for socio-politics? Visit here.

We had our guest-of-honour from Global Voices Online, David Sasaki, who first gave an overview on the chronology of events involved in online/participative/grassroots journalism - from Ronald Reagon's speech in 1989 to the current exponential growth of Web 2.0. He outlined three ways how governments around the world deal with digital democracy - either to engage them, suppress them, or to ignore them.

Dave looking gorgeous...

He gave examples on how governments around the world respond to blogs, negatively, like:

1. An Egyptian blogger jailed for insulting the King and Islam.

2. A Thai commenter jailed for insulting the King.

3. The crackdown by China on over 50 known cyber-activists.

4. Other countries include Burma, Turkey and Barbados.

In a mainly Latin America context, he gave some of the (surprisingly) positive initiatives by the governments on blogging:

1. A Chief Blogger position in Buenos Aires, where the person selects the best posts around the blogosphere.

2. Chile's most famous blogger is Senator Fernando Flores, who made all candidates for the 2001 elections to have their own blogs.

3. Ecuador has their own blog and Youtube channel.

4. The Brazilian Minister of Culture blogs (and is like a rock star).

5. The state-owned Brazilian news agency - Agencia Brasil, links back blogs discussing their articles.

6. The President of Iran and the King of Cambodia are among the most famous bloggers in their respective countries.

And some of the positive initiatives launched by the civil society themselves include Kenya having a website explaining and commenting in every bill passed in the Parliament and the website which has an election metrics for the US Presidential candidates.

Dave again.

Finally, he outlined several incentives from blogging (not about PPP, you fanatics out there!) like in Botswana where there is a UN Global Conference on ICT and Youth Development thingy on blogging, and that investor are actually blog addicts - for example, in tracking the AAPL on Technorati. Dave then introduced the above $5 million bucks thingy for citizen media projects. Any takers out there?

Questions from the floor include the skepticism on the ability of the blogging phenomenon to actually 'bring down evil regimes' and the ICT outreach in rural areas.

Better stop now before this post gets too long and boring. Oh, thanks to Rikey for the ride back home and let's anticipate more photos (and better quality ones) of the forum from him!

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