Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is Any Publicity Good Publicity?

You have to hand it to M.Ravi for having the genius of attracting publicity. The man has managed to dominate headlines in July and the internet is ablaze with chatter about his activities.

It hasn’t helped his detractors that in their efforts to pull him down have ended up handing him something of a moral victory (whichever way you look at it, Wong Siew Hong barging into a court room to hand a confidential report to a judge declaring Ravi medically unfit to practice law is a violation of ethics, starting with doctor-patient confidentiality.)

However, much of the credit for generating so much publicity is due to Mr Ravi himself. One only has to glance of his tree-hugging dance in Speakers Corner to understand his talent for self-generating publicity. The tabloid editors couldn’t have planned it better themselves.

So, the question remains, how much of Mr Ravi’s publicity actually helps the cause of opposition politics in Singapore? Unfortunately, the answer is not very much. If anything, Mr Ravi has ended up damaging the cause. When you think of Mr Ravi and the cause of opposition politics in Singapore, it’s clear that any publicity is not necessarily good publicity.

This is something of a shame. In fairness to Mr Ravi he has taken on important causes, which deserve debate. Whatever is said of the man, he was right to take on the cause of the recently amended “mandatory” death sentence for drug smuggling. Mr Ravi has also been ingenious in bringing the question of the constitutional validity of 377A (the act that forbids consensual anal sex between adult males) in the courts and he also be given credit for questioning the powers of the Prime Minister in calling by-elections.

However, when one looks at Mr Ravi, one can’t help but feel that he’s in it for something more than himself and more importantly, he’s a fool – the clown that you might agree with but you’d never trust your pets with.

Let’s face it, as “undemocratic” as Singapore is, it remains for the large part, a fairly comfortable place. Singapore still provides its citizens with a relatively comfortable lifestyle, and it’s no longer just in comparison with our Asian neighbours – Americans and Europeans also try to remain in Singapore as long as they can. As my favourite litigator once said, “Say what you like, but this isn’t some tin-pot African state where the authorities can drag out on the streets to beat you up whenever you feel like it.”

Yes, the ruling party does not always fight fair. The PAP shamelessly uses the levers of power to its advantage. Let’s face it; the PAP isn’t doing what other ruling parties do. The truism remains, “Elections are not won by oppositions but lost by governments.”

So, when you look at all these things, the point remains that Singaporeans are by and large content with the way things are. Yes, we grumble and we curse at officials in the coffee shops. However, we aren’t about to accept a radical overhaul to the system nor are we about to endorse a revolution.

Then there’s an important fact – while the powers-that-be have tight grip in the system, it’s not impossible to take on the PAP and win. The Worker’s Party comes to mind. This party held onto a single seat for two-decades and then, when the moment struck, and took a GRC. Were the odds against the Workers Party? The answer is yes.

How did the Worker’s Party win votes, while other opposition figures have failed miserably? The answer is simple – the Worker’s Party has built a track record at running something and developed a coherent strategy. As a result, they have attracted intelligent and decent people to their ranks – the type of people that the masses might consider voting for.

This is vastly different from Mr Ravi and his supporters like Reform Party, Chairman, and Kenneth Jeyeratnam. We might clap and cheer whenever Mr Ravi gets up on the stage at Speakers Corner and does his tree-hugging dance. However, while this makes good theater, it’s theater of the wrong kind. As far as the masses are concerned, they would never vote for the likes of Mr Jeyeratnam nor would they trust their kids to Mr Ravi.

Neither of these gentlemen has shown an interest in winning over the average Singaporean. Mr Jeyaratnam is persistent in taking in causes that the average man has no interest in. I’ve seen him focus his energies on things like electoral boundaries and loans to the IMF. He’s arrogantly dismissed local issues like worker’s dormitories in middle class neighbourhoods and foreign workers as being beneath him. Mr Ravi has similarly dismissed selling his ideas to the masses.

Unfortunately, the voice of the masses counts when it comes to gaining power and doing things. People voted for the Worker’s Party because they could prove to the masses that they could run something. What record does Kenneth Jeyeratnam have? What record does M. Ravi have?

Both would argue that they’re acting out of principle. They may be. However, both are challenging the established order in the hope of getting things done. Unfortunately, they are going about it the right way.

The publicity that Mr Ravi attracts for himself is unfortunately the wrong kind. Sometimes the government is made to look a bully, which many Singaporeans have taken as a fact of life. The rest of the time, Mr Ravi’s antics present him as an attention seeking fool, which takes away from the seriousness of the causes he claims to fight for. As much as we might like fools dancing around, we wouldn’t trust them to do something as valuable as take out the trash……

It’s better to follow the example of the Worker’s Party and fight meaningful battles in a meaningful manner. Publicity only comes for the things you want them to come for. In the meanwhile, energies are focused on the things that allow you to achieve your objective.

Not all publicity is good publicity nor is publicity in itself a good thing. One should always remember that publicity is best used as tool to enhance ones objectives in life.

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