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Challenging government in the digital age: Lessons from Kidex

Youtube still of meeting between Kidex representatives and PJ residents
(Smart phone image: sxc.hu)

CHALLENGING the authorities on matters of community and social significance can leave one feeling a little helpless. Getting the government to change its mind on an issue can feel impossible – whether it involves constructing high-rise buildings in green lungs, or deciding to build highways through heavily built-up neighbourhoods. Where does one even begin?

The digital age has provided some tools for the budding activist. With smart phone technology, the internet and social media, it has become much easier to document one’s thoughts and disseminate them to a wide audience.

The recent public campaign opposing the construction of the Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) is a good example of how a small group of internet-savvy campaigners can effectively publicise their cause. What lessons can we learn from the anti-Kidex movement and other causes on how to take on the government in the digital age?

Record everything! Upload everything!

A pivotal turning point in the Say No To Kidex (SNTK) campaign was the uploading of video clips on YouTube of a controversial meeting between Petaling Jaya residents and the chief executive officer of Kidex Sdn Bhd. The video clips allowed those not present to verify what occurred at the meeting and observe the various participants’ demeanour.

In the clips, everything from basic smartphones to Canon 7D cameras can be seen in action, documenting the words and actions of attendees, as well as officials from Kidex and the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).

(sxc.hu)

(sxc.hu)

The most basic smartphone now possesses video recording capability. With a data plan, videos can be uploaded to YouTube at the touch of a button. This means that every person with a smart phone has the power to counter public officials who conveniently forget or deny their statements. And, once uploaded on YouTube, it ensures those records are stored and available for reference by others in the future.

Digital evidence in the form of photographs and video recordings challenge the government’s power to control the narrative and addresses the unequal balance of power in the provision of information to the masses. The Bersih rallies are an example of how video and photographic evidence was used to successfully counter government news – from misinformation on attendance levels to denials of police misconduct.

In the SNTK case, video documentation of the meeting ensured that government and Kidex representatives could not claim that they had been misreported or misquoted. Members of the public could hear for themselves exactly what was said and, more importantly, how it was said. All parties are being kept honest.

Content is king

saynotokidexOne of the earliest steps taken by the SNTK committee was to set up a Say No To Kidex Facebook page for their cause. It also has a blog, and SNTK committee member Mak Khuin Weng, who is a columnist on The Nut Graph, is active on Twitter.

SNTK’s Facebook page contains links to every article written on Kidex. Its blog supplies information about the highway’s impact on various neighbourhoods and educates residents on why the campaign is being mounted. SNTK also has links to YouTube videos that range from full recordings of meetings with the highway developer to educational public service announcements.

The SNTK committee also conducted a fun Poster War campaign, where they distributed “Say No to Kidex” posters and asked PJ residents to send in photographs of themselves with the poster.

The lesson here is not so much about getting on every platform or being on Facebook; rather, it is about the importance of ensuring regular content for those platforms. Blogs need to be regularly updated and Facebook news streams have to be constantly populated to ensure virality by encouraging “shares”. And, despite the power of user-generated content, it is not possible to rely solely on it when taking on the government. Every campaign needs people who can write letters and articles for web portals and newspapers, thereby keeping the story alive.

Campaigns also need video editors and photographers who will record footage and produce public service announcements and short videos that briefly and effectively convey the campaign’s cause. Graphic designers are also needed to come up with easily understandable infographics for virality.

Crowdfunding your resistance

Ngerng (Wiki commons)

When Singapore blogger Roy Ngerng found himself being sued for defamation by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he raised funds for his legal defence on the internet through crowdfunding.

Ngerng had posted an article questioning the government’s use of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a social safety net for retirement. In five days, he raised SGD70,000 (RM180,000). Crowdfunding his defence helped him not only draw attention to his plight and his cause, it also enabled him to tap into a tremendous wellspring of public support and claim moral victory.

As former Publicis Asia Pacific vice chairman, Calvin Soh, wrote on his Facebook page:

“What if Roy raises SGD500,000? It’s not just the sum; crowdfunding shows you market size. What if people don’t support Roy, but want this to go to court so the CPF issue will be brought up?”

Crowdfunding your resistance can be done through something as simple as e-banking, or, for the more sophisticated, PayPal or various professional crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo.

Crowdfunding ensures resources for the campaign in the long run, generates publicity and, most importantly, allows for broader participation. Malaysians who contribute, both here and overseas, will feel like they are taking part in the cause or supporting it, in whatever little way that they can.

People needed

Still, technology alone without people means nothing. As noted internet entrepreneur and investor Esther Dyson wrote:

“The internet can help foment revolutions, but the hard work of democracy takes place mostly offline.”

As Malaysians become aware that the power to make noise and kick up a fuss is now in their pockets, it is hoped that more Malaysians will begin to campaign for civic issues as a matter of conscience. And that this translates to action that will pressure the government to pay more attention to opinion on the ground and ensure more participation from the public.

