I've known Timothy Tye since 2008 or 2009. Can't remember where we first bumped into one another, though, although at that time I already knew that he sat on the committee of the Penang Heritage Trust (not anymore, though) and he had quite a useful website on moving around Penang's tourist spots. The website's still there and it is constantly being updated with fresh information.
Recently, he was voicing his opinion against the arguments of a group of people that had called themselves the Penang Forum. These Penang Forum people were much against the Penang government's mega-infrastructure project that would see three new bypass highways being built on the island and a tunnel constructed to connect Gurney Drive
Tim himself was arguing why the projects should proceed but he was also frustrated that the Penang Forum was taking its own sweet time to even publish his opinion. While waiting, Tim wrote another piece which I found most informative - and entertaining. He said I could reproduce it here, so here it is. Thanks, Tim, for the thumbs up.
WHAT IS A FORUM?
- Timothy Tye -
I need to explain this so you understand why it got on my nerves.
A FORUM is a gathering of people to discuss an issue of public interest. A group of concerned citizens may organise a forum in which the moderator introduces the ISSUE: "The state government is planning to build an undersea tunnel and a few expressways. What is your opinion?" Members of the public may then rise up and give their opinion, whether or not they support or oppose the issue. The moderator, as its name clearly suggests, ensures the discussion remains completely impartial. At the end of the discussion, the points raised are collected and published for the benefit of those who did not attend.
If a group of concerned citizens invites a guest, such as the Chief Minister of Penang, to meet members of the public, and they pose questions related to an issue of public interest, that is not a forum, that's a DIALOGUE.
A forum requires concerned citizens who are the organisers to exercise complete impartiality over the issue of public interest. The invited public can be partial, the organisers cannot. If the media asks the organisers, the appropriate response would be: "I have a CONCERN, but I can't tell you whether I am for or against the issue." In short, no comment. Citizens and groups with concerns over issues of public interest can organise a forum to canvass public OPINION.
As can be observed, this is unlikely to happen. In the local context, concerned citizens usually have an opinion already bottled up and is simply looking for a venue to uncork it ("What, cannot take sides ah? Then where got fun neh?!"). They are not keen on accepting public opinion, they're keen on the public accepting their opinion. If they organise a gathering of the public where they state their opinion, it's not a forum, it's a STAND.
A group of concerned citizens who have opinions over issues of public interest should not call itself a forum, by right it should call itself a WATCHDOG.
When a watchdog organises a stand, and the only acceptable course of action for the invited public is to support the stand (and those who oppose it is belittled and ridiculed), that is not a forum, that's a RUBBER STAMPING.
What is unpalatable is that a rubber stamping is often masqueraded as a forum.