In an interview with TODAY, Richard Wan, the Singapore-based editor of controversial socio-political blog ‘TR Emeritus’ and self-proclaimed successor to the old ‘Temasek Review’ explained that he is stepping forward into the spotlight to instill more ‘responsibility’ into the website:
“There was a need to break away from the “old” Temasek Review website – which was “running like a renegade organisation” – and instil “responsibility” into the website,” he said, which is what he did after being served with two lawyers’ letters within a week by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his younger brother Lee Hsien Yang.
Mr Wan also felt he had to reveal his identity as a TRE editor in order to talk to people or it would be difficult for the site to liaise with public agencies and interview witnesses.
With due respect to Mr Wan, for all his good intentions, the split from the old ‘Temasek Review’ and his move to come forward publicly may have put ‘TR Emeritus’ in a ‘no man’s land’ for five reasons:
1. The new name for the site is already a huge ‘turn off’ for mainstream readers. Mr Wan wants ‘TR Emeritus’ to gain more ‘respectability’, but the name itself does not confer any form of respectability or credibility at all. What does ‘TR Emeritus’ mean exactly, new readers may wonder. While it may be easier to retain its hardcore readership, gaining new fans from the moderate spectrum of Singaporeans will be an uphill task.
2. ‘TR Emeritus’ can continue to be a voice for disgruntled Singaporeans who find themselves shut out from the mainstream political discourse in the country so long they know their identities are protected under the cloak of anonymity provided by the old site. With ‘TR Emeritus’ now in the open and having revealed the identities of its contributors and commentators to the lawyers of the Prime Minister and his brother as demanded by their lawyers, the site will surely start to lose readers from its previously safe ‘readers’ bank’. Paranoid readers who live perpetually in the fear of having their IP addresses tracked by the authorities will now rather give ‘TR Emeritus’ a miss, than to leave traces of their identities behind in cyberspace.
3. Being painted (whether fairly or unfairly) by the mainstream media as an ‘anti-establishment’ website has already frightened off many Singaporeans from being associated with it and what’s more after making the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons, will any self-respecting blogger or writer now dare to put his/her name down to ‘TR Emeritus’ and publicly admit being part of its editorial team? It will be hard to see any MP, leader of political parties or prominent political observer like Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University lending their names and reputations to ‘TR Emeritus’ by getting quoted on it. The only form of ‘interaction’ ‘TR Emeritus’ has got so far since coming into the open is through the form of lawyer’s letters and this is likely to be norm, rather than the exception at least in the near future.
4. The harsh reality is that while there is a sizable proportion of Singaporeans, perhaps as high as 40 percent who do not support the government, very few will dare to step forward publicly to be identified as one and therefore ‘TR Emeritus’ will continue to face problems getting public agencies, external organizations and witnesses to speak to them though it may now have a ‘physical presence’ in Singapore, so as to speak. It will also be unable to capitalize on its huge online traffic because few Singapore companies, including Government-linked companies and Multi-national companies will dare to advertise on its site for they rather forgo the advertising opportunity than to risk being perceived as supporting ‘subversive causes’ by the government which will spell a death knell to their businesses.
5. Lastly, but most importantly, the real ‘brains’ behind the old Temasek Review are no longer with the new ‘TR Emeritus’ as observed from its recent articles which lack the uncanny wit, sarcasm and bite of its predecessor. Temasek Review managed to grow its readership rapidly in less than two years to become the top socio-political blog in Singapore not just by focusing on controversial issues seldom covered by the mainstream media, but by leading political discourse and shaping public opinion in whatever ways it intended to through the provision of first-hand news right on the dot 24 hours a day round the clock, faster than any other news site in Singapore. The present ‘TR Emeritus’ is a pale shadow of its previous incarnation, lagging far behind in this critical aspect and has become a mere follower rather than the outright leader in shaping public discourse and perception.
With more credible and respectable socio-political blogs like ‘The Online Citizen’ and ‘New Nation’ establishing a niche for themselves in Singapore’s blogosphere, ‘TR Emeritus’ will find it extremely hard to dislodge them and be regarded as a trusted source of news in Singapore, not discounting its previous run-ins with the law and extensive negative publicity arising from its recent legal entanglements with members from the most powerful family in Singapore.
As NTU professor in journalism Cherian George noted wryly, ‘TR Emeritus’ may find the transition tough with the recent change in tack and is likely to lose readers in the process. ‘TR Emeritus’ may have inherited the original readers of the old TR by cheaply and conveniently diverting traffic from it to the new one, but it is unlikely able to replicate its success so long it remains stuck in this ‘no man’s land’ – neither a respectable socio-political site with sufficient credibility to be taken seriously nor an anonymous ‘safe’ haven for political dissidents to make loud enough ‘noise’ in unison to rattle the establishment.