By Gerald Koh
The presence of media, particularly digital media, is a prime feature of our modern society, be it in Singapore or anywhere in the world, especially in developing countries. We have news/journalistic outlets that are supposed to report on what is happening around us (and across the world), social media platforms for us to connect digitally, and there are numerous avenues where we can find entertainment, be it startups such as The Smart Local or television shows on Channel 5 or Channel 8.
The issue in a place like Singapore is the relative lack of diversity when it comes to the choices of media that are available to us. This is particularly the case when it comes to the choices of news coverage we have, since that sector will be inevitably bound (to a certain extent, at least) by the restrictions set by our nation’s political establishment. Alongside this, there is not much of a variety when it comes to the choices of entertainment either. (And let’s be honest, the TV shows on our local channels aren’t very high quality anyway). On a whole, this makes the media scene in Singapore rather dull, a sad but fair reality to point out.
Having a diverse set of media outlets is something that any modern civilisation should really strive for. The best example we have in this regard has to be the United States. There are a wide array of news outlets that present varying angles (and those variations can be quite wild). This dynamic largely comes down to more established, corporate-funnelled news outlets like CNN, Fox News, and The Washington Post, serving as a contrast with other, relatively more independent outlets that function as ‘alternative’ news or journalism of sorts. This is also the case, to a certain extent, in European nations and even a place like Hong Kong, which has fervently pro-democracy outlets like Apple Daily to counter the perspective given by more establishment-oriented outlets, like the South China Morning Post.
Why is this significant? This is because the media landscape is both reflective of and serves to inform the culture. In our current times, it is something that communicates the key issues and moments of our time, and how people feel about them. And the nature of our prevailing culture is something we should all be keenly aware of. On a broader scale, cultural elements serve as a marker for how civilisation is progressing and what influence it will have on the rest of the world. This is something that can be seen throughout history: the ancient Greeks had their plays, ancient Rome had the Colosseum, while modern Western civilisation has enjoyed Hollywood for around a century now.
Of course, it is understandable as to why Singapore would be rather behind in this regard. We are a very tiny nation, which would obviously hamper our ability to produce such a wide variety of media coverage and content. Alongside this, our potential talent pool for any potential media companies would be much smaller compared to other nations.
On top of population considerations, there are some cultural factors that may play into this dynamic. The education system that has been carved out by our elites still tends to make, by and large, a curriculum strongly geared to training students with much emphasis on being ‘pragmatic’ or having a practical function for society at large. This makes for a population that is not very inclined to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo. On top of this, the substantial restrictions with regards to freedom of expression, and expressing criticism of our political elite, in particular, serves as another hindrance to any potential growth of our nation’s media landscape. Theoretically, one could attempt to express and communicate alternative perspectives when it comes to political and civic issues, but that would most likely result in suppression, forced retractions or otherwise.
The question is, are there any potential remedies to this? Many would feel that this is an ambition not very worth undertaking and that the attention of the government or public at large would be best directed towards other issues. However, it would be good for us to at least consider it.
One important step is to further convey the messages of innovation and freethinking in our society, particularly through the medium of education. This way, more people will be empowered to exercise their entrepreneurial or innovative instincts to make new media start-ups, while realising the full extent of the marketplace of ideas by having outlets to present diverse views on social, political and cultural issues that surround our climate.
And while this may be somewhat of a long shot in the near future, it would be good for our government to introduce more free-speech related laws and strongly consider rescinding any statutes we currently have that threaten citizens’ ability to express themselves in the public square.
And on a final note, if there is anyone reading this who has plans to create their own media startup, or become a part of any non-mainstream media outlets, please don’t hesitate to pursue such passions! If you’ve thought about it carefully, this endeavour is certainly something to take a bold step towards. With that in mind, it is very positive for me to see newer outlets like this one (which I am very honoured to have an opportunity to contribute towards) to spring up! Promoting sites such as Ignite Media is something we should all do.