28 January 2014

The Mainstream Media's Mission

MediaCorp recently aired some advertisements for positions in the group.

Some of these positions purport to achieve the following career goals:

▪ Reporters: serve the country.

▪ Digital artists: make hearts beat faster.

▪ Producers: unite a nation.

▪ Cameramen: open hearts and minds.

What is the mission of our mainstream media?

MediaCorp says that its mission is "to engage, entertain and enrich audiences by harnessing the power of creativity"[1].

Singapore Press Holdings says that its mission is "to inform, educate and entertain"[2].

Why educate? 'Educate' is usually taken to mean to provide (someone) with information, especially by way of formal instruction; but then, it would overlap 'inform'. It could also mean to persuade or condition to feel, believe or act in a desired way[3].

SPH's brand essence, or the timeless spirit of its brand, driven by its fundamental beliefs, values and core competencies, is "engaging minds, enriching lives"[2].

Many people will agree that the mission or principal role of the mainstream media is or should be to be a reliable and impartial source of news; to provide analysis of events; and to provide entertainment.

In theory, serving and uniting the country are noble aspirations. In practice, it depends.

Almost everyone serves the country in his own way, although some people may think that their service is more valuable, important or significant than others. Furthermore, almost everyone serves more than one master at the same time and it is easy to become confused as to which master is more important for him to serve, especially when there is a conflict.

As for uniting the country, it really depends on the principles upon which the person or organisation is trying to bring about unity. As may be seen below, the government does not want the press to be a fourth estate. Thus, any efforts by the press to unite the country are attempts to rally support for the government and its policies. But not all policies necessarily benefit the people. Examples: growing the economy by importing hundreds of thousands of migrant workers over a short period of time, the 6.9 million population planning target, the Two Is Enough campaign, the graduate mother scheme, political office holders' salaries etc. Sometimes, the press goes even further and seems to be siding with the ruling party over the opposition parties[4].

The Straits Times's long-time editor Cheong Yip Seng provides us with some idea about how the mainstream media came to its present state[5].

▪ The government's policy responses to the media was determined by how it saw the media's impact on the electorate.

▪ The media was not the fourth estate. It did not have the right to be a power centre. The journalists, not being elected by the people, had limited privilege in the debate on national policies; they were not entitled to speak for on behalf of the people nor tear down government policies. Otherwise, the government could not govern effectively.

▪ The freedom of the press was subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore and the primary purposes of the government. The press should present Singapore's problems simply and clearly and explain how those problems could be solved, if the people supported certain programmes and policies.

▪ The mass media's power of suggestion was most dangerous to the government because people were imitative. The press should heed the government's request on what not to publish.

▪ The mass media's challenge was how to treat political news credibly without provoking the government, absent clear OB markers. The press must not be seen to be effusive about, or rooting for, the opposition.

The curious result is that the government thought that the press was not sufficiently pro-government while the public thought the press was too pro-government and not impartial enough.

Interestingly, NHK chairman Katsuto Momii recently sided with the Japanese government on the subject of comfort women during World War II because he believed he should support the government on international affairs. However, he was criticised for hewing the government line on foreign policy matters in that it demonstrated how out of touch he was with media norms and values[6].

Our mainstream media should heed this if it wants to be credible. The nation, the government and the ruling party are not synonymous.

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Notes

1. MEDIACORP PTE LTD website.

2. SINGAPORE PRESS HOLDINGS website.

3. MERRIAM-WEBSTER online dictionary.

4. RAINMAKER MediaCorp and Punggol East By-Election Finale 28 Jan 2013.

5. CHEONG YIP SENG OB Markers.

6. Japan Not Only Nation To Have Military Brothels During WWII: NHK Chief TODAY 27 Jan 2014.

1 comment:

  1. They may serve the country and unite the nation, but they can never open hearts and minds if they are constantly reporting to a "higher authority". While many people still trust the professionalism of the mainstream journalists, they are also getting tired of all the one-sided reporting. Even some defeated electoral candidates are made to seem like they are doing more work than the incumbent. How does that work for opening hearts and minds?

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