Then, and only then, will the internet’s once vaunted role as the great democratiser at last become a reality. The Nut Graph


Bernice Low is a former blogger for CNET Asia. When not skewering someone in her blog, she’s busy dreaming up Hollywood blockbuster movies in her other life as a screenwriter.

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14 Responses to “Challenging government in the digital age: Lessons from Kidex”

  1. tng says:

    It takes 50 years for people to see the ugly side of politicians in BN. With this digital age, it will take much less time to also see the ugly side of politicians in Pakatan. I would say, it will take 10 years for Pakatan.

    • Sunna Sutta says:

      Well, out of the 50 years for people to see the ugly side of politicians in BN, more than 40 of those years were not in this digital age. From 1957 to 2004, the Alliance and BN relied on the so-called Fourth Estate (print media) which was entirely at the Home Ministry’s mercy to publish news which only allowed the rakyat to view the ruling coalition through rose-tinted glasses, failing which they would lose their publishing permits.

      It was only when unencumbered internet-based news and social media was made available by the so-called Fifth Estate that people started to see the ugly side of BN. Thus, the truth is it took only four years from 2004 to 2008 for the Fifth Estate to expose the gross excesses of BN politicians which subsequently resulted in a political tsunami in GE12 from which BN has never recovered. In other words, to say that it will take 10 years of the digital age for the ugly side of politicians in PR to be exposed is actually a compliment to the opposition because it takes so much longer to discredit PR [with their] considerably lower level of corruption and abuse of political power! It only goes to show how much more dirt BN has hidden hitherto with the use of the traditional media.

      • KW Mak says:

        @ Sunna Sutta

        It is not a compliment if it takes 10 years nor is it a compliment to say that PR has a “considerably lower level of corruption and abuse of political power.” It just shows that the public does not have a viable alternative for reforms and are ‘forced’ to settle for the lesser of two evils, which is still an evil.

        There is also an inherent flaw in the argument for BN and PR. It took 4 years to expose BN because they have a huge backlog of shit that took 50+ years to compile. PR does not have that sort of baggage and they are only compiling it now, hence it is still bad for them to lose out only after 10 years.

        And whether being a lesser of two evils is relevant to public choice is debatable as shown by the recent Teluk Intan by-election.

        Indeed, my own experience in local government has also shown me that corruption isn’t as big an issue as some people make it out to be. The general response I get is that corruption is okay if the politician serves and delivers the basic needs to their constituents. See: http://www.thenutgraph.com/the-financial-disadvantage-of-being-councillor/

        Regards.

        • Sunna Sutta says:

          @KW Mak, sadly I have to agree with you that the majority of the rakyat tolerate corruption as long as their immediate short-term basic needs are satisfied. For the hard-core poor among both urban and rural constituents, a RM100 immediate handout during general and by-elections plus the promise of a few hundred more ringgit in BR1M handouts (which help robber barons to get further 5 year licences to plunder the nation’s wealth) certainly goes a long way. Yes, being a poor but honest councillor does not help in one’s reappointment in corruption-rife Malaysia. I do yearn for the day when constituents get to choose the cleanest candidate rather than the lesser of two evils.

        • Kong Kek Kuat says:

          @ KW Mak

          On another note, I find it amazing that in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, indirect funding for cybertroopers to discredit PR, UMNO agent provocateurs, etc, etc., they haven´t really got that much shit on PR. On the other hand, I also find it amazing that with the power that UMNO/BN has over the last 30 years, including the power to limit and monitor the very tools which are used in aid to discover the bad and ugly about UMNO/BN, they still look really bad. There must be too much shit to cover, don´t you think?

          • KW Mak says:

            @ Kong Kek Kuat

            Not much shit on PR? The news on the highways approved without public consultation and the backlash from residents is not enough shit for you?

            https://www.facebook.com/groups/NoToDash/?fref=ts
            https://www.facebook.com/no.s.highway?fref=ts
            https://www.facebook.com/SaveAmpangForest?fref=ts

            Sheesh.

            • Kong Kek Kuat says:

              @ KW Mak

              Yes, that´s not much. The world is much bigger than Petaling Jaya and KIDEX, if you know what I mean. It doesn´t mean that the more weblinks there are, the more shit there is.

              • Kong Kek Kuat says:

                @ KW Mak

                … and DASH, and whatever.

                • KW Mak says:

                  @ Kong Kek Kuat

                  You do realise that the links I posted have nothing to do with Kidex, right?

                  There are a total of 6 highways that run through the whole of Selangor and not just Petaling Jaya, and the people who are unhappy with the Selangor government right now span across more areas than just Petaling Jaya. So yes, it is bigger than Petaling Jaya.

                  If you don’t think the issues are serious and warrants attention, by all means ignore it. Doesn’t mean the problems will go away.

          • carbonytte says:

            [...]

            When someone posted something that tarnishes the image of BN (be it corruption, gerrymandering, or simply persecution — these are what they are known for anyways), you clap your hands so hard, share on Facebook groups here and there.

