Local Media and the EPL Test

October 7, 2008

Our mainstream media is not known for its credibility or solid investigative journalism. The Straits Times is a good metonym of the Singapore media – commercially driven, dedicated to the PAP government, subjugated to the state’s brand of nation-building objectives, and wants to be everything to everyone, thus ending up slightly irrelevant to all.


Flipping through it today got me thinking: it’s not doing very well either as a vehicle of global or local news.


To see how well it brings in global news lets do a simple test. Let’s call it the English Premier League (EPL) Test. All EPL games are played either on Saturday or Sunday evenings. If a game is played at 10pm on Saturday, you won’t read about it in The Straits Times until Monday. This is because when the game ends at close to midnight, Sunday’s edition would already have gone to press. This means you get news that is more than a day late. So when Liverpool magnificently came back from 2-0 down to beat the hapless Manchester City 2-3 on Sunday night, we only read about it in The Straits Times on Tuesday morning.


The EPL Test can be applied to international politics too. Take the US presidential campaign. Sarah Palin accused Barrack Obama of “palling around with terrorists”, a dig at his brief association with William Ayers of the Weathermen. Obama counter-accused the McCain campaign of resorting to ‘smear tactics’ and responded for like by reminding everyone of McCain’s part in the ‘Keating Five’ scandal in the 1980s. Now, this story was available on the New York Times and Guardian websites on late night 5 Oct 08 (Singapore time). The Straits Times only published it today (7 Oct 08). Of course The Straits Times website may have carried it earlier but because you have to pay to access it, hardly anyone uses it. Why read Straits Times on the net when you have world class papers like New York Times and Guardian for free?


So, if you judge The Straits Times by the EPL test, it fails miserably. In today’s world of instantaneous news and quick-response analysis, running an international headline story one day late makes your paper look like a weekly newsletter from a rural town in Alabama.


Ok, but does The Straits Times do better with local news? Hardly.


Everyone knows that The Straits Times is the PAP’s mouthpiece. No one, not even the papers, would dispute that. However, what happens alternative news sources emerge to challenge the mainstream press? We all know blogs like TOC and Yawning Bread are doing an excellent job in painting a more accurate, more nuanced picture of Singapore than the mainstream press.


So while the mainstream press suffers from late delivery when it comes to global news, it suffers from credibility when it comes local news.


The ban on political films will be eased. With this we can expect to see a spike in such films in the coming year. We can expect to see more private or public screening of these non-mainstream films, their greater presence on Youtube, and their email distribution from the likes of Martyn See. Interestingly, and perhaps pertinently, many of these young film-makers do not profess any strong loyalty to a particular opposition party or figure, nor do they claim to be anti-government. Rather, their impetus comes from their strong belief that the mainstream government-controlled media like The Straits Times and Mediacorp do not adequately represent the diversity of politics in Singapore, often highlighting the opposition in a negative light, if at all. As such, it is from a sense of social justice and desire for parity that, rightly or wrongly, drives these film-makers on.


And if their body of work grows bigger and more effective, not only will the political sphere become more lively and diverse in the coming years, these film-makers will also gain legitimacy as authentic voices from the ground in contrast to the state-guided one from mainstream media.



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