On my first two videos: race in Singapore

video radio star

Please click to watch my first two videos, published on Facebook a few days ago:

Race in Singapore: We can’t trust politicians

 

Brownface in Singapore: Why the fuss?

 

Why video?

K Shanmugam. Michelle Chong. Nuseir Yassin aka Nas Daily.

Those are the three reasons why I am experimenting with video now. At a broad level video has been on my mind for a while, part of my own professional growth, reskilling, continuing media education. Writing will always be my first love but I need basic proficiency in video, especially if/when I start my own media business.

The three of them, however, have made the issue more pressing, because they have contributed to an increasingly ideologically-biased video landscape. Shanmugam is a constant video presence on big issues, for instance commenting on Preeti and Subhas. I am told, among other things, that those “interviews” are often scripted, staged, and re-shot if he doesn’t like something.

There is no pushback. Nobody would dare, for example, ask him whether the government made a mistake in publishing the Brownface ad, something journalists in any other developed country would feel comfortable doing. This is not journalism or even authentic reporting, since he can order re-shoots. It is Shanmugam TV.  I am not sure viewers really understand this.

(This is true for many political “interviews” in Singapore; I am focussing on Shanmugam simply because he is a strong and recurring presence on video.)

Michelle Chong and Nuseir Yassin, much as I like their style and some of their work, have knowingly or not become part of the PAP’s band of useful idiots. Some of Michelle Chong’s work for the government is great, I like her impersonations of Marie Kondo, for instance.

But I was absolutely shocked by her video interview of Shanmugam to help the government sell its new fake news law. The interplay between truth and fiction is a key tenet of any art form. Imagine my surprise, then, that a Singaporean artist would willingly help politicians take away that power.

I’ve met Michelle Chong once, briefly, she seems like a lovely person. But I’ve also been told that she’ll say anything for money. Perhaps it was her jealous enemies bitching about her to me, but if true, it is troubling for all sorts of reasons.

Also, it is unethical that her video did not mention that it was sponsored by the government. In other words, taxpayers like us paid Michelle and Shanmugam to make a video that ultimately just seems to be an exercise in personal branding (rather than a proper analysis of the new fake news bill). But this appears to be the way of the influencer world, take money and keep quiet about it.

I hope Michelle continues doing her great work across Singapore—but she should steer clear of certain issues. I suspect media studies departments in the future will classify her Ah Lian interview of Shanmugam as a textbook example of authoritarian propaganda. Horribly naive.

(To be clear, fake news is a big menace that must be dealt with. But we can never allow politicians from any party to be in charge, for the simple reason that they will be able to manipulate elections.)

Finally, Nas Daily videos are gross simplifications of complicated problems. I believe they are doing a disservice to the world. His superficial commentary on Singapore is proof that one can’t parachute into a place and understand it. There are a million critiques to choose from, but I’ll give you just one: it is absurd for a Muslim-Arab to call Singapore, a country with institutional discrimination against Muslims, an “almost perfect country”. But that’s what happens when you observe the veneer of multiculturalism and are wilfully ignorant about real problems.

That said, I’m delighted that Nuseir has moved here. It’s great for our country, hopefully he’ll help jumpstart our new media sector. I certainly have lots to learn from his delivery and comfort on screen. I just hope he will graduate to making more well-researched pieces akin to John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj.

Michelle and Nuseir are just two of the most prominent video personalities who are becoming dependent on government funds, which hinders their ability to act and speak freely. Many smaller media outfits in Singapore face the same challenge.

And that is why I worry that the video world is increasingly ideologically-biased. Unlike say the written word, for which Singaporeans can now access a whole range of views online.

My mistakes with these videos

Yes, I made many, including perhaps with the background music, delivery, subtitle typos. Here I will discuss the two main ones, after several days of debriefs.

Continue reading

on fake news

therealconse

 

Singapore recently set up a Select Committee on fake news and invited public submissions. It is encouraging to see many Singaporeans getting involved. Here is my small contribution:

Dear Committee,

There are many aspects of fake news that need addressing. I will limit my discussion here to one broad philosophical point: whether or not established media channels globally are partly responsible for creating an environment in which fake news can thrive; and what can be done about it.

Best wishes,

Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, writer

***

The very idea of Singapore is founded on fake news. The modern zoological consensus is that lions never roamed around Malaya. So in 1299 when Sang Nila Utama, the Srivijaya prince, landed in (what was then called) Temasek and spotted a handsome beast, it was most likely a tiger. Singa-pura, lion city, could well have been named Harimau-pura, tiger city, in modern Malay, or even Vyaghrah-pura, in Sanskrit, in use then, and the roots of “Singa”.