            Meanwhile when someone posts something that tarnishes the image of PR, you simply fall back on the one common response, “Oh yeah right”-type of response and discredit them.

            Back in 2008, when PR actually won big in Penang and Selangor, both states introduced the CAT solution. Simply to say that “Hey, the previous govt did so many mistakes, that not only we’re not gonna do the same thing, we’re gonna make sure no one else does the same thing”. Hence, in Selangor, even the FOI Act was introduced.

            Now it’s 2014. Six years down the road, when someone tried to use the FOI Act to get the whole idea of KIDEX, sure she returned with something, but as with what happened during the BN-governed Selangor, it was filled with holes. And yeah, not to mention, people who discredit this effort by saying “Yeah right, as if these people actually represent the whole PJ community”.

            So what ever happened to defending the persecution of the minority? What ever happened to the promise of Competency, Accountability, and Transparency? When LGE suddenly used a Mercedes while the rest of the state excos used a Camry, while previously the same person mocked the then Terengganu MB for using a Mercedes. And when asked, LGE just smiled, and say “It’s very subjective.”

            These are the reasons why today we start to see non-partisan people coming out of the shadows. These are the people who see what’s wrong and want to correct it without having anything on their side pockets. Previously, they saw that one side was a hero, while the other side was the criminal. Today, it’s one side the devil you know, the other side the devil you don’t know. And these people are just fed-up after wasting their efforts voting for the devil they don’t know.

            • Kong Kek Kuat says:

              @ carbonytte

              Don´t vote for PR the next time, then. And if you find that you also can´t vote for BN, then vote for independents or don´t vote. That´s the way it works in reality, unless you are in the government and in a position to manipulate the process to influence the outcome.

              It´s tough. For some people, all these Local council issues and procedural impropriety may be the only issues they are concerned about in their lives (yet you didn’t hear them protest like mobs, even if only on a few occasions, before their personal properties may be lost). For some others, it is about getting the approval of their bosses and the next meal on the table. Yet for some others, it is about the quality of their lives.

              Properties, including mine, which were initially thought to be affected by the PORR, in fact experienced rapid appreciation in value. The PORR has made many people happy today — eventhough it was a BN project. Nobody´s complaining today. But I still wouldn´t vote for BN, eventhough I didn´t object to PORR. Similarly, I have no doubt that, while there appears to be many who object to KIDEX et al, there are still many others who are secretly hoping that the convenience which comes with KIDEX et al will bring with it an appreciation of value in their properties.

              I repeat that I am neither for nor against KIDEX, eventhough I, like many others, actually know that KIDEX will increase the value of my property in PJ. I do object to the direct tender process. But that is another issue for another day (which the anti-KIDEX group did not really object to. Can anyone dispute the fact that those aggressive anti-KIDEX protestors are mob-like and no different from PERKASA et al?).

            • Kong Kek Kuat says:

              @ carbonytte

              Minority rights are to be protected, but it all boils down to whether those rights can be adequately compensated. In a company, minority shareholders´ rights can be adequately compensated. So, the majority shareholders are allowed to buy them out as a last resort. You can´t have a small minority stop the company from working.

              In a country, minority rights cannot be adequately compensated. So, you can´t just conduct a referendum and then execute a ‘final solution’. Only Switzerland ever does that. But yet, they have laws which will stop extreme decisions. I´ll let you and the readers here decide whether those who will be affected by KIDEX et al can be adequately compensated.

              • KW Mak says:

                @ Kong Kek Kuat

                I think the point on Kidex was one of due process. You believe the project is good but you don’t cite any studies or documentation to prove it.

                Here’s the Preliminary EIA report on Kidex. http://www.scribd.com/doc/220060281/Kidex-EIA

                It says the highway will be 5-metres from two schools and 10-metres from many high-rise properties. The LLM standard is 13-metres minimum.

                The noise pollution studies done for the project state that it would be ‘slightly’ above permissible rates at 15-metres away. So does that mean it would be ‘way above’ permissible rates at 5 to 10 metres away?

                That distance is from buildings that would not be acquired – are you trying to tell me the property value of those buildings would increase dramatically?

                Why did the Selangor government and Federal government not pick up these points when they were appraising the project?

                Next, the decision to publish a Land Acquisition Gazette for Kidex was done by the Selangor government without basis (they did not have the traffic, social and environment impact assessment reports at the time the gazette was decided upon, which was in Feb 2012).

                If you can’t even follow the law and due process, how do you even determine what is adequate compensation to those who are to be evicted for your greater good?

                There are so many questions but no answers because the authorities and politicians (and perhaps you) seem to know best without ever needing to justify how they all know best.

                It’s like Sarawak’s decision to build a dam and displace all the indigenous people in the area. They don’t need no studies to tell them what sort of impact it would have on the environment and they can promise all those affected ‘adequate compensation’.

                I don’t even want to argue about whether BN or PR is better – it’s not relevant to the case.


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