Monday, June 6, 2011

Keep the spin cycle on, and get ready to be hung out to dry...

Today's edition of the Straits Times had the headline on the front page: "Government to review drainage after year's worst flood".

This is refreshing. The Straits Times is often deployed for spin damage control every time the government can't cover up mismanagement bad news. The rule appears to be: Cover up first. If not possible, then obfuscate, mislead and distract. And if that fails, underplay and de-emphasize. We now have a new fourth stage: pre-empt criticism and be seen to be DOING SOMETHING.

The front-page story read in an almost surreal way. Talking about review of drainage before describing the floods was putting the cart before the horse; I wasn't even aware that there had been floods yesterday before I picked up today's newspaper (I was holed up at home with a book over the weekend). The Straits Times seemed to be assuming that everyone knew about the floods before the story was printed today (not an unreasonable assumption to make in light of the digital age), but it certainly carried the faint scent of resignation of old world media.

Keep it up, nation-building press. The PAP government has your jobs, but with its continual expectation that you comply to its spin demands, the importance of those jobs will be eroded as the years roll by.

Conventional local media is already distrusted; it won’t be long before it ceases to be relevant altogether (especially when the older folks that depend on it die off). Then the SPH management will question the very need for investment into conventional media. What will follow will be smaller operating budgets, reduced headcount and dismal attempts at new media (to be repeated at X-year intervals with refreshed roadmaps / business plans).

The local print media need look no further than Mediacorpse to see the future. Diminished mindshare since fewer people tune in to free-to-air TV, diminished production values due to reduced budgets, and diminished advertising revenue due to irrelevance to consumers. Talent flight is a further result (as well as an accelerant to the crisis).

I don’t watch TV anymore, although my parents do, but it hasn’t escaped my attention that many TV ads, particularly outside primetime, are either ads about advertising on Mediacorpse or trailers for other programs. The Straits Times itself too carries its own advertisements exhorting subscriptions, as well as touting lucky draws for new subscribers. A sign of the times indeed.

I would cease reading the Straits Times if not for the fact that my family subscribes to it and it makes for convenient breakfast reading. However, I spend as little as 20 minutes reading the papers. I can often dispense with the Home Section in just 15 seconds; the Forum page is always ignored.

A few years ago, I might flip through past editions of the papers after returning from vacation. I no longer do so. In fact, now, if I do not pick up the papers at my appointed breakfast hour (usually because I have an early start that day), that day’s Straits Times edition will be left untouched, permanently. Reading the Straits Times is a function of my breakfast. It is not a goal in itself.

Even for someone like me with newspapers at home, the Straits Times no longer holds my attention. And I am just over 30. To younger Singaporeans, local newspapers are fast becoming an anachronism.

PS: Although causation is difficult to prove, one does have to wonder if road raising works along Orchard Road to deal with previous floods have shunted the problem to the Tanglin area. This could well be the flooding version of whac-a-mole.


Soodo said...

Well said.
I was having the same thoughts myself about today's Straits Times article.
Nice to know it's not just me with these thoughts.

We are rapidly moving from a once every 50 years event, to once every year to once every week(?)

Serious flooding in Orchard Road started suddenly only around last year. "Weather patterns" don't change so suddenly.

It has to be man-made in origin.

What large, man-made engineering feat was completed in Singapore just before the serious Orchard Road floods started?

Ponder Stibbons said...

Interestingly, a <a href=">recent column</a> in Zaobao actually called for the repeal of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, along with the ISA and other laws that restrict freedom of expression. The reason offered was that if the government is truly interested in being more in touch with the ground, then there ought to be more alternative voices in the media. Needless to say, such calls for the repeal of these sacred acts are very rare in the mainstream media. So as I was reading the column, I could not but wonder if the author and his editors had realised that the only way to save their profession in Singapore was to repeal the acts so that they can have a shot at regaining credibility.

sgcynic said...

I simply fail to grasp the logic: last year's floods was one-in-50 years. The one two days ago was worse than last years, and the worst in 25 years. Someone do the math...