Monday, August 16, 2010

Farcical Youth Olympic Games and Disingenuous Press

The Straits Times sports section has always been market determined. Singaporeans love their English Premier League and Champions League. They enjoy following their favourite teams and a fair portion of them enjoy gambling. When there are competitive games and your stereotypical ethnic Chinese looking for some thrill, there will be gambling. These shape the market forces of news and newsworthiness, which explains why during the regular football season, the most widely read English daily in Singapore will feature Premier League and Champions League news as top news.

As rare as the alleged freak flash floods in Singapore, the Youth Olympic Games appear to have perverted this newspaper's (re)presentation of news. It appears the Games and local athletes suddenly become overwhelmingly newsworthy. Is this market determined?

It points to the interventionist stance of the government, trying its very best to create buzz and hype. The Ministry of Education has reportedly bought 80,000 tickets, money obviously taken from the education kitty, and schools have reportedly "volunteered" their students to be Games volunteers and spectators. This is simple economics, where you spend to keep the wheel of the economy spinning at optimal speed. In this case, money is spent to organise the games, and money is spent by parties independent of organisers to make the games look good. If not for the unpaid labour, the budget of the Games would probably be unimaginable and perhaps deplorable.

Back to news. One component of newsworthiness is public interest. Is there substantial public interest generated to warrant gratuitous media coverage of the Youth Olympic Games? It appears that some government official might have hinted at the editors and higher-ups in Singapore Press Holdings, and the message, or order, is sent to assignment editors and then to footsoldiers of journalists and reporters. And presto, the Youth Olympic Games is newsworthy!

It is a shame, as I have mentioned in a previous entry, that previous generations of Singaporean youth athletes did not get the same media exposure as this batch. This shows disingenuousness on the part of the national press, who are presenting our young athletes because they have to make the Games exciting and create interest.

Singaporeans are not cultural dopes. Overexposure and oversaturation of Youth Olympic Games news on television and in the newspapers will only turn more people off. Surely there are more important news affecting the daily lives of Singaporeans, but the Straits Times appears to have shirked its responsibilities as a news-seeking newspaper and transformed itself, once again, into a mouthpiece of the much feared PAP government, proving press releases for the farce of a party which it has organised.

I would not have been so harsh in my criticism, and would not have been so bitterly disappointed in the Straits Times, if it had actually provided more coverage of local sporting personalities and youth athletes on a regular basis. The government also shares the blame, as it could be investing more in our local athletes, and not just tier our sports according to medal hopes and achievement. It is because of this tiering that some sports and organisations do not get sufficient funding. Moreover, the government shoots itself in the foot with National Service, which destroys many a young sportsman's career and development. Deferment is only for a short period of time. Perhaps it could benchmark its National Service deferment policy for athletes with countries like South Korea. Assuming the government is consistently evil, I feel it is important to look at the spineless concubine that is the mainstream media.

The mainstream media is to be blamed for exacerbating social inequality in Singapore, thanks to techniques of invisibilisation, trivialisation and misrepresentation. Just look at the representation of LGBT Singaporeans in the press. They are infantilised and rendered to look either insane, diseased or perverted.

The handcuffing of the evening Chinese newspaper's photojournalist Shafie Goh is symbolic and represents the state's eagerness to control information, even using force without hesitation. It represents how the PAP have systematically controlled the press and decimated press freedom, reducing the media from the role of watchdog to lapdog.

The state's control of the media obviously allows for what the PAP sees as stability, and in this context, political stability. It can then build on this by proceeding to create any event it deems a worthy media spectacle, regardless of public interest. Furthermore, public interest can be manipulated to create a spectacle, thanks to a subservient minion of a lapdog in the mainstream press. Of course, the Ministry of Education can share the credit as they are also responsible for this big lie, planting students in relevant positions like Jewish slaves oarmen on a Roman battleship, rowing to the sound of the PAP drums.

Even Low Wei Jie, 12, for all his genuine interest and exuberance, has been milked and manipulated in an attempt to turn all of us into something like him. It is perfectly fine to capture a segment of Singaporeans who give a shit about the Games, but it is utterly deceptive of the mainstream media to omit the views of Singaporeans who do not really care, or are even opposed to the organisation of the Games in Singapore.

The framing of news reeks of government intervention, yet we cannot say it is, because this is power being exercised with subtlety. Government officials may only need to wink or put a finger across their necks at editors, for the editors to get the picture and start framing news in a way that is favourable to the government, that portrayals a favourable image of Singapore, the government and how we organise the games. The athletes are just secondary, or tertiary, or footnotes, and this is despicable.

Take tennis for example, it is sad that Singapore's number one girls' tennis player lost in the first round. She's Stephanie Tan by the way, and she's quite a talent. For everything there is present and visible, we forget about the invisible. Where are the male tennis players? They are only good till they are 18 before they serve National Service. They probably cannot turn professional either. Where is Singapore's great tennis hope Sylvester Wee, an awesome talent and great character? NS. His generation of tennis players comprised one of the most talented bunch of tennis players Singapore has ever seen. Rich in quality. Very competitive. Many of them could be professionals today, touring and playing tournaments. They are the few of the many forgotten male athletes. If their stories are to be public, they will probably make the government look really bad, and with respect to the government's plans to make Singapore a sporting hub, look really stupid and hypocritical.

Stephanie Tan should be given consistent media exposure. When the profile of an athlete is raised, he or she will be in a better position to get sponsorship, and not only be rewarded with sponsorship due to sporting performance. Yes, they are sporting talents, but the media has a role to create personalities out of them (not celebrities), and sponsors might be interested to have these personalities represent them.

You don't have to wait for some excuse like the Youth Olympic Games to start raising the profile of athletes. It is very hypocritical and unfair to the many generations of youth athletes that have been silenced or underrepresented. Only time will tell if the Straits Times, for example, will cultivate the habit of profiling youth athletes, regardless of big events of (alleged) public interest.

The Singaporeans who are generally unhappy with the Youth Olympic Games and its organisation, are just too well aware of that this farce is just part of the macrocosmology of all things PAP. The idea of "volunteering" subordinates to make an idea look good and well-supported, fits in well with the preservation of "face" of our higher-ups. The putting-the-cart-before-the-horse approach to organising, saying yes, pumping in money, then later mobilising footsoldiers and make them look like willing parties. Only in an authoritarian regime will you get fake public exuberance, fake autonomy, fake free will. All calibrated and imagined by the state to be easily calibratable. Well, that's how you eventually get things done any way.

I really wonder, with respect to the uncharacteristic overexposure of an event of suspiciously inflated public interest, whether our journalists' hands are actually tied, whether heads will roll if assignment editors felt this farce was not truly newsworthy and that growing negative internet sentiment could be remediated in the mainstream press. How low can our press go?

---

add: I wonder if there will be gag orders given to "volunteers" and relevant parties, not to speak about the nature of their work and "volunteerism"...