Yes, Vyaghrahpore. Without fake news, our little red dot might have pre-empted erectile dysfunction’s saviour. [1]

Yet that was more a simple falsehood than “news” as we know it. One of the first instances of fake news in the mass media was in 1835, when the New York Sun published observations of the moon by astronomer John Herschel, detailing “giant man-bats that spent their days collecting fruit and holding animated conversations; goat-like creatures with blue skin; a temple made of polished sapphire”.[2]

The fake news had the desired effect—among a public hungry for galactic fantasies, the Sun’s circulation rose from 8,000 to over 19,000, making it the world’s bestselling daily.

All this is simply to point out that fake news has been around for over a century at least. It is not just some new-age digital poison spewed by greedy Macedonian teenagers, disenchanted trolls in Saint Petersburg, or others of their ilk.

Moreover it is not only dubious, fly-by-night media outfits that are prone to publishing fake news. Some of the industry’s most venerable brands are too.

It would be convenient for me to make this point by pointing out possible fake news by conservative stations, like Fox News, whose political views differ from mine.

So instead I will point out possible fallacies in two newspapers which I hold in the highest regard: The Economist and The Financial Times.

And I will do so by defending two politicians whose views I find ignorant at best: Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

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Singapore, Bali diaries

GiliSunset_20170921_183658

View of Gunung Agung from Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the three Gili islands, where I was lucky enough to spend a week

Response to my piece on Singapore’s presidential election

Usually when I write about SG politics, some pro-PAP people will criticise something about my argument, as well as my character and integrity. This time, they were quiet; in fact, some sent me personal messages thanking me, and saying that now, for the first time, they are losing hope in the party.

Of course, nobody expects a significant electoral impact in the short term. Ahead of the next general election, the PAP, just like incumbent parties everywhere, will probably drop money into the pockets of Singaporeans, and all will be forgotten—the subverting of democracy and meritocracy, the flooded train lines, all will be forgotten.

This time, with my piece, most of the critiques came from non-establishment folk. Quite refreshing! While they shared my disdain for the process, they disagreed with my conclusion that it is important to nonetheless vote—if we had had the chance—for the sake of racial harmony. They felt, for a variety of reasons, that it was more important not to endorse a flawed process. (The comments on Lynn Lee’s FB post are a good summary.)

Political messaging and jousting

The below is highlighted as a negative example. Those words are copied from the post; they are not mine, and I certainly don’t agree with any of this.


Halimah 9:11 Facebook

Given my worries about sectarianism, I was appalled to see an alternative-media journalist I respect posting the above image. Perhaps there is some base humour to be distilled from the 9/11 commonality, but to compare the impact of Halimah’s walkover in Singapore to the impact of Islamic terrorists in NYC is irresponsible.

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More problems at Singapore’s mainstream media channels

One of the great ironies of modern Singapore’s media development is that even as politicians, establishment supporters and other conservatives continue to heap scorn on internet sites, the mainstream channels keep making mistakes, sometimes egregious ones. It is as if they are doing their utmost to make a mockery of their fans.

2013 proved a particularly horrible year for Singapore’s mainstream media channels, and they have started off 2014 on the same shot-riddled foot. Pointing out these errors is important not in order to have a laugh–although one can hardly blame Singapore’s beleaguered bloggers for indulging in a bit of schadenfreude.

The bigger reason is that, like so many other sacred cows of the Singapore model, media policies here are based on a seemingly immutable national orthodoxy about the role of elites: Singapore society must rely on a tiny, enlightened group of people, rather than the distributed intelligence of all Singaporeans. This belief manifests itself in everything from a government-knows-best attitude to the presumption that our restricted, elite-led mainstream media model is serving our country well. Continue reading

Amanat: The right lessons from her legacy

As 2012 draws to a close, most Singaporeans’ heartsdelhi_protests_petals_295 are filled with sadness, not joy. All the triumphs and moments of elation this year—from our country’s first individual Olympic medal in more than 50 years to the broader Asian pride we feel every time somebody horses around to the Gangnam Style—have been rightly overshadowed by the shocking, abhorrent gang-rape of Amanat, the Indian lady who passed away in Singapore after having been flown here for medical treatment from Delhi, the scene of the crime. Continue reading